• longitudinal design;
  • nursing staff;
  • turnover;
  • work ability index;
  • work characteristics


To investigate how work-related characteristics and work ability influence nursing staff decisions to change employer or leave the profession.


Previous cross-sectional studies have indicated that decreased work ability and unfavourable work-related characteristics are important determinants for the intention to leave the profession among nursing staff.


A 1-year longitudinal study, using data from the European Nurses' Early Exit Study. The study population consisted of 9927 (66%) members of the eligible nursing staff of which 345 left their current employer. Work-related characteristics, work ability and employment status were assessed by questionnaires.


Nursing staff with a low work ability were more likely to either change employer or leave the profession. Among nursing staff with a low work ability the risk of changing employer increased significantly with unfavourable work-related characteristics. However, among nursing staff with a good work ability the risk of changing employer barely changed with unfavourable work-related characteristics.


The negative effects of decreased work ability on changing employer and leaving the profession are partly counterbalanced by favourable psychological and physical work-related characteristics.

Implications for nursing management

Managers should implement strategies that focus on promoting the work ability of nursing staff in combination with improving work-related characteristics in order to prevent unnecessary changes of employment.