Measuring the Nursing Work Environment: Can a Social Capital Framework Add Value?

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Abstract

Background: A suite of robust instruments are required to investigate the range of contextual and social dimensions in the nursing workforce that contribute to desired outcomes such as resilient work environments, high retention rates, and provision of quality health care. However current instruments do not adequately measure the formal and informal social relationships between nurses and others on the team. This gap is problematic because social relationships can influence how well nurses work together to achieve the desired outcomes. To this end, instruments from other disciplines could be adapted to investigate social dimensions. Purpose: To examine how a social capital framework could measure social relationships in nursing work environments and inform policy and managerial initiatives to reduce turnover and improve quality. Method: Eight contemporary instruments that assess social dimensions and sub-scales in nursing work environments were reviewed. An instrument that measures social dimensions known as social capital (networks, norms, outcomes) was also reviewed for adaptation in nursing. Findings: The eight contemporary instruments do not adequately measure the nature of social relationships (networks, norms, outcomes) between nurses. A social capital instrument developed by social researchers and economists could be adapted to add value and understanding of social relationship issues. Policy Implications and Conclusions: It is timely to develop robust qualitative and quantitative instruments that will permit the examination of social capital in nursing populations globally, and identify mechanisms to achieve desired outcomes, such as job satisfaction, retention, and quality health care.

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