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Charge Nurses Are Also “Chief Retention Officers”

Organizational loyalty is cemented through relationships with supervisors and managers, but don’t overlook the importance of the Charge RN role to nurse loyalty and retention.  Turnover studies show that more often than leaving an employer, staff leave their first-level supervisor.

Charge Nurses play a role in onboarding, coaching, patient experience and safety, and nurse retention.  Develop your Charge RNs to be unit leaders, by teaching critical thinking, delegation, effective communication, conflict management, leading through change, and other qualities for successful leadership.

How can a Charge Nurse help your organization with nurse retention?

Being a Leader Who Fills In Gaps

It’s obvious that nurses on the team are busy, overworked, and possibly stressed. Your team may be understaffed at times, or during this Covid/Delta-era, understaffed most of the time. This means nurses on the team or unit could be behind on charting, procedures, assessments, or administering medicines. This may slow down throughput, and it could impact patient satisfaction or even outcomes.

A Charge RN can be the first line of defense to keep the unit productive and nurses happy. She may need to fill in in placing IVs, triage patients, get EKGs, or order medications. The Charge is a leader who fills in gaps of care or administration, quarterbacking and motivating the team, whether it’s normal times or Covid-times. This type of leader keeps team morale on an even-keel which helps with nurse retention. On the flip side, an unprepared Charge Nurse can have the opposite effect.

Helping Nurses Manage Stress and Keep Calm

Of course you want all nurses to be calm in emergency situations, but in the Charge role this is especially important. Charge Nurses put out fires during the shift and oversee that other nurses handle stressful situations properly. A Charge Nurse who knows her stuff and understands key policies can take the air out of a stressful situation.

The Charge Nurse can also help alleviate nurse stress by keeping the shift organized. Charge RNs should make prioritized lists and help chart in real-time to avoid backlog which can also cause stress.

Being a Communication Line Between Management and Nurses; Identifying Problems Early and Intervene

Charge Nurses should foster nurse communication and gather input for the organization. They may have the best intel on how the team is perceiving and reacting to what is going on.  Help your Charge RNs understand how to use “chain of command” when escalation is needed (and not needed).

Continuous, open communication, however, makes nurses and all of us feel valued.  Charge RNs can help identify workplace incivility early. These incidents can lead to low team morale, low productivity, and increase absenteeism. Conflict is unavoidable and problematic, so nurses with strong conflict resolution skills are better able to deal with challenges quickly and reduce potential errors stemming from it. A Charge RN can also identify staff who are struggling and help with early interventions.

Be a Model of Positivity and Professionalism

Encourage Charge Nurses to lead by example, and always look for ways to help the team succeed. Encourage your team to practice positivity and professionalism by showing initiative and by thriving under direction. Let Charge RNs know that serving as a good example and demonstrating a strong work ethic, flexibility, and positive attitude will help pave the way to future leadership positions. It isn’t just about “soft skills” of leadership either, because these are skills which will impact issues like organizational financial goals, patient outcomes, and patient experience.

You may not be thinking about how Charge RNs can be a key part of your nurse retention efforts. Nurse Managers can’t do it all alone.  Reward Charge Nurses with professional development and watch the change in team dynamics! 

To assist health systems who would like to sample the power of charge nurse development, or are strapped for instructors in these staffing-challenged times, Catalyst Learning is teaching public NCharge® “Nurses Learning to Lead” classes in Oct-Dec. Learn more about our upcoming virtual, instructor-led course. Courses carry 3.5 ANCC contact hours.


“Be the Boss No One Wants to Leave,” Webinar by Rose O. Sherman, 9/28/21, sponsored by Catalyst Learning Company

“Letters: Embracing retention at all levels,” Lippincott Nursing Center/Nursing Management magazine, Kathy G. Newton RN, Florence Stewart RN/BSN, Sabra Henry RN/BSN

“Strategies for Nurse Retention,” Elite Learning, Lorraine Mercado

“Recognizing and Overcoming Toxic Nurse Leadership,” RN Journal, George A. Zangaro PhD/RN, Kelly Yager MS/RN, Joseph Proulx, EdD/RN  

“Improving the Charge Nurse ‘s Leadership Role: A Collaborative Learning Forum,” Walden Education, Felicia Katherine Pryby, 2016