Dedicated nurses are in it for the money

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Tim Mullaney
Tim Mullaney

Long-term care professionals often have great passion for the job, but it's important for people in the field to remember that it is both a vocation and a business, McKnight's Senior Editor Elizabeth Leis Newman recently proposed. She wrote that the passion providers bring to the job sometimes means that emotion trumps a necessary businesslike outlook. I'm going to go a step further, and suggest that providers start seeking out nurses who are not even motivated mainly by the desire to help other people.

I say that based on the results of a recent study. It found that nurses who say they are motivated primarily by a desire to help others are most likely to burn out. The findings were presented at the American Sociological Association's annual conference in San Francisco recently and have already received a lot of press.

Nurses are more likely to stick with the job if they are motivated by the money or lifestyle the career enables, or because they like the work, the University of Akron researchers determined. They surveyed more than 700 nurses in a Midwest health system.

This does not mean that only self-interested nurses can succeed in the profession over the long-term. Nurses who are highly motivated both by the lifestyle the job enables, as well as the chance to interact personally with patients, are more satisfied and less likely to quit within a year, the researchers found.

One major implication of the survey has to do with attracting more men to the profession, stated study author Janette Dill, Ph.D.

There's a “cultural assumption” that "women to go into these jobs because they love the people that they're caring for, and this is their primary motivator,” Dill said in a press release. Men might be more attracted to nursing if they feel they can “value their job for other reasons.”

I, of course, think it's important for nurses to care for their patients and desire to help them. I don't think providers should reject job candidates with altruistic qualities. But I also think these study findings reinforce how important it is for long-term care providers to ensure that nurses and the aides who support them actually can value their jobs because of the income and a balanced lifestyle.

I am totally sympathetic to the financial strains facing many facilities (to put it mildly). But I also have heard from experts who say that many operators are not being smart in weighing the costs of high turnover against other costs, including salaries. And scheduling of shift workers — a major “lifestyle” component — has become a topic of national concern, attracting the attention of lawmakers and the media.

In fact, Starbucks announced it will reform its practices after a New York Times article highlighted the struggles of a single mother facing erratic shifts — a phenomenon becoming more widespread as employers rely on automated scheduling software to assign shifts with maximum efficiency. Sound like an issue that might have implications for long-term care?

My instinct here is to insert some caveat like “I don't mean to suggest that preparing a latte is comparable to providing high-quality care to an older adult.” Except the whole point of Dill's research is that healthcare providers should do this type of comparison. Both are service jobs, and both require workers who treat the people they are serving with respect. But society expects nurses and other healthcare workers to have only saintly motivations for doing their best in the workplace — and this is not a fair or realistic expectation to have, she argues.

So, long-term care providers might actually do well to look at Starbucks and ask themselves how well their scheduling and wages compare — and decide if, as it is for the coffee purveyor, now is a time when some changes have to be made.

Tim Mullaney is McKnight's Senior Staff Writer. Follow him @TimMullaneyLTC.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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