What would the health care work of your dreams be like – we asked, the nurses answered

Doing the health care work of their dreams means nurses receive sufficient pay for their work and have the opportunity to do their job well. Although the workload in the health care sector is heavy, there are also many factors that protect employees from too much burden.

Medikumppani Oy conducted the Unelmien hoitotyö (health care work of my dreams) online survey from 14 April to 30 April 2021. Our purpose was to find out how nurses felt about their work at the current moment, what they enjoy and what things they would like to change in their work. 

A total of 676 health care professionals responded to the survey. Forty-eight per cent of the respondents were nurses, 36% were practical nurses and 20% were students in the field. Sixty-two per cent of the respondents had been in the health care sector for more than 10 years, 20% had worked in the field for 5–10 years and 14% had less than five years of experience in the sector. 

Dana Vainikka, a certified psychologist specialising in occupational and organisational psychology comments on the results of the survey below. 

Adequate salary denotes appreciation

When the respondents were asked the three most important factors that contribute to their job satisfaction, more than two thirds chose “Getting adequate compensation for my work”. The open-ended question, “If you could change one thing in your job, what would it be?”, revealed that better pay was by far the most desire.

“Salary is one of the clearest indicators of how much work is appreciated and based on the answers, the respondents felt the salary level does not meet the demands of the job. It may be difficult to have a direct impact on your pay, but there are other ways to increase the feeling of appreciation. Being appreciated is one of our basic psychological needs that should be met to ensure well-being and efficiency at work,” Vainikka says.

The second most important factor was “Opportunity to do my job well” and the third most important was “Doing work that reflects my values”. The respondents reported that the work community should have, above all, good team spirit, good leadership and offer support when needed. 

When asked what the respondents value in their work, their answers varied considerably. Their answers related to support from the work community; pay and interacting with patients were close runner-ups in important job-related factors.  Supervisor support, being able to take your time to do things and flexible working hours also received many responses. With regard to expectations toward their supervisors, the respondents felt that it is important for supervisors to appreciate their work, treat everyone equally and be fair. 

Basic psychological needs important in nursing

In addition to salary, a common desire for change was to increase trained staff and decrease the staff turnover rate. The respondents also hoped for better leadership, more appreciation of nursing, a more leisurely work rhythm, meaning more time for patients, more resources, and more flexibility in working hours. Effective IT systems and eliminating inequality among work communities were seen as important factors influencing coping at work.

“Nurses would like appreciation for their work. They want to be able to do their job well, and they favour flexibility and adequate orientation, understand that there’s power in community and call for fairness. These answers sound very familiar. The respondents’ answers reflect the basic psychological needs typical in all fields. Fulfilling them catalyses well-being at work and commitment,” Vainikka says. 

Vainikka explains that studies suggest there are five basic psychological needs: competence, transparency, autonomy, solidarity, and fairness. All five of these basic psychological needs are essential for well-being and smooth-running work. If there are shortcomings in even one of these areas, it will have a negative effect on work and well-being at work.

“In nursing, these basic needs seem to be underpinning factors in well-being at work. For example, “I can do my job well” denotes competence, “feeling of belonging in the work community” denotes solidarity, and “flexible working hours” denotes autonomy. 

“On the other hand, the challenges in nursing are also evident in the basic needs, such as the lack of appreciation reflected in the low salary level. The need for transparency is clear in the respondents’ reference to high-quality job orientation,” Vainikka says.

Needs change as experience accumulates

We compared the responses of those who had been in the health care sector for more than 10 years and those who had worked in the sector for less than 10 years. There were no major differences between these groups. Both young and experienced nurses were equally (un)satisfied with their current work. The median response was 7 for both groups; the younger nurses had a mean score of 6.2 and the more experienced nurses had a mean of 6.3. 

The greatest dispersion between the groups was in the answers to the item “I value my work”. Relative to the younger nurses’ responses, the more experienced nurses’ responses emphasised pay, sustainable employment relationships, flexible working hours, and the ability to influence how they do their work. The younger nurses clearly appreciated the opportunity to develop in their careers and good job orientation more than their experienced colleagues.

“One’s life situation and accumulation of experience may highlight some psychological needs at work, as can be seen from the answers. The younger nurses felt that competence and development of it (basic need for competence) as well as high-quality job orientation (basic need for transparency) were important, and the more experienced employees emphasised their sense of autonomy,” Vainikka says.

Healthy employees many times more productive and committed

On a scale of one to ten, the respondents gave their current job an average score of 6.2. The most common answer was 7. Thus, the survey reveals that the nurses are quite satisfied with their work despite the shortcomings.

“Perhaps, overall, we can say that nurses have clearly identifiable factors that protect them against excessive workload and increase well-being at work. Being able to do meaningful work that reflects their values, getting support from the work community and supervisor (even when things are going well) and flexible working hours provide a shield against excessive workload. By contrast and unfortunately typical to these times, the work is hectic, there is a lack of resources, high employee turnover and unfairness – not to mention low wages in proportion to the demands of the job. 

“Of course, it can be argued that the workplace is not responsible for meeting employees’ psychological needs. However, employees are many times more productive and committed when their basic needs are met,” Vainikka reflects.

“Finding a remedy for these shortcomings doesn’t require a full degree in occupational well-being. Ultimately, it’s about fairly simple basic needs in the workplace. Of course, no one needs to be a mind reader and try to meet people’s basic needs blindly. Asking and listening are the most important tools. This survey has asked about the nurses’ perspectives. The employer’s part, now, is to listen. With just simple acts we can significantly improve well-being at work,” Vainikka sums up.

Dana Vainikka is a licensed psychologist, specialising in occupational and organisational psychology, and a certified business coach. Dana works in a variety of areas in the field of occupational well-being; for example, Hälsa offers a variety of services from individual coaching to evaluations of management work and business management consulting.

Hälsa’s well-being coaching strives to develop good leadership and well-being. The company’s goal is to promote the renewal, well-being, and effectiveness of individuals, teams, and entire organisations.

Hälsa offers effective coaching for companies as bespoke packages and top seminars and webinars open to all. Their inspiring, highly trained coaches put leadership and resilience at work on a solid and productive footing.