Do nurses wish to continue working for the UK National Health Service? A comparative study of three generations of nurses

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To identify the combination of variables that explain nurses’ continuation intention in the UK National Health Service. This alternative arena has permitted the replication of a private sector Australian study.


This study provides understanding about the issues that affect nurse retention in a sector where employee attrition is a key challenge, further exacerbated by an ageing workforce.


A quantitative study based on a self-completion survey questionnaire completed in 2010.


Nurses employed in two UK National Health Service Foundation Trusts were surveyed and assessed using seven work-related constructs and various demographics including age generation. Through correlation, multiple regression and stepwise regression analysis, the potential combined effect of various explanatory variables on continuation intention was assessed, across the entire nursing cohort and in three age-generation groups.


Three variables act in combination to explain continuation intention: work–family conflict, work attachment and importance of work to the individual. This combination of significant explanatory variables was consistent across the three generations of nursing employee. Work attachment was identified as the strongest marginal predictor of continuation intention.


Work orientation has a greater impact on continuation intention compared with employer-directed interventions such as leader–member exchange, teamwork and autonomy. UK nurses are homogeneous across the three age-generations regarding explanation of continuation intention, with the significant explanatory measures being recognizably narrower in their focus and more greatly concentrated on the individual. This suggests that differentiated approaches to retention should perhaps not be pursued in this sectoral context.

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