What makes registered nurses remain in work? An ethnographic study

Carina Ahlstedt, Carin Eriksson Lindvall, Inger K. Holmström, Åsa Muntlin Athlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Registered nurses’ work-related stress, dissatisfaction and burnout are some of the problems in the healthcare and that negatively affect healthcare quality and patient care. A prerequisite for sustained high quality at work is that the registered nurses are motivated. High motivation has been proved to lead to better working results. The theory of inner work life describes the dynamic interplay between a person's perceptions, emotions and motivation and the three key factors for a good working life: nourishment, progress and catalysts. Objectives: The aim of the study was to explore registered nurses’ workday events in relation to inner work life theory, to better understand what influences registered nurses to remain in work. Design: A qualitative explorative study with an ethnographic approach. Methods: Participant observation over four months; in total 56 h with 479 events and 58 informal interviews during observation; all registered nurses employed at the unit (n = 10) were included. In addition, individual interviews were conducted after the observation period (n = 9). The dataset was analysed using thematic analysis and in the final step of the analysis the categories were reflected in relation to the three key factors in theory of inner work life. Results: Nourishment in a registered nurse context describes the work motivation created by the interpersonal support between colleagues. It was important to registered nurses that physicians and colleagues respected and trusted their knowledge in the daily work, and that they felt comfortable asking questions and supporting each other. Progress in the context of registered nurses’ work motivation was the feeling of moving forward with a mix of small wins and the perception of solving more complex challenges in daily work. It was also fundamental to the registered nurses’ development through new knowledge and learning during daily work. Catalysts, actions that directly facilitate the work, were highlighted as the possibility to work independently along with the opportunity to work together with other registered nurses. Conclusion: This study has a number of implications for future work and research on creating an attractive workplace for registered nurses. Working independently, with colleagues from the same profession, integrated with learning, visible progress, and receiving feedback from the work itself, contribute to work motivation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-38
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Nursing Studies
Early online date12 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Ethnographic approach
  • Healthcare organization
  • Registered nurses
  • Work environment
  • Work motivation


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