Despite recent gains made in recruiting individuals into the nursing profession, the exiting cohort of “Baby-boom” nurses will tax the health care system in the decade ahead (Buerhaus, P., Auerbach, D and Staiger, D., 2009). Sufficient numbers of younger nurses are not available to replace the enormity of retiring nurses. Moreover, O’Brien-Pallas et al., (2004) calculated that the difference between a nurse retiring at age 58 or age 65 will have a substantial effect on slowing the rate of loss to the nursing workforce. With that incentive, health care employers are now addressing the challenges of managing and retaining a nursing workforce with the majority of nurses over 45 years of age (HRSA, 2004).
Strategies to retain older nurses in the workforce demand a heightened workplace consciousness to older nurses’ physical and mental health needs. Older nurses’ workplace injuries are the main cause of their early exit from the workforce (Owen, 2000) and thus, contribute to the nursing shortage. Common workplace injuries for older nurses include: needle-stick injury (43%), back pull/strain (25%), other musculoskeletal injuries (16%), and falls (11%) (Letvak, 2005). Nurses’ stressful work environments can also lead to compromised emotional health and subsequent job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and burnout (Chan & Huak, 2004; Letvak & Buck, 2008; Payne, 2001). Therefore, providing innovative approaches for older nurses to improve health and reduce stress is a “Best Practice” worth testing (Hatcher, et al., 2006).
Mind-body exercises are increasingly recognized as enhancing physical, emotional, and/or spiritual health (Astin, Shapiro, Eisenberg, & Forys, 2003; Innes, Selfe, & Taylor, 2008). Tai Chi, one such approach, has been studied as an intervention to promote physical and mental health, especially in older adults aged 65+ (Rogers, Larkey, & Keller, 2009; Wu, 2002). Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art with a set of slowly paced and smoothly connected movements of all body parts. Tai Chi emphasizes mind-body connection during these movements. To date, there is no study available on the potential of Tai Chi exercise in the workplace of nurses. However, the widely documented positive effects of Tai Chi in the aging population suggest that Tai Chi may be an effective intervention for older nurses (age 45+ years), promoting mental and physical health, reducing work-related stress, and absence from work. Class may be taken comfortably in loose fitting nurse’s uniforms/scrubs and sneakers, which makes an after-work offering very attractive.
This study was guided by Pender’s (1996) Revised Health Promotion Model. This model proffers an orientation in which workplace wellness interventions reflect personal factors (perceptions- biological, psychological, and socio-cultural) filtered through situational influences (work environment). Optimally this leads to commitment to action and finally health promoting behaviors. Thus, developing interventions that support and reinforce employee healthy behaviors makes sense for organizations in the business of healthcare. But is this simply the altruistic thing to do, or does it make business sense as well?
There is mounting evidence that work-based wellness offerings are cost effective (Goetzel & Ozminkowski, 2008; Pelletier, 2001). In addition to lowering costs related to health insurance and absenteeism, work-based wellness programs may impact productivity (Goetzel, et al., 2007). In a period of declining financial resources for many health care organizations, it is only prudent to test workplace wellness interventions with cost implications for the employer included in the design.