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Measuring nurses’ perception of work environment: a scoping review of questionnaires

BMC NursingBMC series – open, inclusive and trusted201716:66

https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-017-0256-9

Received: 8 May 2017

Accepted: 2 November 2017

Published: 21 November 2017

Abstract

Background

Nurses’ work environment has been shown to be associated with quality of care and organizational outcomes. In order to monitor the work environment, it is useful for all stakeholders to know the questionnaires that assess or evaluate conditions for delivering nursing care. The aim of this article is: to review the literature for assessed survey questionnaires that measure nurses’ perception of their work environment, make a brief assessment, and map the content domains included in a selection of questionnaires.

Methods

The search included electronic databases of internationally published literature, international websites, and hand searches of reference lists. Eligible papers describing a questionnaire had to be; a) suitable for nurses working in direct care in general hospitals, nursing homes or home healthcare settings; and b) constructed to measure work environment characteristics that are amenable to change and related to patient and organizational outcomes; and c) presented along with an assessment of their measurement properties.

Results

The search yielded 5077 unique articles. For the final synthesis, 65 articles met inclusion criteria, consisting of 34 questionnaires measuring nursing work environments in different settings. Most of the questionnaires that we found were developed, and tested, for registered nurses in a general hospital setting. Six questionnaires were developed specifically for use in nursing home settings and one for home healthcare. The content domains covered by the questionnaires were both overlapping and unique and the terminology in use was inconsistent. The most common content domains in the work environment questionnaires were supportive managers, collaborative relationships with peers, busyness, professional practice and autonomy.

Conclusions

The findings from this review enhance the understanding of how “work environment” can be measured by an overview of existing questionnaires and domains. Our results indicate that there are very many work environment questionnaires with varying content.

Keywords

QuestionnairesWork environmentReviewNursesCare workers

Background

The work environment of nurses and its associations with quality of care is an area of research that has gained attention in recent decades [1]. A widely used approach in such studies is to describe the services from the bedside perspective, by surveying the employees’ perceptions of the characteristics of their daily work [2]. Although the results are inconclusive, studies on the topic support assumptions about associations between nurses’ work environments and patient outcomes, as well as associations with organizational outcomes such as turnover and retention [36]. In a review of studies exploring the relationship between work environment and direct measures of patient outcomes [7], ten out of eleven retrieved studies were North American, and most were conducted in acute general hospital settings.

There is a trend in western healthcare systems to strengthen the activities in non-hospital settings, moving healthcare services from hospital settings to long-term care sectors such as nursing homes. According to Buchan & Aiken [8], the general shortage of nurses is partly the result of unfavourable working conditions. Compared to acute care settings, the long-term care sector faces additional strain due to an ageing and shrinking workforce, a perceived lack of status, a relatively high proportion of low-qualified care workers [9], and high turnover among direct care nurses [10].

As a consequence of this, studies of nurses’ work environments, and the quality of the service they deliver, should not be limited to acute care hospitals settings [7]. The need for a broad review of survey questionnaires occurred in the preparation of a survey of nurses’ perception of their work environments and its associations with quality of care in long-term care settings.

Nursing work environment

Researchers refer to the work environment as, for example: working conditions, practice environment and job characteristics. In this review, we used Lake and Friese’s definition of the nursing work environment: “characteristics of a work setting that facilitate or limit nursing practice ([11] p.2)”.

A literature review conducted by Bae [7] synthesized various work conditions and their respective associations with patient outcomes. The work conditions were grouped in 10 concepts; autonomy, philosophy emphasizing quality of clinical care, nurse participation, supportive managers, collaborative relationships with physicians, collaborative relationships with peers, staffing, decentralization, patient-centred climate, and busyness. Bae’s synthesis indicated that there is some degree of convergence in the topics. All studies were conducted in acute hospital settings and seven out of eleven studies included in that review used a version of the Nursing Work Index (NWI) for data collection. The NWI is a frequently used questionnaire for measuring nurses’ work environments. It was first developed in the USA for hospital registered nurses in 1989 [12], and there are several versions adapted and revised for different settings and different contexts [1316]. It has been pointed out that the instruments’ properties are unstable [17, 18]. This is acknowledged by the authors of the NWI, who later developed the Essentials of Magnetism (EOM) [19] process measurement tool and subsequently its revised version EOMII [20, 21]. The EOM tool was developed using the 14 Forces of Magnetism [22] as a framework, together with an extensive participant observation and a qualitative interview study, making the tool reflect a more contemporary nursing practice and the practice environments [19].

Our overall goal was to find questionnaires to measure the work environment in long-term care but in the process of conducting the review, we expanded the criteria to include questionnaires that were used in acute care settings, because these questionnaires contain domains of interest that are also applicable to long-term care nursing work environments. We believe that our review is of interest and useful to stakeholders in other areas of nursing practice. In addition, when choosing topics for a questionnaire, it is necessary to prioritize in order to balance the response burden and information needs. The questionnaires identified in the review provided an excellent opportunity to map the work environment domains that were prioritized by a number of authors.

The research questions guiding this study were:
  1. 1)

    Which assessed survey questionnaires measuring nurses’ perception of the work environment can be found in the literature?

     
  2. 2)

    What are the content domains included in the questionnaires we found?

     

The description of work environment questionnaires of interest referred to in research question 1 is presented in more detailed under Screening – Inclusion and Exclusion.

Method

The review is based on the framework for scoping studies outlined by Arksey and O’Malley [23], further enhanced by Levac et al. [24], Khalil et al. [23, 25], Daudt et al. [26]. They proposed that a scoping review should include an iterative five-stage process, further described below. The two authors conducting the present study have expert familiarity with the field, as nurses with experience from different healthcare settings and questionnaire development and assessment.

Search strategy

A literature search strategy was designed with a basis in research question 1, and criteria described under Screening – Inclusion and Exclusion. The initial source was electronic databases, limited to articles published in peer-reviewed journals in the English or Scandinavian languages. The search was conducted with support from a research librarian. A test-search was first executed in order to identify relevant keywords representing the study topics. An extensive search was performed in October 2015, and updated in December 2016. The following databases were searched: Embase (1974-) Ovid MEDLINE(R) In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, Ovid MEDLINE(R) Daily, Ovid MEDLINE(R) and Ovid OLDMEDLINE(R) (1946 -); PsycINFO (1806-); CINAHL and SweMed + .

We used the keywords and searched in title, index terms and author’s keywords. Several keywords in different combinations, endings, spelling, grammatical forms and synonyms were included in the extensive search. The search strategy was tailored to the best possible fit for each database. We provide the strategy used to search MEDLINE as an example (Table 1). The complete list of search terms can be found in Additional file 1.
Table 1

Keywords used to search MEDLINE

Work environment and outcomes

occupational health, occupational safety, employee health, employee safety or occupational injury, working conditions, practice environment, work environment, workload, overwork, work stressor, nurse-patient-ratio, missed or omitted or rationing, nursing left undone or care left undone, work schedule tolerance, workday shifts, work shift, rotating shift, workday shift, work schedule, work rest cycle, personnel turnover, employee turnover, turnover or intention-to-leave, vacancy, personnel staffing and scheduling, work scheduling, staffing, manpower, burnout, professional, occupational stress, burnout, exhaustion, distress, occupational stress, absenteeism, sick leave, sick rate, sick day, illness day, jobwork-, employee-, career satisfaction, employee grievances, personnel-, work-, staff-, nursing grievance, job dissatisfaction, work dissatisfaction, organizational- culture, −behaviour, −climate, morale, motivation, commitment, involvement, professional autonomy, professional self-regulation, professional power, empowerment, conflict resolution, leadership- style –qualities, management style, managerial, conflict resolution, efficiency, organizational-, effectiveness, efficiency, productivity, performance, workflow, task performance, interprofessional relations, relation, nurse-physician, nurse-nurse, skill mix, RN mix, career mobility, professional development, learning plan, career development, clinical ladder, career ladder, job ladder, continuing education, advancement, staff experience, staff knowledge, scope of practice, professional practice, care activities, quality of health care, health care quality, quality of nursing care, nursing outcome, quality, healthcare, care, service, nursing, patient safety, patient harm, patient safety, safety

Nursing personnel

nurse, nursing staff, nurses’ aides, nursing assistant, nursing personnel, nursing workforce, nursing assistant, nursing home personnel or healthcare aide, care aide, healthcare attendant, care attendant, HCA or resident companion, geriatric aide

Surveys and questionnaires

health care surveys, −questionnaires, survey, questionnaire, reproducibility of results, validation studies, test validity, statistical validity, test reliability, statistical reliability, interrater reliability, validity, reliability, validated, reproducibility

Limitations

English, Norwegian, Danish or Swedish language

The reference lists of relevant articles were manually searched for additional literature. This was followed by a “snowball” procedure: when a citation in an article appeared relevant, we read the cited article. Figure 1 shows the final extensive search process illustrated in a flowchart. Our searches in electronic databases and reference lists were supplemented by targeted internet searches. Based on our familiarity with the field, we screened internet sites and publications of organizations that had previously done work in these specific or neighbouring areas, e.g. the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS), the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
Fig. 1

Identification, screening and inclusion/exclusion process for literature search

Screening – Inclusion and exclusion

All citations from the literature search were imported into an EndNote™ library, after which duplicates and conference abstracts were manually removed. After the study selection, the citations were imported into a spreadsheet and screened for relevance and quality.

The relevance of the studies in the search was assessed using a two-step screening process. The inclusion criteria in the first step were: a) Articles in which the questionnaire in use were tested on nurses working in direct and basic nursing care in general hospitals, nursing homes or home healthcare. That is, everyday nursing care that does not require special education, and that may be performed by less qualified personnel under registered nurses’ supervision. Hence, questionnaires that could be suitable for both registered nurses, practical nurses, and nursing assistants were of main interest. In this review, the term “nurses” include the three groups. b) Self-reported survey questionnaires constructed to measure work environment characteristics that are assumed to facilitate or limit nursing practice. This refers to nursing practice outcomes related to patient and/or organizational outcomes; the latter are highly relevant in human resource management. In order to be useful in quality development, the questionnaires of interest should describe characteristics of the work environment that are amenable to change. c) Articles presenting an assessment of the measurement properties of a questionnaire were included because measurement properties are central aspects when choosing a questionnaire.

Exclusion criteria included: a) Study setting was countries with health systems and cultures that differed greatly from Norway, such as Iran or China. b) Conference abstracts, books, reports and dissertations.

The first-step screening was conducted by the first author based on the titles in the publications. If more information was needed, the abstract was browsed. In the case of uncertainty regarding inclusion, the literature was included for further screening in the second step.

In the second step, the eligibility criteria were determined on a post-hoc basis, as the two authors independently judged the relevance by screening the abstracts. Because difficulties with recruitment and turnover among nurses were identified as a global concern in the early 2000s [27], we made a choice to restrict the included literature to not older than 20 years. Review articles [28, 29] were not included, but they were examined for citations. Articles explicitly stating that a usage fee or licence was required [30] were not included. We also excluded articles describing a questionnaire that measured only one work environment characteristic such as leadership [31]. This was done because the work environment is considered a multidimensional phenomenon, and in order to have a questionnaire of a reasonable length, we excluded questionnaires that went deep into one characteristic, measuring only one dimension.

Selected articles

Articles were included for full-text reading and charting of contents, if one author found it potentially relevant. Additional articles that presented quality assessment of the questionnaire in the article were read thoroughly in order to clarify the development, use or properties of the questionnaire. For example, if an article referred to a qualitative study that described the content development of a questionnaire or the psychometric properties of the particular questionnaire, this article was included in the appraisal of the questionnaire and charting of data.

Data extraction and presentation

The results are mainly presented in tables as recommended by Khalil et al. [25]. Table 2 is a presentation of the characteristics of the questionnaires in order to compare and assess their relevance. If the questionnaire was used in several studies, we present these studies together.
Table 2

Characteristics of included studies

Author/country

Name of questionnaire

Main study object

Target group

Workplace Setting

Items/domains

Response format

Additional literature

Group/appraisal

Adams & Bond (1995) [42]/UK

The Ward Organisational Features Scales -WOFS

Environmental factors influential on the effectiveness of nursing services

Registered nurses

Hospital

105/14

4- and 5-point scales

 

1

Sjetne & Stavem (2006) [89]/Norway

93/12 (did not use 2 domains)

Edvardsson et al. (2009) [40]/Sweden

Person-centred Climate Questionnaire – PCQ-S

Person-centred climate

Healthcare staff

Hospital

14/3

6-point scale

 

1

Bergland et al. (2012) [48]/Norway

Care staff

Nursing homes

Edvardsson et al. (2015) [90]/Sweden

All staff on duty

 

Bondevik et al. (2014) [71]/Norway

The safety attitudes questionnaire – ambulatory Norwegian version for the primary care setting – SAQ-AV

Patient safety culture

Registered nurses, medical secretaries and bioengineers, medical doctors

Out-of-hours casualty clinics & general practitioner practices

62/5

5-point scale

 

1

Buljac-Samardzic et al. (2016) [61]/Netherlands

Direct care employees

Nursing and residential homes

Chou et al. (2002) [51]/UK

Measure of job satisfaction for nursing homes. Based on Traynor & Wade –MJS (1993) [91]/UK

Job satisfaction

All staff

Nursing homes

22/5

5-point scale

Traynor & Wade (1993) [91] /UK

1

Ellenbecker & Byleckie (2005) [59]/USA

Home healthcare nurse’s job sat. scale – HHNJS

Home healthcare nurse’s job satisfaction

All healthcare workers

Home healthcare

30/9

5-point scale

 

1

Ellenbecker et al. (2008) [92]/USA

aEstabrooks et al. (2009) [36]/Canada

Alberta Context Tool – ACT

Organizational context central to evidence-based practice

Paediatric nurses

Hospitals

56–58/ 10

5-point scale

 

1

Nurses (Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses)

Elder care facilities

Eldh et al. (2013) [93] /Sweden

Healthcare aides

Nursing homes

Estabrooks et al. (2013) [60] /Canada

Professional nurses

Different care settings

Squires et al. (2013) [94]/Canada

Flint et al. (2013) [55]/Australia

Brisbane Practice Environment Measure

- B-PEM

Nurses’ practice environment

Registered nurses

Hospital

26/4

5-point scale

Webster et al. (2009) [95] /Australia

1

Reid et al. (2015) [96]/Australia

Sample

28/5

Murrells et al. (2005) [69]/UK

Instrument for job satisfaction in nursing developed for the UK

Nurses’ job satisfaction

Nurses

All settings

20/6

5-point scale

 

1

aTemkin-Greener et al. (2009) [35]/USA

Work environment and perceived work effectiveness

Nursing home work environment and perceived work effectiveness

All employees

Nursing homes

68/5

5-point scale

 

1

Andersson & Lindgren (2008) [53]/Sweden

Karen-personnel

Quality of care from personnel’s perspective

Registered nurses, nurse assistants

Hospital

35/6

5-point scale

Andersson & Lindgren (2013) [97] /Sweden

2

Castle (2010) [46]/USA

Nursing home certified nurse assistant job satisfaction questionnaire – NH-CNA-JSQ

Certified nurse assistant Job satisfaction

Certified nurse assistants

Nursing homes

19/7

Visual analogue rating format (10- point scale)

 

2

ade Brouwer, et al. (2014) [37]/Netherlands

Essentials of Magnetism -EOMII

Essentials of a productive nurse work environment identified by nurses practicing in Magnet hospitals

Nurses with vocational training, Bachelor degree nurses

Hospital

58/8

4-point scale

Schmalenberg & Kramer (2008) [21] /USA

2

Deilkas & Hofoss (2008) [70]/Norway

Norwegian version of the Safety Attitudes Questionnaire, Generic version (Short Form 2006) – SAQ

Patient safety culture

Physicians, nurses, physio-therapists, radiographers

Hospital

36/7

5-point scale

Sexton et al. (2006) [98] /USA, UK, New Zealand

2

From et al. (2013) [50]/Sweden

The Creative Climate Questionnaire – CCQ (Generic)

Creative climate

All care workers

Long-term care

50/10

4-point scale

Mathisen & Einarsen (2004) [99]/R

2

Ives-Erickson et al. (2015) [43]/USA

The patient care associates’ work environment scale – PCA-WES

Patient care associates’ practice environment in the acute care settings

Nurse aides

hospital

35/5

4-point scale

 

2

Lake (2002) [14]/USA

Practice Environment Scale of the Nursing Work Index – PES-NWI

Nurses’ practice environment

Registered nurses

Hospital

31/5

4-point scale

 

2

Cummings et al. (2006) [17]/Canada

Hospital

Spence-Laschinger (2008) [66]/Canada

Hospital

Flynn et al. (2010) [3]/USA

Nursing homes

Gajewski et al. (2010) [100]/USA

Hospital

Jarrin et al. (2014) [63]/USA

Home healthcare

Lynn et al. (2009) [101]/USA

Satisfaction in Nursing Scale – SINS

Work satisfaction

Registered nurses

Hospital

55/4

5-point scale

 

2

Mensik (2007) [65]/USA

Dimensions of Magnetism instrument – DOM

Dimensions of Magnetism

Nurses

Home healthcare

37

Checklist −10 most important

 

2

Mueller & Savik (2010) [49]/USA

Nursing Practice Model Questionnaire – NPMQ

Nursing practice model

Registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants

Long-term care

37/5

yes/no

3-point scale

 

2

Slater et al. (2009) [56]/Ireland

The Nursing Context Index – NCI

Nurses practice environment (person-centred practice framework)

Registered nurses

Hospital

89/19

7-point scale.

McCormack et al. (2010) [62] /Ireland

2

Residential settings for older people

Tourangeau et al. (2006) [102]/Canada

McCloskey/Mueller satisfaction scale – MMSS

Nurse job satisfaction

Nurses

Hospital

23/7

5-point scale

 

2

Zuniga et al. (2013) [58]/Switzerland

Nursing Home Survey on Patient Safety Culture – NHSOPSC

Safety climate

Direct care nursing personnel & nursing unit supervisors

Nursing homes

42/12

5-point scale

 

2

Aiken & Patrician (2000) [13]/USA

Nursing Work Index-Revised – NWI-R

Nurses’ practice environment

Registered nurses

Hospital

57/4

4-point scale

 

3

Flynn et al. (2005) [57]/USA & New Zealand

Hospital, home care & district nursing

47/4

Cummings et al. (2006) [17]/Canada

Hospital

 

Joyce & Crooks (2007) [103]/Australia

Hospital

29/5

Li et al. (2007) [104]/USA

Hospital

21/4

Slater et al. (2010) [105]/Northern Ireland

Hospital

33/3

Sjetne et al. (2010) [106]/Norway

Hospital

26/5

Best & Thurston (2006) [107]/Canada

Index of Worklife Satisfaction – IWS

Worklife satisfaction

Public health nurses

Sample

Part A:15

Part B: 44

Paired comparisons and a 5-point scale

 

3

   

Part B: 44

7-point scale

Zangaro & Soeken (2005) [108] /R

Castle (2006) [64]/USA

The Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture –HSOPSC

Safety culture

Nurse aides

Nursing homes

42/12

5-point scale

 

3

Blegen et al. (2009) [109]/USA

Healthcare staff

Hospitals

Castle et al. (2007b) [45]/USA

Nursing home nurse aide job satisfaction questionnaire – NHNA-JSQ

Nurse aide job satisfaction

Nurse aides

Nursing homes

21/7

Visual analogue rating format: 10-point scale

Castle (2007a) [110] /USA

3

Estabrooks et al. (2002) [111]/Canada

Practice Environment Index – Single factor model

Nurses’ practice environment

Registered nurses

Hospital

26/1

4-point scale

 

3

Cummings et al. (2006) [17]/Canada

Fairbrother et al. (2009) [41]/Australia

Nursing Workplace Satisfaction Questionnaire – NWSQ

Job satisfaction

Nurses

Hospital

14/3

Agreement- based scale

 

3

Kvist et al. (2012) [112]/Finland

Kuopio University Hospital Job Satisfaction Scale – KUHJSS

Job satisfaction

Nursing staff

Hospital

37/7

5-point scale

 

3

Lacey et al. (2011) [113]/USA

Organizational job satisfaction – OJS

Organizational job satisfaction

Nurses

Hospital

17/NI

4-point scale

 

3

LaMarche & Tullai-McGuinness (2009) [47] /USA

Misener nurse practitioner job satisfaction survey – MNPJSS

Nurse practitioner job satisfaction

Nurse practitioners

Primary healthcare

44/6

6-point scale

 

3

Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire – MSQ-SF

20/2

5-point scale

Parmelee et al. (2009) [44]/USA

Nursing Assistants Barriers Scale – NABS

Perceived barriers to job performance

Nursing assistants

Nursing homes

30/6

NI

 

3

Santavirta (2003) [114]/Finland

Job content questionnaire – JCQ + parts from QPS-Nordic (Generic)

General questionnaire measuring working conditions

Teachers & nurses

Hospital

All studies used different parts/items

4- or 5-point scale

 

3

Larsson et al. (2013) [67]/Sweden

Home care aides, nursing assistants

Home care

Zhang et al. (2014) [68]/USA

All employees

Nursing homes

Tervo-Heikkinen et al. (2014) [115]/Finland

The RN Working Conditions Barometry Index form – RN-WCBI (based on NWI-R and QPS-Nordic)

Nurses’ work environment

Nurses

Sample – all settings

38 questions /207 statements

NI

 

3

aFound through reading of reference lists

NI No Information found in literature

R Review

First, we identified the study author(s) and country of development, name of the questionnaire used in the study and the main study object, i.e. the main dimension the questionnaire is designed to measure. The number of items in the questionnaire represents a total count, including questions not concerning work environment issues, but excluding sociodemographic questions. We recorded the target population in the study; this may differ from the population the questionnaire was originally developed for. The workplaces of the participants in each study and the response format used in the questionnaire are also presented in the table. In case of revisions, we extracted data from the latest version known to us.

Brief appraisal and questionnaire content

Daudt et al. [26] suggested that scoping reviews should include some form of quality assessment for included studies. Therefore, we performed a brief appraisal by recording relevant information about psychometric properties that were presented with the questionnaire. This assessment was based on a very short customized version of the COSMIN checklist [32, 33]. For example, whether the content development was described, if reproducibility or internal consistency was tested and if it had acceptable results. The appraisal also included a global rating of scientific quality and of the overall face validity for basic nursing in long-term settings. The appraisal scores were summed, and the questionnaires were categorized in three groups according to their appraisal scores (nine with high scores in group one; thirteen in group two with medium scores; twelve in group three with low scores).

The methodological quality or risk of bias was not assessed in the included articles. This is in line with how scoping reviews are usually conducted [34].

In regard to research question 2; the questionnaire content mapping was conducted by mapping the content domains of the nine questionnaires in group 1, represented by the labels assigned to them by the authors. We decided, a priori, to build on Bae’s [7] review of working conditions. The first author did a qualitative interpretation of the domains in the questionnaires and their concurrence with Bae’s synthesised domains. This was done in order to map the domains and labels used in the questionnaires and possibly expand the range of domains already identified by Bae.

Results

Search and selection of literature

The first literature search was conducted in October 2015 and yielded 4305 unique articles. The update search conducted in December 2016 provided 750 new articles, after duplicates were removed. Figure 1 illustrates the search and selection. After the first relevance screening, 263 articles remained. For the final synthesis of full-text articles, 50 articles were included. Three more questionnaires measuring different dimensions of the work environment were found by screening references in the included literature [3537]. We included 12 articles that elaborated on properties of any of the identified questionnaires; the final selection consisted of 65 articles comprising 34 questionnaires. We searched government and organization websites and found generic work environment questionnaires currently in use in many different types of services; for example the QPS-Nordic [38] and the 10-faktor [39].

Characteristics of included questionnaires

Table 2 shows the questionnaires found in our search and is sorted first by the appraisal group and then by the author’s name.

The number of items in the questionnaires varies considerably from 14 [40, 41] to 105 [42]. The questionnaires were developed for and tested in health personnel subgroups, for example, questionnaires developed for nurse aides [4345], practical nurses [46], nurse practitioners [47], all employees [35], all care workers [4853], and specific versions developed for different groups of workers [36, 54]. Most questionnaires were developed and tested for registered nurses [14, 16, 37, 53, 5557].

Most questionnaires were tested in a general hospital setting. Six questionnaires were developed specifically for use in nursing home settings [35, 4446, 49, 58], and one [59] for home healthcare. However, four questionnaires were adapted and modified from a hospital setting for use in nursing homes [48, 51, 60, 61]. Three questionnaires were developed for use in a hospital setting but were used in the long-term care setting without modification, or with just minor changes in wording to fit the new setting [3, 6265].

The Nursing Work Index [63, 66] and the Job Content Questionnaire [67, 68] are used in both home healthcare and nursing homes settings. In these studies, only registered nurses were included.

The most frequently used response format was a Likert-type four- or five-point scale.

There was considerable variation as to which outcomes and work environment dimensions were measured by the questionnaires. These were, for example, quality of care [53], job satisfaction [45, 46, 51, 69], safety attitudes or safety culture [58, 70, 71], creative climate [50], barriers [44], person-centred care [48], or evidence-based practice [36]. In regard to measuring only the practice environment, the most frequently used questionnaire that we found in this review is the Nursing Work Index (NWI). In our findings, the NWI is also the questionnaire that has been most revised. The nurses’ practice or work environment as the main study object was also found in a questionnaire named the Brisbane Practice Environment Measure (B-PEM) [55], which is similar to the NWI in terms of contents. Some of the questionnaires have the work environment in a specific context or setting as the main study object, such as: Work environment and perceived work effectiveness [35], Patient care associates’ practice environment in the acute care settings [43], Nurses’ practice environment (person-centred practice framework) [56], Essentials of a productive nurse work environment identified by nurses practicing in Magnet hospitals [37], and work environment as perceived by nurses [16].

The Job Content Questionnaire (JCQ) [67, 68] and the Creative Climate Questionnaire (CCQ) [50] are generic questionnaires, developed to be used in any professional group.

Questionnaire contents

Table 3 shows the nine questionnaires in appraisal group 1, with attention paid to the questionnaire contents. The ten domains synthesized in Bae’s review [7] are presented in the top row in Table 3.

The content domains are labelled differently. For example, Bae uses the concept “supportive managers” but supposedly similar domains identified in eight out of nine questionnaires were labelled “perceptions of management” [71], “professional support” [51], “relationship with organization” [59], “leadership” [35, 36], “management support” [55] and “ward leadership” [42]. The concept of “supportive managers” was split into two domains (relationships and development) in one questionnaire [69].

The concept domain of collaborative relationships with peers was present in almost all questionnaires, but the label varied. The labels in the questionnaires were: “a climate of community” [40], “teamwork climate” [71], “team spirit” [51], “relationship with peers” [59], “informal interactions” [36], “relationships” [69] and “staff cohesion” [35] and “professional relationship amongst nurses” [42]. The collaborative relationships with the physicians’ domain were less prevalent than the relationships with peers. The label was called: “relationship between nurses and medical staff” [42] and “relationship with physician” [59]. In one questionnaire, the label was “formal interactions” [36] and included different healthcare providers, not only physicians.

The perception of busyness is also a topic in the majority of the questionnaires. These are labelled: “stress and workload” [59], “workload” [51, 55], “staff organization” [42], “organizational slack-staff”, “organizational slack–time” [36], “nature of work” [69] and “perceived work effectiveness” [35].

The domains of autonomy, participation and involvement were labelled “personal satisfaction” [51], “professional pride” and “autonomy” [59], “influence on timing of ward and patient events”, “influence on ward management” and “influence on human and financial resources” [42] and “culture” [36] in the questionnaires.

The domain of patient-centred climate was present in one questionnaire, labelled “relationship with patients” [59]. Person-centred climate was also the overall phenomenon to be measured in one questionnaire [40].

Four out of nine questionnaires contained a domain related to professional practice and education. These were labelled “professional practice” [42], “training” [51], “professional development” [55], and “education” [69]. One questionnaire had “evidence-based practice” as an overall phenomenon to be measured [36]. Professional development was not included in Bae’s [7] synthesis.

Other domains that were not present in Bae’s review were the physical surroundings and availability of resources. In the questionnaires identified in the present study, these were labelled: “ward facilities” [42], “a climate of everydayness” [40], “structural and electronic resources”, “organizational slack–space” [36] and “resources” [69].

A domain including salary, benefits and rostering was also present in the questionnaires, labelled “rostering” [55], and “salary and benefits” [59], as was patient safety, labelled “ward layout” [42], “a climate of safety” [40] and “safety climate” [51].

Discussion

In this scoping review, we identified survey questionnaires measuring nurses’ perceptions of work environment. We have mapped the content domains included in a group of questionnaires.

The following discussion focuses first on nursing settings in general, then on the long-term care perspective.

Overall settings

The Nursing Work Index (NWI), and modified versions of it, stand out as the most frequently used instrument for measuring the work environment of registered nurses in this review. Because the NWI was developed in the USA over 25 years ago [12], the content of the NWI may be decreasingly relevant for contemporary work settings. However, The Essentials of Magnetism (EOM) [19] process measurement tool and subsequently its revised version EOMII [20, 21] were developed with a basis in the NWI and assess more contemporary aspects of importance for a productive nursing work environment. The healthcare sector is constantly under transformation. New management structures and cost containment have been prominent features in recent years [72], as have the change from profession-centredness to patient-centredness and patient-safety focus. Taking a broader view on the work environment, the questionnaires include a varied selection of constructs and operationalisations intended to represent the work environment domains of nurses. The domains we mapped in the questionnaires are to some extent overlapping, often with little consistency in terminology. Nurses’ perceptions of their work environment may include a range of different phenomena that are not necessarily directly related to one another, but indirectly or directly comprise the environment in which the nurses work [73, 74]. Some domains are more prevalent in the reviewed questionnaires, but it is premature to conclude that these are more significant than others for measuring the work environment. Some elements may been the subject of less attention or research and therefore not measured in the questionnaires we found in this review, such as relationships with other professionals or relatives, as opposed to relationships with physicians and peers, which are the commonly measured domains.

Our findings illustrate the importance of clarifying and defining the outcome one intends to measure. When measuring a broad construct, in our case “nursing work environment”, the subdomains of relevance for the target population and in the specific context need to be defined [33, 75]. In our review, several questionnaires seem to measure the same or overlapping domains, but under different labels and uniquely operationalised. For example, the domain “autonomy” is a common work environment domain included in work environment surveys. It has been argued that the concept of autonomy can be theoretically differentiated into two discrete concepts – autonomy related to the nurses’ clinical practice and autonomy in relation to work [76]. When measuring a domain such as “autonomy”, one needs to clarify the theoretical construct, and be aware that a measure of a construct in one questionnaire may not be used interchangeably with another construct of the concept in a different questionnaire. This means that a theoretical consideration of how nurses’ work environments are conceived needs to be made, and made explicit, when choosing among questionnaires and in the design of a study [7].

Long-term care settings

Based on a review of national frameworks of long-term care quality policy documents and analytic frameworks in the academic literature, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stressed three aspects as generally accepted and critical underpinnings of the quality of long-term care: patient-centredness, care co-ordination, and safety effectiveness [77]. The dimension of patient-centred climate was not a common dimension in the first group of the reviewed questionnaires. One questionnaire measured person-centred climate as a sole topic [40]. Patient-centredness has become a healthcare quality hallmark and may represent something slightly different in long-term care settings compared to acute care settings. Nurses in long-term care deem social relationships with residents to be an important factor of their work environment and in their assessment of quality of care and their intent to remain in their work [78], as well as a motivating factor that is important for their job satisfaction [79]. This is supported by previous research, which found that residents in nursing homes find the relationships with nurses to be an important factor in their wellbeing and in high-quality care [80, 81].

The dimension of collaborative relations with peers was an aspect in almost all nine questionnaires. Researchers found that team collaboration and performance are associated with higher levels of quality of care and functional outcomes among residents in nursing homes [82, 83]. Nursing home staff’s perceptions of better team climate were related to better-perceived quality of care in a recent study, and the researchers concluded that team climate was an important factor to consider when trying to improve quality of care [84]. It is also argued that there is a possible association between improved teamwork and reduced work stressors and less care left undone [85].

The last aspect OECD stresses as important to quality of long-term care is “safety” [77]. We found this domain in the questionnaires. Nursing care is provided to patients in complex care environments that can generate errors and cause harm. Patient safety is also considered an indicator of high-quality nursing care. This can be seen as related to nurses’ direct roles in integrating care, detecting possible errors and preventing harm and adverse events [86]. A failure in fulfilling these roles may result in errors in patient care as well as adverse events. The aspect of safety climate may therefore be among the most important factors when measuring the work environment in long-term care settings.

An important phenomenon that was absent in the questionnaires was the relationship with relatives. As the residents in nursing homes need more complex care, in cases of, for example, dementia, the relatives’ role as “spokespersons” will be crucial for patient-centredness [87]. The relatives’ role may grow in importance and become more central among the prerequisites that facilitate good nursing practice.

Limitations

The literature about the work environment is large and complex, with a wide variety of constructs and operationalisations to represent the nursing work environment, often with little consistency in the use of terminology [74]. This means that there may be terms that pertain to the work environment domains that we did not include in the search. As a result, questionnaires may have been neglected by the procedures we followed. The first screening was done by reading the title, and browsing the abstract in case of uncertainty. The precision of this procedure is entirely dependent on the terminology used in the titles and the abstracts. There is a risk that relevant articles may have been overlooked for this reason. We directed our search to factors that are amenable to change and that pertain to the aspects of professional nursing practice. Consequently, questionnaires may have been filtered out because we found that the main content concerned personal or psychosocial characteristics, while, in fact, a part of the questionnaire may have fitted our aim. Conversely, some of the questionnaires included in the review may have domains relating to psychosocial or personal aspects. There may also be questionnaires used by governments and organizations that our internet searches did not find. The search was also conducted with terms including measurement properties (included in Table 1), i.e. articles that did not present measurement properties could have been sorted out, even though they may fit our criteria.
Table 3

Content in group one questionnaires

Author

Name of questionnaire

Domains in questionnaire

Bae (2011) [7]

Literature review of nurse working conditions and patient outcomes

Autonomy, philosophy emphasizing quality of clinical care, nurse participation, supportive managers, collaborative relationships with physicians or peers, staffing and resource adequacy, decentralized involvement in unit decision-making, patient-centred climate and busyness.

Adams & Bond (1995) [42]

The Ward Organisational Features Scales –WOFS

Ward facilities, staff organization, ward layout, professional practice, hierarchical practice, ward leadership, relationship between nurses and medical staff, professional relationship amongst nurses, influence on timing of ward and patient events, influence on ward management, influence on human and financial resources, job satisfaction

Edvardsson et al. (2009) [40]

Person-centred climate questionnaire – PCQ-S

A climate of safety, a climate of everydayness and a climate of community

Bondevik et al. (2014) [71]

The safety attitudes questionnaire ambulatory version – SAQ-AV

Teamwork climate, safety climate, job satisfaction, working conditions and perceptions of management

Chou et al. (2002) [51]

Measure of job satisfaction for nursing homes

Personal satisfaction, workload, professional support, team spirit and training

Ellenbecker and Byleckie (2005) [59]

Home healthcare nurse’s job sat. scale – HHNJS-(revised 2008)

Relationship with peers, relationship with organization, relationship with physician, salary and benefits, stress and workload, relationship with patients, professional pride, autonomy and control

Estabrooks et al. (2009) [36]

Alberta Context tool – ACT

Leadership, culture, evaluation, social capital, formal interactions, informal interactions, structural and electronic resources, organizational slack–staff, organizational slack–space, and organizational slack–time

Flint et al. (2010) [55]

Brisbane Practice Environment Measure – B-PEM

Professional development, management support, rostering, out of depth and workload

Murrells et al. (2005) [69]

Instrument for job satisfaction in nursing developed for the UK

Nature of work, development, relationships, education, work-life Interface and resources

Temkin-Greener et al. (2009) [35]

Work environment and perceived work effectiveness

Leadership, communication & coordination, conflict management, staff cohesion and perceived work effectiveness

The appraisal in this review should not be seen as a complete quality assessment, rather an appraisal of the questionnaires’ “fit” to a generic group of nursing personnel and setting.

Our results may also be influenced by some degree of dissemination bias [88], because questionnaire developers may be less willing to publish results that are unfavourable in terms of the psychometric properties of a questionnaire.

Conclusions

This scoping review identified a large number of heterogeneous work environment questionnaires. The findings from this review enhance the understanding how “work environment” can be measured with self-reported questionnaires by providing an overview of existing questionnaires and domains. The categorization of results in Tables 2 and 3 offers clarity in synthesis and in the presentation of results, providing information that is of importance when choosing a questionnaire. In future research, it is important to further investigate and clarify which work environment dimensions are the most relevant to measure for nurses in the practice setting in question.

Abbreviations

ACT: 

Alberta Context Tool

AHRQ: 

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

B-PEM: 

Brisbane Practice Environment Measure

CCQ: 

Creative Climate Questionnaire

CCQ: 

The Creative Climate Questionnaire

EOM: 

Essentials of Magnetism tool Norwegian

HHNJS: 

Home healthcare nurse’s job satisfaction scale

HSOPSC: 

The Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture

IWS: 

Index of Worklife Satisfaction

JCQ: 

The Job Content Questionnaire

KS: 

Association of Local and Regional Authorities (Norway)

KUHJSS: 

Kuopio University Hospital Job Satisfaction Scale

MJS: 

Measure of job satisfaction for nursing homes

MMSS: 

McCloskey/Mueller satisfaction scale

MNPJSS: 

Misener nurse practitioner job satisfaction survey

MSQ-SF: 

Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire

NABS: 

Nursing Assistants Barriers Scale

NCI: 

The Nursing Context Index

NH-CNA-JSQ: 

Nursing home certified nurse assistant job satisfaction questionnaire

NHNA-JSQ: 

Nursing home nurse aide job satisfaction questionnaire

NHSOPSC: 

Nursing Home Survey on Patient Safety Culture

NI: 

No Information found in literature

NPMQ: 

Nursing Practice Model Questionnaire

NWI: 

Nursing Work Index

NWI-R: 

Nursing Work Index-Revised

NWSQ: 

Nursing Workplace Satisfaction Questionnaire

OECD: 

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

OJS: 

Organizational job satisfaction

PCA-WES: 

The patient care associates’ work environment scale

PCQ-S: 

Person-centred Climate Questionnaire

PES-NWI: 

Practice Environment Scale of the Nursing Work Index

R: 

Review

RN-WCBI: 

The RN Working Conditions Barometry Index form

SALAR: 

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions

SAQ: 

Safety Attitudes Questionnaire, Generic version

SAQ-AV: 

The safety attitudes questionnaire ambulatory version

SINS: 

Satisfaction in Nursing Scale

UK: 

United Kingdom

USA: 

United States of America

WOFS: 

The Ward Organisational Features Scales

Declarations

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Elisabeth Hafstad, research librarian in the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, for significant support and expertise in the search of literature.

Funding

This research was done in the course of the first author’s doctoral studies founded by the Norwegian Nurses Organisation. The funding organisation has no role in the design of the study, search of literature, selection and interpretation of literature or in writing the manuscript.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable

Authors’ contributions

Both authors (RN and ISS) meet the criteria for authorship, including: a) making substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, analysis and interpretation of data; AND b) being involved in drafting the manuscript and revising it critically for important intellectual content; AND c) giving final approval of the version to be published. Each author participated sufficiently in the work to take public responsibility for appropriate portions of the content; AND d) agreed to be accountable for all aspects of the work in ensuring that questions related to the accuracy or integrity of any part of the work are appropriately investigated and resolved.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Not applicable

Consent for publication

Not applicable

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Publisher’s Note

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Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI)
(2)
University of Oslo, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Health and Society, Department of Health Management and Health Economics

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