AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To verify with empirical evidence the hypothesised relation and the effect of quality of work life, job embeddedness and affective commitment on turnover intention of clinical nurses in China. BACKGROUND: High turnover of the nursing workforce in healthcare organisations is a difficult and recurring problem in China as well as in many other countries in the world. It leads to great waste of resources and increases management cost. Developing and retaining the nursing workforce, which is a major challenge faced by human resources practitioners in hospitals and public health agencies, also becomes a subject of interest for management studies. Most of the literature about voluntary turnover focused on such traditional measures as job satisfaction and job alternatives in the past. The introduction of such new concepts as quality of work life, job embeddedness and affective commitment, which views the issue from a much broader and comprehensive spectrum, made a great breakthrough in the turnover study. In this study, we selected quality of work life, job embeddedness and affective commitment - three of the most important factors in employer-employee relations - and analysed the interaction between each one of them, as well as their co-effect on turnover intention of Chinese nurses. METHODS: Cross-sectional survey and structural equation modelling were applied in studying the self-report questionnaires distributed to 1000 nurses employed in five large-scale government-owned hospitals in Heilongjiang Province, Northeast China. FINDINGS: Our study confirmed the hypothesised positive relation of quality of work life with job embeddedness and affective commitment and the hypothesised negative relation of quality of work life with turnover intention, that is, high quality of work life perceived by the nurses enhances their job embeddedness and affective commitment and thus reduces their intention to leave the job. CONCLUSIONS: The effect of quality of work life is positive on job embeddedness and affection commitment and negative on turnover intention. RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Nurse managers should pay great attention to the nurses' perception of quality of work life, and make great efforts in developing strategies and projects that can strengthen the nurses' embeddedness or connection with the job.