Aim. The aim of this e-cohort sub-study was to explore and describe nurses' understandings of 'caring' in residential aged-care. Background. The quality of the work environment is an important issue for recruitment, retention and workforce planning. Knowledge about the people in and the place that is the residential aged-care facility may assist with the problems surrounding the recruitment and retention of nurses in the workforce. Design. Qualitative electronic cohort sub-study. Methods. This paper presents the qualitative research findings from an electronic cohort sub-study of 58 registered and enrolled nurses working in the residential aged-care sector in 2007. Data were collected through an open ended question and a qualitative content analysis was used to generate the core categories. Results. The concept of caring was grounded in and constrained by, the everyday reality of the nurses in the study. Organisational imperatives for the completion of documentation necessary for accreditation and funding combined with under-staffing restricted the time available for caring practices. Some nurses represented residential care faculties as devoid of care, others as a place where the resident was central to their work and care. The staff perceived of themselves as an ageing workforce in need of rejuvenation and resourcing. Conclusion. The concept of caring is manifest in nurses' language as they describe their workplace, the residents, themselves and the structures that impact on what they do. Good caring manifests itself when the residents are central to the business of the aged care facility. However, nurses in this study describe a range of restrictive factors impeding caring practices and diminishing workforce morale and motivation to create environments that can truly be called a 'home-away-from-home' and one that all people would find acceptable. Relevance to clinical practice. These findings have implications for aged-care sector recruitment, retention and workforce planning within residential aged-care facilities.