Job stresses put pressure on aged care workforce
Staff in the aged care sector are stressed, struggling with work hours and aren't feeling financially rewarded for their efforts. That's the findings of the 2016 New Zealand Aged Care Workforce Survey, an update of a 2014 snapshot of pay, work conditions, job satisfaction, capability and workplace safety of healthcare assistants, nurses and managers working in residential aged care and community aged care.
Dr Katherine Ravenswood, research leader at AUT's New Zealand Work Research Institute, says healthcare assistants in 2016 experienced more uncertainty in their jobs than those surveyed in 2014, particularly those employed in home and community care.
Up to two thirds of home and community healthcare assistants – many of whom are on minimum wage – said that they don't have guaranteed minimum work hours each week. This is coupled with shifts that can be as short as one hour in duration.
"It's concerning that those on the lowest wages have the least certainty around their hours of work. This must create considerable pressure for them and their families in planning and trying to make ends meet," says Dr Ravenswood. "This indicates how necessary it was to regularise and improve conditions in the sector, and that a lot still needs to be done."
Wages were identified as a key issue for all healthcare assistants. When asked if their rate of pay fairly reflects the skills, responsibilities and experience needed to do their job 85% of healthcare assistants working in residential aged care disagreed, and the majority of healthcare assistants in both residential and home and community care were dissatisfied with their wages.
"Clearly, wages are an issue for all healthcare assistants," Ravenswood says "We anticipate with the Government's pay and funding increase, announced recently, satisfaction with wages and perceptions of job appreciation and recognition might improve by the time we run the survey again in 2019."
Nearly 70% of nurses felt they weren't being remunerated for the skills, responsibilities and experience needed to do their job – indicating that fairness of wages is an issue for all those involved in direct care in the survey.
While the nurses and managers surveyed felt they had more job security, many were working long hours and feeling stressed. Stress or burnout were the main reasons nurses and managers gave for considering leaving their job in the next 12 months.
"We surveyed people in 2016, just after the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 came into force. It's concerning that stress and fatigue, which are now clearly identified as hazards under the Act, are such key issues for this workforce. It's become a legal issue, not just one of personal health and wellbeing," says Dr Ravenswood.
"It is down to the dedication of the workers in the sector that, in spite of the job downsides, they continue to provide quality care for their clients. However, the survey responses in this report indicate this situation is not sustainable in the medium- to long-term."
Close to 1500 aged care workers responded to the online survey run between May to July 2016. Healthcare assistants, nurses and managers in both residential aged care and home and community aged care were questioned on their job characteristics, pay and work environment, satisfaction and quitting intentions, experience, skills and qualifications, occupational health and safety, use of technology and in-between travel time arrangements.
Read the report: NZ Aged Care Workforce Survey 2016
Article author: Helen Twose