Policy makers must step up to attract aged care workers

Casual staff in Australia’s aged care sector are working across multiple homes to secure a liveable wage, while suffering work related stress and a lack of career progression and upskilling opportunities.

A recent study published in the International Nursing Review by Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute and the University of Adelaide revealed these key deficiencies in the aged care sector as well as the crucial need for an immediate shift in government policy to attract young Australians to work in the sector.

The aged care sector is expected to struggle with severe workforce shortages as a result of the nation’s ageing population.

The study found that aged care managers, nurses and care staff should be offered more government funded opportunities for training and career development, with current offerings severely limited in a transient workforce where many are forced into casual shifts.

Caring Futures Institute researcher and lead author of the study Professor Lily Xiao says more needs to be done by policy makers and employers to attract and retain workers who want certainty and opportunities for their careers.

“Participants perceived that inadequate staffing levels were the main sources of stress they experienced in the workplace and influenced their intention to leave the job,” she says.

“They also reported that managers who lacked nursing care knowledge and were not approachable for staff to share their thoughts and ideas, but integral decisions made their day-to-day work more difficult. On the contrary, managers and supervisors who developed social bonds with team members and shared decision making with the team attracted staff to stay.

“Our study also shows that employer-sponsored education enables staff to develop their careers and contribute to retention rates. Staff expect paid education to develop their leadership and teamwork skills.

“Strong leadership in the aged care workforce has been found to contribute to staff intention to remain. Continuing education and mentorship for managers and registered nurses to develop knowledge about staff issues and effective leadership will help reduce staff turnover.”

The 35 participants in the study were all working for not-for-profit organisations. Five main themes were identified in relation to their reasons to entering and staying in the industry based on the challenges being faced in residential and community care.

The key themes include: entering aged care with a passion for the job; entering aged care as it is the only employment option; factors attracting aged care workers to stay in care; factors influencing care workers to leave the job; and preferring to work in residential aged care rather than community aged care.

It was found that sick leave was attributed to work-related stress, with nursing graduates at particular risk of experiencing high stress due to their defaulted leadership and management role in mixed-skills teams. There was also a lack of mentoring support to help transition them into the aged care work environment.

“Issues relating to the attraction and retention of aged care workers and the transition of working between residential and community care settings are complex and influenced by personal, institutional and societal factors. Addressing those issues needs collective actions among policymakers, education providers and aged care organisations,” says Professor Xiao.

“It’s important to note, these participants were from three not-for-profit aged care organisations so findings may not represent care workers employed by other types of aged care organisations, including private for profit or government-owned organisations.”

‘Care workers’ perspectives of factors affecting a sustainable aged care workforce’ is part of a large study entitled ‘Achieving a skilled and sustainable aged care workforce for Australia’ funded by the Australian Research Council.

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Quality Aged Care