Rankled nurses ready to walk

Nurses are generally unhappy at work, according to a new survey. But aged care nurses are, if anything, the least happy of all.

Above: Australian Nursing Federation federal secretary, Lee Thomas.

By Stephen Easton

A nationwide survey shows that nurses are deeply unsatisfied with their jobs compared to the average Australian, with 15 per cent intending to not only quit their job, but leave the profession altogether in the next 12 months.

The survey, conducted by the Monash University Department of Management, also reveals that nurses are significantly less satisfied than the general working population in a range of other measures. 

38 per cent reported high or very high “stress and burnout” levels and 45 per cent said they did not trust their employer.

“Only 40 per cent of nurses report being content with their pay and conditions compared with 75 per cent of workers from the broader working population,” the survey report states.

Aged care nurses only made up 11 per cent of those surveyed but if anything, they are even less happy at work than their hospital counterparts, according to one of the report’s authors.

Dr Belinda Allen, who has undertaken workplace research specifically on the aged care sector, said that in her experience, aged care nurses did not feel they had the same status as other nurses, due to lower pay and their roles being scaled back within the industry.

“They sort of feel like they’re ‘the lowest of the low’ within the profession,” Dr Allen said.

“I would say that the picture in aged care is more negative than the picture for nursing overall in Australia.

“Certainly that’s what the research I did exclusively in aged care indicated – that they were a very unhappy bunch, and had very negative perceptions around what their work environment was like.”

“A lot of nursing homes, particularly private places, are looking to make registered nurses redundant and replace them with workers who have fewer skills, and obviously cost less.”

Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) federal secretary, Lee Thomas, said the results were extremely concerning to the ANF, and being exacerbated by decreased funding for nursing positions across the Australian healthcare system.

“State and federal governments are failing the community if they sit back and allow an exodus of nurses to occur, as well not providing enough funding to employ new nurses and midwives graduating,” Ms Thomas said.

“[…] The results of the survey are a real warning that excessive workloads due to critical funding shortages, no nationally mandated nurse to patient ratios, the lack of professional recognition and the ongoing attacks on working conditions from governments across the country, particularly in Victoria, NSW and Tasmania, are clearly taking their toll on nurses – they are fed up.”

“Unless the federal and state governments act now and fix these problems and the growing nurse discontent across the workforce, we will see more and more nurses leaving the profession – with no one coming through to replace them.”

The study’s lead author, Associate Professor Peter Holland, largely agreed with this assessment and described his results as “really surprising” and “ominous”.

“It’s what we’ve described as a ‘perfect storm’; workers who are unhappy combined with a sector that’s expanding and already experiencing workforce shortages,” Professor Holland said.

“[The survey] indicates that it’s going to be a profession that’s harder and harder to attract people to, because of the problems in the workplace.”

On management responsiveness – a measure of how well management listens to, understands and tries to address issues raised by staff – the professor said only 28 per cent of nurses gave positive evaluations of their employers, compared with 59 per cent of the general Australian working population.

“That, to me, is a really worrying statistic.”

Professor Holland also confirmed the survey had been completed before the most recent wave of industrial action from Victorian nurses, and that respondents came from all over the nation.

“This report isn’t just riding the current wave of anger [among nurses] in Victoria. It’s nationwide and the research was done from July to December; the dispute started in January.

“NSW and QLD were actually the most represented in the survey, so its not a Victorian skew. It really is nationwide.”

Tags: australian-nursing-federation, monash, nurses, resarch, survey, union,

5 thoughts on “Rankled nurses ready to walk

  1. I am a registered nurse whom has been in the acute sector for just on 40 years and am just about to start in aged care as i want to make a difference. I could write a book on why nursing is as it is. The main reason is the mistake they made in the 80’s when they took our training out of the hospitals. It has gradually been going down hill since then and it is now a dangerous profession to be in with no support from management whom are only now concerned with there bonusus. It is an absolute disgrace. I could go on and on and on.

  2. It saddens me after qualifying as an RN in 1990 in the UK to read this article and nod my head saying how true!!

    I am a Quality Manager in aged care and love my job but agree with all of the above, I often say I wish I had never been a nurse but then remember with fondness why I entered nursing. I think we are born nurses but it concerns me greatly that many are not entering nursing and many are leaving nursing. Pay is one of the main issues and stress with increasing demands on the staff. Plus aged care is so highly regulated it gives you nightmares!!!
    Yet nurses in this sector recieve lower rates of pay, its time for change otherwise we are heading for a disaster , who will be left to look after who ????

  3. I am a Canadian registered nurse who is fairly new in the profession, just under three years. I am seriously considering a move to Australia and am interested in getting the scoop of nursing in Australia. It is disturbing and sad at the same time how nurses have been treated over the course of history and continue to be treated- with such little value and respect compared to other professions. Since nurses are the backbone of any health care system, it is just unbelievable that we seem to have so little influence with government bodies, something has got to be done about the injustice and unfair treatment of nurses. I commend the many nurses that have paved the way for present day nursing, who have advocated tirelessly. I say thank you to them. But it seems like it’s time to take it up a couple of notches and really assert our significance and value in the health care system.

  4. I’a a registered nurse and a Manager currently in a Aged Care Facility alhtough I have also been a Executive over two small rural acute hospitals. In reply to the comments made by Kerrie re university trained RN’s being the main issue why nursing is going backwards – I think you need to do some more research around this, the current outcomes in hospitals is far better then ever before. The main difference is that all deaths and patient outcomes are now monitored and highlighted where as in the past nurse’s learnt by mistakes, often at the patient’s expense but this seems to be forgotten nowdays. As for bonuses in the Acute sector this does not happen in the public sector. Managers are under very strict budget restrictions and care very much but are told this is what we have and this is what we are doing – the reason I left Acute was because you are asked to manage without being able to make decisions that impact your service and everyone blaming you for not fixing the issues that you have no power over.

  5. I have recently completed a PhD (Jan 2011) and my thesis confirmed similar comments documented above – Exlporation of the factors that infuenced End of Career Nurses with regard to their workplace participation.

    I would be very happy to discuss further with the auther of this piece.
    Catriona Booker

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