Many aged care facilities are turning to casual staff to fill workforce shortages but new research shows this reduces job satisfaction among permanent personal care workers and increases their intention to leave.
For permanent personal care workers, an increasing proportion of casual staff in a facility is linked to increased job stress as well as a perception they are less able to use their own skills and abilities and are less respected, the research found.
The study, by academics at Flinders University and Mid Sweden University, found that without acknowledging the role of casual staff in workforce dynamics their employment “could well exacerbate, rather than help resolve, problems affecting workforce sustainability.”
In contrast to previous findings, the research also suggests it isn’t so much the presence of casual staff but rather the proportion of them that creates issues for retention of permanent staff.
The research used the data in the 2012 National Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey, drawing on information from 2,481 organisations and more than 5,000 employees.
The study found that employing casual workers may increase dissatisfaction and intention to leave for permanent personal care workers but did not have a significant impact on nurses.
Using casuals to fill shortages
Despite of years of debate and various policy initiatives, skill shortages remain a pressing concern in the aged care sector.
More than three quarters of aged care facilities reported skill shortages in 2012, of which a third were for registered nurses and a further third were for personal care workers.
“More than half of facilities responded to skill shortages through the greater use of agency staff, second only to requiring the existing workforce to work longer hours,” the research noted.
The study found that agency staff were “a significant proportion of the direct care workforce, comprising nearly 10 per cent of all direct care workers in the survey fortnight.”
Personal care workers were the largest group of casual staff, as they are among the permanent residential workforce, while casual nurses worked a higher number of shifts per worker than other occupations, the research found.
Increased workload and stress
Where casual staff lack organisation-specific knowledge, research has found that internal workers take on higher workloads and informally supervise casuals, thereby increasing workload and stress, the study said.
It also noted that previous research has shown the presence of casual staff can generate negative feelings among permanent employees and diminish relations between co-workers, as well as between workers and management.
“Ultimately, this has a negative impact on internal employees’ job satisfaction,” it found.
If organisations intend to use casual staff as a strategy to quickly overcome skill shortages, the findings suggest they may get caught up in a vicious circle, the study said.
“The ‘quick fix’ of utilising [casual staff] runs the risk of increasing internal employee turnover and, as such, of perpetuating a cycle of skill shortages.”
Given the relatively high proportion of external workers in the aged care workforce, the results of the study highlight the need for these workers to be incorporated into both industry-wide workforce development strategies and the aged care policy and regulatory framework, the authors said.
The study, by Debra King, Sven Svensson and Zhang Wei has been published in the Journal of Industrial Relations.
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