Aged Care policy reform crucial to attract workers

Work-related stress, lack of career progression and up-skilling opportunities are key deficiencies in Australia’s aged care sector with casual staff working across multiple homes to secure liveable pay, as part of practices attributed to high COVID-19 infection and death rates.

A recent study published in the International Nursing Review by Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute and the University of Adelaide has revealed the crucial need for an immediate shift in government policy to help attract young Australians into an aged car sector expected to struggle with severe workforce shortages as a result of the nation’s ageing population.

Aged care managers, nurses and care staff should also be offered more government funded opportunities for training and career development to enable upward mobility, with current offerings severely limited in a transient workforce where many are forced into casual shifts.

Lead author, Professor Lily Xiao, a researcher in the Caring Futures Institute says more needs to be done by policymakers and employers to attract and retain workers seeking certainty and opportunities for their career development to help eliminate ongoing issues in the sector.

“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. They also reported that managers who lacked nursing care knowledge and were not approachable for staff to share their thoughts and ideas, but made 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” says Professor Xiao.

“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 mentor ship for managers and registered nurses to develop knowledge about staff issues and effective leadership will help reduce staff turnover.”

32 aged care staff working for not for profit organisations participated in the study with five main themes identified in relation to their reasons for entering and remaining in the industry based on the challenges being faced in the residential and community care environments.

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 care workers to stay in aged care; factors influencing care workers to leave the job; and preferring to work in residential aged care rather than community aged care.

For example, Sick leave was attributed to work-related stress with new nursing graduates at particular risk of experiencing high levels of stress due to their defaulted leadership and management role in a skill-mixed teams and the lack of mentoring support to 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 published in the International Nursing Review.

This study 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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Caring Futures Institute College of Nursing and Health Sciences Research