Business Insight 28th Sep 2016

Australian nurses and midwives contemplate leaving profession as workloads bite: survey

Australia’s nurses and midwives are overworked, undervalued and in danger of burning out, with 32 percent considering leaving the profession, according to the bleak findings of a Monash Business School survey of nurses and midwives’ wellbeing.

The survey (pdf), which has been undertaken every three years since 2007 by Monash Business School’s Australian Consortium for Research on Employment and Work (ACREW), found already high workloads had increased and many nurses felt silenced by management.

Nurses and midwives survey 2016

Declining numbers

A potential shortage in nursing and midwifery is looming. The majority of the nursing/midwifery workforce in Australia already aged 47 years or older and set to retire in the next decade, against a backdrop of declining nursing enrolments.

The survey, “What Nurses & Midwives Want: Findings from the National Survey on Workplace Climate and Well-being” was undertaken by Associate Professor Peter Holland, Ms Tse Leng Tham and Dr Fenella Gill, who is also a research fellow at Curtin University.

Staffing in residential aged care is not safe and staff are constantly burning out and quitting.

Registered nurse, aged care NSW

The research, which builds on two previous surveys charting the wellbeing of Australian nurses, sounds a warning call to those charged with managing this workforce and this sector, says the report’s co-author, Peter Holland.

Associate Professor Holland said 54 percent of respondents were not confident about openly voicing their opinions and concerns due to fear of retribution and that efforts to improve employee feedback by managers, had faltered.

The survey found more than half of respondents felt that they have often been excluded from decisions effecting them.

“Seemingly, this has led to the covert effect of silencing nurses and midwives as they perceive ineffectiveness of such voice mechanisms,” he said.

Intensifying workloadsClick the image to view the full infographic

The report’s findings included:

  • 32% indicated they have considered leaving the nursing/midwifery profession and 25 percent reported they were either likely or very likely to leave the profession, compared to an industry average range of between three to six percent.
  • 85% of respondents felt that their jobs required them to work very fast, very hard and there is often a great deal to be done at work at least once or twice per week to several times per day. In the three years since the last study, all indicators have increased in terms of work intensification.
  • 80% indicated that they were proud of their work every day but chronic exposure to elevated workload and exhaustion, along with poor appreciation for their dedication to the job was hampering work engagement levels.

Management woes

Nurses reported feeling that they lacked management support when it came to flexible work arrangements, staffing, workload management and the handling of cases of physical, verbal and sexual harassment directed at them.

Nurses and midwifes feel their concerns are not being heardClick the image to view the full infographic

Such negative perceptions were most prevalent in New South Wales and in the areas of mental health, critical care and emergency, maternity care and aged care.

Overall, there has been a relatively steady decline in career satisfaction reported on all dimensions since the previous study in 2013. Satisfaction with overall success in the occupation witnessed fell by eight percentage point, the steepest decline of career satisfaction indicators in the study.

  • Peter Holland

    Associate Professor Peter Holland

    Department of Management

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  • Tse Leng Tham

    Tse Leng Tham

    Casual Research Assistant Department of Management

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