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Management poorly rated by nurses

Final results of a nation-wide survey on nurses’ attitudes to their workplace have been released. By Linda Belardi.

Nurses are significantly more dissatisfied with their workplace than the average Australian worker national comparative data has shown.

Despite being more skilled than the average employee, nurses in a nation-wide survey reported having little or no influence over the decisions made in their workplace. They also expressed lower levels of trust in management and three quarters said they did not feel strongly valued by their employer.

Only 19 per cent of nurses reported a lot of influence over how their workplace was organised or managed compared to 40 per cent of workers in the broader working population.

The independent research led by Associate Professor Peter Holland from the Department of Management at Monash University assessed how nurses stacked up against national workplace trends through an analysis of employee attitudes.

640 nurses responded to the study which is believed to be the first in the world to have surveyed nurses’ attitudes to their workplace.

Holland said for a skilled worker whose occupation is in high demand, nurses only experienced average levels of job security.

72 per cent of nurses felt that their jobs were secure which was on par with the national average. “However with predicted workforce shortages it would be expected that job security should be higher,” he told Nursing Review.

“What you normally see is that the more scarce the resource, the better it is looked after. However, this is not the case in nursing.” On pay and conditions as well as intrinsic rewards, nurses said they ranked poorly.

36 per cent of nurses said they were happy with pay and conditions, compared to a national average of 46 per cent.

However, overall, Holland said that the majority of nurses regarded management’s performance as poor or a failure. “Less than half of nurses think that their managers do a good job.”

Only 28 per cent of nurses were positive about management, compared to a national average of 59 per cent. In fact, 44 per cent of nurses felt management failed or did a poor job. On the issue of management’s willingness to share power and authority – on average 42 per cent of employees said that their managers work with them. For nurses, it was half that at 21 per cent.

Three quarters of workers in the national sample also said they had control over the pace of how they work but amongst nurses only 56 per cent said they did. “All professionals should be above 75 per cent. Nurses are consistently low on all of these figures right across the survey,” he said.

Although the study was conducted prior to the current Victorian nursing dispute, the findings described the current national mood and mirrored tensions being played out in the Victorian context. The research confirmed the level of discontent and dissatisfaction that was fuelling the current nurses’ industrial action to protect standards of care.

The gap between the workplace experience of nurses and the broader working population was stark. On some measures, nurses rated well below the national average.

Nurses’ levels of trust in their employer to do the right thing was 29 per cent, compared to 64 per cent of workers nationally. 54 per cent also said they experienced high or very high-levels of workplace stress.

Even in areas where nurses believed they performed well, such as in workplace flexibility, they still fell below the national average. 53 per cent of nurses said their workplace was flexible. The Australian population result is 72 per cent. This is despite nursing being a female dominated profession.

Holland said that the combined effect of these findings was a staff turnover rate, potentially reaching crisis proportions. 15 per cent of nurses said they would leave the profession altogether within a year.

“When you roll together all of these findings - high levels of stress, poor treatment by management, feeling undervalued, it’s not really surprising that nursing faces such a significant potential walk out of the workforce.”

But with a looming workforce shortage and the health sector expanding, these factors in total created the “perfect storm,” he said.

Holland said the major issue was not money but “how management worked with rather than against the workforce.”

“You have a genuinely dissatisfied workforce here and it really is in management’s hands to have a culture change about it.
“All the things that employees really value in managers - good communication, problem solving and involving staff in decision-making were missing from this whole system.”

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