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Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

Caring about caregivers should be a top priority

Focus on improving training and creating spaces for nursing-home staff to connect with one another, researchers say

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More than 220,000 Canadians currently reside in a nursing home or long-term care facility, with the number projected to increase steadily as the Canadian population ages. This may include our parents, other relatives, or friends, and it could include us too.

Unfortunately, staffing shortages have become a perpetual concern for long-term care facilities across the country. Projections indicate this staffing crisis will only increase as more Canadians enter long-term care facilities without enough trained professionals to care for them.

But it’s not just a numbers game. Our recent research demonstrates it is also about the job satisfaction of professionals who provide care for some of our most vulnerable aging seniors.

So, what are the factors associated with job satisfaction in residential long-term care – and why does it matter?

For over a decade, Alberta-based Translating Research in Elder Care (TREC) has been compiling robust long-term data on 94 long-term care facilities across BC, Alberta and Manitoba, surveying staff regularly. In our recent research, TREC data was used to examine the job satisfaction of nurses and other allied healthcare workers, such as social workers, physiotherapists and recreation therapists.

Our research has found that emotional burnout is associated with job dissatisfaction. This matters because previous studies have found that poor job satisfaction among long-term care employees is associated with lower quality of life for residents, for example, because it contributes to staff turnover, poorer staff health and well-being, as well as an increased risk of medical errors and an increased risk of adverse health events.

It would be comforting to know that the people charged with caring for our loved ones, or ourselves, are satisfied in their jobs and are given the necessary tools and training to feel empowered to give the best possible care.

Clearly, caring about our caregivers should be a top priority.

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The good news is that we also found much can be done to promote job satisfaction among professionals who care for our vulnerable seniors. Organizations can take practical steps to enhance healthcare workers’ satisfaction with their jobs by finding ways to increase orientation and on-the-job training, finding ways that staff can find more time to be with residents and allowing for dedicated spaces for staff to connect.

Enhanced job orientation may provide an important foundation for new employees by increasing opportunities to learn about the organization’s values, beliefs and mission. This may, in turn, enhance employees’ sense of empowerment and work engagement, which we have found to be crucial for job satisfaction.

Both nurses and allied healthcare workers need to feel empowered in their jobs by having a meaningful purpose. For allied healthcare workers, the ability to spend more time with residents or to share best practices with colleagues was associated with higher levels of job satisfaction. For nurses, creating additional dedicated space where they could connect and discuss confidential issues may also enhance job satisfaction.

All nursing and allied health staff should be encouraged to pursue and assist with, as much as possible, ongoing education about various aspects of caring for older adults. Ensuring newly-hired nurses have sufficient orientation and continuing education opportunities also leads to better outcomes for both older adults living in nursing homes and for the nursing homes overall.

Investment in staff preparation and training is good for managers too. In a related study, we found that long-term care managers’ ability to exercise leadership, have impact, grow social networks and have robust training and orientation for the job was directly linked to their job satisfaction. Finding strategies and providing training and education to support managers will help them deliver high-quality care.

As the number of Canadians aging increases over the next several decades, we need to pay close attention to the health and well being of the workforce caring for these older Canadians. The happier and healthier they are, the better care everyone will receive.

Laura D. Aloisio is a research coordinator with the Clinical Epidemiology Program at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Dr. Carole A. Estabrooks is scientific director of the pan-Canadian Translating Research in Elder Care (TREC), and professor and Canada Research Chair, faculty of nursing at the University of Alberta.

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  • says:

    "Caregivers" in the truest form, are paid minimum wage, and work long hours as "part-time", with little or no benefits. Add to this they receive physical and verbal assault from patients and/or their families with no ability to oppose or retaliate.
    I'd want that profession why?