Unpaid work, workplace cultures and patients

no_pay_no_wayThe Union has been researching the impact and extent of unpaid work and the workplace cultures that support it. And it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that there is a disturbing trend emerging across all health services to rely on unpaid work to fill gaps in rosters.

It would be simple to lay the blame at the continued cuts to healthcare. The truth is that the cuts to healthcare are a big driver behind health services wanting more staff to do more unpaid work, but as we know, this push to do unpaid work has been going on for a long time.

It goes much deeper than just budget cuts.

The issue around unpaid work is also about the workplace cultures that have developed over the past decade. And it’s fair to say that this workplace culture has been encouraged as health services look for ways to do more with fewer resources.

As we look into the data from our research into unpaid work, and from our public sector enterprise bargaining survey, we can see there is a greater awareness among members about the perils of unpaid work. Through our research it’s not uncommon to read member comments that they’re expected to do unpaid work; and that when everyone else is doing unpaid work you end up doing it too. In effect, members are describing a dangerous workplace culture that says whilst we don’t like it, we just do unpaid work.

One of the most frightening comments came from a young new scientist in a pathology service who commented that she started doing unpaid work because she thought from day one that was what everyone did – she thought it was normal.

Unfortunately the sad truth is that while you are working longer hours with growing workloads, doing more and feeling more anxious or stressed will not help patient care. In fact by working until you are sick means that you are letting patients down. If you’re not at the top of your game it is easier to make mistakes and you know how mistakes can have a detrimental impact for patients; and the potential to lead to disciplinary action.

Here are a handful of the responses we had when members were asked about unpaid work and workloads:

  • To get work done
  • Unable to achieve all tasks within hours
  • I feel pressured by colleagues to do unpaid work because they are
  • Feel obliged to in order to meet minimum patient care and complete other tasks requested
  • To reduce workload the next day
  • Inadequate hours of paid work to complete allocated tasks
  • I cannot keep on top of the job unless I work through lunch and at home
  • To get the work done so testing does not fall behind
  • In order to complete the daily influx of work and in order to that the TATs are hopefully maintained. There is guilt if one leaves work for the next day
  • To keep up to date
  • To ensure ability to leave on time for child care reasons
  • To get results out to patients in a timely fashion. Given we are understaffed and all overworked it seems unfair to pass this work onto colleagues
  • Unmanageable caseloads
  • To support colleagues. To ensure proper patient care. To help out
  • Patient care would be compromised if unpaid work is not performed.
  • To keep up with workload and lessen admin for clinicians
  • Pressure from management to get tasks done
  • Due to increase demand and client care
  • Staff shortages
  • Not enough staff to keep up with workload
  • Feel necessary for patient safety and expectation
  • The service would collapse without it
  • High workload, shortage of staff
  • Lack of staff and management who believe that staff “live to work” rather than “work to live”

At this year’s Annual Conference we spent time unpacking issues like unpaid work and workloads and what we can do about them; and explore workplace cultures. And this year’s Annual Conference gives us an opportunity to truly delve into such issues as members highlight workload and fatigue, job security, hours of work and career advancement as key issues.

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