Valuing Support Workers

Michelle Holland
21 February 2020

Holland, M.J. (2020). Valuing Support Workers. (A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the Masters of Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand.) [PDF 3.9MB]


Background: The population of persons over 65 is growing exponentially correlating with a need for a sustainable workforce in aged care with support workers playing a crucial role. The New Zealand government is setting policies that drive organisations to improve the well-being of its workers and those they care for. There is pressure on agencies and managers to provide person-centred care within a market driven time constrained environment. Recruitment and retention of support workers has been identified as a major issue in the aged care workforce. This study was part of a wider research project with staff and students from the Schools of Physiotherapy at Otago University, Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic, and Management at Otago University, collaborating in a series of qualitative studies to investigate how support workers feel valued and what capabilities they have in delivering person-centred care. The premise for this research was that identifying what promotes the support workers to feel valued and therefore enhance their well-being will in turn facilitate retainment and recruitment of this workforce.

Method: This study used descriptive qualitative inquiry and 12 participants were interviewed. Data analysis was carried out using Virginia Braun and Victoria Clarke’s (2006) six stages of thematic analysis to identify the main themes of the research.

Findings: Three key themes emerged in relation to support workers experience of feeling valued: relationships, peer support and communication methods. Support workers valued their relationships with clients and their families, which was a major influencing factor in remaining in their current employment situation. Support workers valued the role they performed and having peers to support each other. However, they felt undervalued by management, agencies they worked for and society in general. Changing communication methods has meant that support workers no longer feel heard and ineffective communication has led to feelings of isolation and powerlessness. They revealed an array of capabilities that aid person-centred care: emotional intelligence, social skills, and conflict management. However, these were predominately achieved outside the care plan. Building capability through training was valued by support workers as was regular appraisals to give feed back on performance.

Conclusion: Support workers deliver person-centred care for older people in the community and in aged care facilities. However, the quality of this care is largely due to their individual attributes: valuing older people, their role, and the relationships they form, rather than from the directives of the agency. Agency systems of client care planning, time allocation, communication and staff support have posed significant barriers rather than enabled support workers to be client centred. Information from this project indicates that support workers require more effective communication methods to enable positive feedback for themselves and their clients. It is proposed that regulation of this workforce, including equipping them with a scope of practice and a code of conduct, would provide a voice, a sense of belonging to a group and role clarification for support workers. Importantly, it would also provide clarification for the agencies which employ them, managers and others in the caring workforce.

Key words: Support workers; Feeling valued; Skills and knowledge; Capability approach; Older person; Wellbeing.

Michelle Holland's research was supervised by Linda Robertson.


This thesis is available under a Creative Commons Attribution licence CC BY 4.0 International.