Diploma-Level Workers Not to Blame for Workplace Stress
22 May 2017 at 7:11 am
Having a diversity of workers with a range of qualifications contributes to the success, not the stress, of the sector, writes Australian Community Workers Association CEO Sha Cordingley.
I read with interest the article Workplace Stress is Reaching Toxic Levels in Social Sector, particularly as it highlighted one of the main issues identified by our own members of the Australian Community Workers Association (ACWA). While I agree with the premise of the article, and indeed with Dr Harrison’s main thesis, I reject the suggestion that “diploma-level” workers are not suitably qualified and that this is contributing to a “de-skilled workforce” and high workplace stress.
Unfortunately, workplace stress in the community sector is not a new concern, nor is it one that has been adequately addressed over the years. One of the most pervasive sources of stress in the workplace can be attributed to the practice of outsourcing and tendering; a situation not unfamiliar to Victorians who worked in the community sector during the Kennett years.
Over the past couple of decades not-for-profit organisations have been forced to compete both against other not for profits and for-profit organisations for a dwindling pool of funding. As a consequence, and in order to remain in business, many not for profits have had to reduce their operating costs by subsidising the financial shortfall between the income they receive and what is actually needed to provide a decent service. Often the burden of covering this shortfall has fallen on the shoulders of staff and volunteers with profound and damaging effect.
A second contributor to stress is the ineffective management, supervision and support of staff. Most certainly inadequate funding plays its part, but the calibre of staff hired to manage frontline staff is critical in maintaining an effective service and good workplace culture.
ACWA’s experience is that most calls coming to our helpline are about incompetent managers, lack of constructive supervision, and in the not-for-profit arena, disengaged boards of management. Underpinning these concerns is that in very many community service organisations (both for and not for profit) there are no safe and systematic processes in place for addressing staff concerns and consequences of stress.
The reality for many community sector workers is that organisations spend a substantial part of their resources on achieving output or outcome targets with little or no resources devoted to ensuring proper management and staff support systems are in place.
If workers are well supported, appropriately managed, and given the opportunity to have their concerns addressed, workplace culture is improved and good client-service follows. This makes good business sense – it not only reduces staff turnover and thus operating costs but also makes for a happier, less stressed and more productive workforce.
So what is the solution? We know that the sector is comprised of a diversity of professionals who work across the spectrum of community services including youth work, aged care, child protection, disability services, family and child services etc. They are qualified, professional, dedicated and eager to develop their skills and knowledge. Many hold diploma qualifications which provide them with the knowledge and practical fieldwork experience to work in the sector to good effect. Ironically, many of them are poorly managed by those with a higher qualification.
I believe it is squarely within government’s purview to demand through tender specifications that, in the interests of service recipients and the broader community, staff have manageable caseloads, access to supervision, support and training, and are appropriately qualified for the role. It is government’s’ responsibility to ensure the expenditure of public money provides the best outcome for service recipients without the exploitation of the workforce.
It cannot be stressed enough that graduates of diploma courses are qualified. And without that particular set of qualified workers, the industry will collapse and we will lose the very people who are qualified and trained to provide frontline services.
We are happy to join with peak bodies and other professional associations to try to address the issues of workplace stress providing that it is recognised that a diversity of workers with a range of qualifications contribute to the success of the sector.
About the author: Sha Cordingley is the CEO of Australian Community Workers Association and chair of the Community Sector and Development Industry Skills Committee.