There are currently few studies on working conditions for employees in disability services. Now Marta Szebehely and her research team will fill the knowledge gaps.

Should I stay or should I go? This is a question many employees in care services and aged care ask themselves regularly. The physical and mental strain is acute and the workload often too demanding.

“Under which conditions is an employee prepared to stay with an employer? How much can you take before you quit?”, asks Marta Szebehely.

Under which conditions is an employee prepared to stay with an employer? How much can you take before you quit?

She is a professor of social work with a focus on the elderly at Stockholm University and has for many years studied the working conditions for employees in aged care. There she has been able to see a clear deterioration over the years. Many of the people she meets feel inadequate and want to leave their jobs. The cause is always the same: a poor working environment.

An unexamined profession

But what is the situation for employees in the disability sector? Do they experience the same problems?

“There is currently quite extensive research on the working environments in aged care, but almost none about the situation for this group. Here we see that there are significant knowledge gaps. That’s why we wanted to examine this area more closely”, explains Marta Szebehely.

Marta Szebehely
Marta Szebehely. Photo: Eva Dalin/Stockholm University

Over the next three years, together with her three research colleagues at Stockholm University, she will investigate how employees in group homes, day programs and home based social support, as well as personal assistants, experience their work situation. In the study, the research group will also look at how managers in different arenas of disability services experience the ability to lead the work, support the staff and improve the working environment.

“We know that aged care and disability services are sectors that will need more and more resources to meet the challenges of the future. Many employees feel that the work is demanding. When the workday is over you are mentally and physically exhausted and have feelings of inadequacy. In some way, we need to succeed in changing  the conditions that exist”.

Broad application and combined methods

The research project, which goes by the name “Disability care work in different arenas: organization, work content, relations and working conditions”, will have a broad application and will capture a wide range of issues.

The research team will use several methods to achieve its results. A nationwide questionnaire will be sent to employees via the union organisation Kommunal. The questionnaire will then be supplemented with focus group interviews and in-depth interviews with selected unit managers in various organisations across Sweden.

“Through a combination of questionnaires and interviews, we will highlight working conditions in different professions and under different organisational conditions”, says Marta Szebehely.

The results will then be compared to the results obtained by Marta Szebehely and her colleagues in two previous research studies from 2005 and 2015, when the main focus was on the working environments in aged care. In these studies a grim picture of the working conditions was painted. Many employees experienced severe problems and many wanted to leave their jobs.

“We wanted to find out which problems were related to wanting to leave your job. This is something we will look at in this study as well. What makes a person want to stay and what makes them want to resign?”

Dissemination important for the research group

The research group is eager that the study receives attention and that the results can be put into practice in different organisations and companies. Therefore, the research team has planned a longer period of time at the end of the three-year project for dissemination of the study. Marta Szebehely and her colleagues will try to publish seven scientific articles and a report on the study.

“We hope, of course, that we will also be able to influence decision makers, trade unions – actually, all those who can initiate change – in order to make a difference for employees in the future”.

Text: Marie Lann