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Maternity services workforce survey: what we learned

Maternity services workforce survey: what we learned

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Retention and recruitment across the healthcare workforce is a significant focus for ANMF (Vic Branch). Among a raft of other initiatives, we are working on a pilot project to look at rostering practices and have made submissions to the federal and state governments about reducing full-time weekly hours for nurses and midwives from 38 to 32.

As part of that larger focus, we surveyed maternity members at Western Health and Monash Health about the implementation of initiatives that would support recruitment and retention for midwives.

From Western Health, we chose Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital because it is now the second largest single-site maternity service in Australia, and at the time of the survey was still working with extended team models. Monash Health maternity service members were surveyed across their three maternity sites: Clayton, Dandenong and Casey.

Summary of results

A snapshot of the two surveys reveals that a majority of the maternity workforce is contracted to work between 0.6–0.8 EFT. More than half of all respondents indicated that they could work an additional shift in addition to their contracted hours, if the circumstances were right.

Unsurprisingly, respondents on parental leave indicated that they would seek a reduction in EFT when returning to work – and said that if flexible work arrangements were not able to be met, they would be faced with the difficult decision of ending their permanent employment.

Members also shared with us their thoughts on initiatives they believed would have a positive impact on retention and recruitment. Overwhelmingly, these included:

  • set shifts (such as permanent nights, or shifts that align with childcare, or shorter shifts)
  • set work areas, instead of rotating through all maternity service areas
  • part-time employment at less than 0.4 EFT.

Importantly members pointed to workplace culture and feeling valued, and noted that rostering practices that support work–life balance may result in an increase in EFT, and ultimately promote retention.

What members said

Among the feedback received were comments such as ‘allowing staff to have more of a say in where we are allocated could help with retention and work morale’ and ‘flexible work agreements for those with small children’.

Childcare was a dominant theme. ‘It’s 2022,’ one member said, ‘[and] we are a female-dominated workforce, so either most staff have children or will have children and require mat leave and flexible work arrangements. It seems ridiculous that in this day and age this is still something we are discussing and is still an area we need to demand change. The research shows that when women are supported in the workplace and provided with flexible work arrangements, retention rates are higher and women stay in that particular workplace for a lot longer.’

Another noted that ‘flexible working agreements should be seen as a positive thing by managers not as a special unfair privilege.’

At the time of the survey, 13 per cent of respondents were on parental leave and among this cohort there was a clear preference for night shifts upon returning from leave (most likely due to the availability of childcare).

One respondent noted that ‘there are so many staff members that are wanting to do permanent nights / work in certain areas of the hospital that aren’t allowed to’, adding that ‘midwives who have been practising for a few years should be entitled to work in a certain area if they choose to. Not only will it ensure that there are senior midwives in that area but also if staff are given what they want, then the sick calls will be reduced and there will be greater staff satisfaction and retention.’

The Branch notes with interest some creative suggestions such as introducing self-rostering, as well as seemingly small but easy-to-achieve suggestions that could have a beneficial impact, such as removing the requirement to wear N95 masks unless working with a COVID/SCOVID patient.

Outcomes and next steps

The qualitative data from the surveys will now inform the Branch’s advocacy with employers, the Department of Health, Safer Care Victoria and the workings of the rostering project committee. ANMF has scheduled a meeting to report back to Monash Health members in early October and will be expanding this survey to other health services in the near future.

ANMF encourage members to have a discussion with their managers about their ability to work additional shifts, and to apply for flexible work arrangements where needed. Where discussions and applications for flexible work arrangements are not supported, we encourage members to make contact with the ANMF for assistance.

ANMF thanks those members who have taken the time to complete the surveys.