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Zero‐hour contracts and stress in UK domiciliary care workers

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The UK domiciliary care workers play a vital role in maintaining and improving the lives of service users who have a variety of needs. Around 60% of these employees work under zero‐hours contracts but, while it is known that conditions such as temporary and shift working can influence employee health and performance, zero‐hours have not been widely investigated. This project sought to first investigate the stress associated with working as a domiciliary care worker, as well as comparing the experiences of employees contracted to zero‐hours with those contracted to at least 16 hr per week. Twenty‐nine semistructured interviews (15 zero‐hour, 14 contracted hours) were conducted in the West Midlands of the United Kingdom and analysed using thematic analysis. Across all participants, four predominant stressors were found. First, the level of pay for a job with high levels of responsibility was poor. Second, participants described struggling to maintain an adequate work–life balance due to the varied timings of visits, as well as rude and aggressive behaviour from both service users and their families. Lastly, a lack of peer support and poor care from peers was discussed. However, every respondent described the positive relationships that they develop with service users being a distinct stress reliever. Zero‐hours respondents discussed two further stressors. Power refers to the relationship between employee and management, with respondents describing the balance of power being with the management. Uncertainty reflected respondents not having set hours of work or pay, and thus not being able to plan their personal lives and sometimes not being able to pay bills. Findings suggest that domiciliary care workers are exposed to a range of stressors, with zero‐hours adding to these. Further research should look into methods to improve both the job role for workers, and redress the power relationships for those with zero‐hours contracts.
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Keywords: care workers; work stress; workforce issues; zero‐hours

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2019

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