Communication and the casualisation of nursing : a critical ethnography

Batch, Mary Philomena (2012) Communication and the casualisation of nursing : a critical ethnography. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


The contemporary working environment is being rapidly reshaped by technological, industrial and political forces. Increased global competitiveness and an emphasis on productivity have led to the appearance of alternative methods of employment, such as part-time, casual and itinerant work, allowing greater flexibility. This allows for the development of a core permanent staff and the simultaneous utilisation of casual staff according to business needs. Flexible workers across industries are generally referred to as the non-standard workforce and full-time permanent workers as the standard workforce.

Even though labour flexibility favours the employer, increased opportunity for flexible work has been embraced by women for many reasons, including the gender struggle for greater economic independence and social equality. Consequently, the largely female nursing industry, both nationally and internationally, has been caught up in this wave of change. This ageing workforce has been at the forefront of the push for flexibility with recent figures showing almost half the nursing workforce is employed in non-standard capacity. In part, this has allowed women to fulfil caring roles outside their work, to ease off nearing retirement and to supplement the family income. More significantly, however, flexibility has developed as an economic management initiative, as a strategy for cost constraint. The result has been the development of a dual workforce and as suggested by Pocock, Buchanan and Campbell (2004), associated deep-seated resentment and the marginalisation of part-time and casual workers by their full-time colleagues and managers. Additionally, as nursing currently faces serious recruitment and retention problems there is urgent need to understand the factors which are underlying present discontent in the nursing profession. There is an identified gap in nursing knowledge surrounding the issues relating to recruitment and retention.

Communication involves speaking, listening, reading and writing and is an interactive process which is central to the lives of humans. Workplace communication refers to human interaction, information technology, and multimedia and print. It is the means to relationship building between workers, management, and their external environment and is critical to organisational effectiveness. Communication and language are integral to nursing performance (Hall, 2005), in twenty-four hour service however increasing fragmentation due to part-time and casual work in the nursing industry means that effective communication management has become increasingly difficult. More broadly it is known that disruption to communication systems impacts negatively on consumer outcomes.

Because of this gap in understanding how nurses view their contemporary nursing world, an interpretative ethnographic study which progressed to a critical ethnographic study, based on the conceptual framework of constructionism and interpretativism was used. The study site was a division within an acute health care facility, and the relationship between increasing casualisation of the nursing workforce and the experiences of communication of standard and non-standard nurses was explored. For this study, full-time standard nurses were those employed to work in a specific unit for forty hours per week. Non-standard nurses were those employed part-time in specific units or those nurses employed to work as relief pool nurses for shift short falls where needed. Nurses employed by external agencies, but required to fill in for shifts at the facility were excluded from this research.

This study involved an analysis of observational, interview and focus group data of standard and non-standard nurses within this facility. Three analytical findings - the organisation of nursing work; constructing the casual nurse as other; and the function of space, situate communication within a broader discussion about non-standard work and organisational culture. The study results suggest that a significant culture of marginalisation exists for nurses who work in a non-standard capacity and that this affects communication for nurses and has implications for the quality of patient care.

The discussion draws on the seven elements of marginalisation described by Hall, Stephen and Melius (1994). The arguments propose that these elements underpin a culture which supports remnants of the historically gendered stereotype "the good nurse" and these cultural values contribute to practices and behaviour which marginalise all nurses, particularly those who work less than full-time. Gender inequality is argued to be at the heart of marginalising practices because of long standing subordination of nurses by the powerful medical profession, paralleling historical subordination of women in society. This has denied nurses adequate representation and voice in decision making. The new knowledge emanating from this study extends current knowledge of factors surrounding recruitment and retention and as such contributes to an understanding of the current and complex nursing environment.

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ID Code: 60918
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Barnard, Alan & Windsor, Carol A.
Keywords: casualisation, communication, nursing, culture, interpretative ethnography, critical ethnography, health care organisations, marginalisation
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 24 Jun 2013 04:00
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2017 14:47

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