Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Who's Talking? Communication and the Casual/part-Time Nurse: A Literature Review

Academic journal article Contemporary Nurse : a Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession

Who's Talking? Communication and the Casual/part-Time Nurse: A Literature Review

Article excerpt


Nursing has come far since Florence Nightingale set out with her group of women to tend the sick and wounded soldiers of the Crimean war. It is possibly fair to say that the only feature of nursing delivery common to this early period and the contemporary era is an aspiration to care for the sick. The current nursing environment, unlike that of the Nightingale era, is as much about complying with legislative and industrial reforms while maintaining a competitive commercial edge, as it is about providing good health care. The nurse of today is likely to be employed within a flexible work model, either as a full-time or part-time/casual employee, which is designed to provide nursing care at minimum cost. The current appeal of part-time and casual nursing is high, but whether it is conducive to satisfied nurses, well functioning health care organisations and good nursing provision is questionable.

The increasing casualisation of the nursing profession is a global phenomenon. The impact of a flexible work model on the contemporary nursing environment, particularly in light of critical recruitment and retention issues, is the subject of a broad ranging debate (Aitken, Manias, Peerson, Parker, & Wong, 2001; Allan, 2000; Bradley, 2000; Creegan, Duffi eld, & Forrester, 2003; Edwards & Robinson, 2004; Grinspun, 2003; Lumley, Stanton, & Bartram, 2004). The particular focus here is on the impact of casualisation on a fundamental aspect of the nursing community within healthcare facilities: the effectiveness of workplace communication for full-time and casual or part-time nurses, given the acknowledged importance of communication to organisational success. In addition, this paper seeks to highlight the role of effective workplace communication in alleviating some issues arising from an increasingly casualised nursing industry. The implication is that workplace communication deserves far more attention within nursing.


The casualisation of the nursing industry sits within the context of a wider universal movement shaped by technological, industrial and political forces all of which are driven by increasing global competitiveness and a concomitant emphasis on productivity. Rising competition within industries and the need to reduce labour costs has meant downsizing, outsourcing and a move from full-time to part-time and casual employment (Nankervis, Compton, & Baird, 2002). Australia is at the forefront of this major industrial transition, having the second highest rate of casual employment across industries in the OECD countries (Australian Government, 2007). Recent fi gures show that part-time employment almost doubled in thirty years from 16% in 1979 to 29% in 2007 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare AIHW 2008). These fi gures refl ect a move from traditional work models to the adoption of more fl exible working arrangements (Australian Government, 2007), a shift now broadly accepted as the means of attaining a competitive advantage for employers (Edwards & Robinson, 2004; Twiname, Humphries, & Kearins, 2006).


Casualisation levels within the Australian nursing profession are signifi cant. AIHW (2008) statistics demonstrate that the percentage of part-time and casual nurses, that is those nurses working less than 35 hrs per week, is 49.8% or almost half the nursing population. Creegan et al. (2003) point out that the high proportion of part-time and casual workers in the nursing workforce is an international phenomenon and that the causes are multifactorial (Kryger in Creegan et al., 2003). The factors driving this trend include an increase in demand for casual and part-time work and an increase in fl exible nursing positions as a management initiative to contain labour costs.

A popular argument attributes the push for greater fl exibility to a desire on the part of nurses for more part-time work (Kryger cited in Creegan et al. …

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