Team social cohesion, professionalism, and patient-centeredness: Gendered care work, with reference to elderly care

Healthcare organisations are facing large demands in recruiting employees with adequate competency to care for the increasing numbers of elderly. High degrees of turnover and dissatisfaction with working conditions are common. The gendered notion of care work as ‘women’s work’, in combination with low salaries and status, may contribute to negative work experiences. There is abundant information about the negative aspects of elderly care health services, but little is known about positive aspects of this work. The study aim was to investigate work satisfaction from a gender perspective among Swedish registered nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists, focusing specifically on healthcare services for the elderly.

A mixed methods approach was adopted in which we combined statistics and open-ended responses from a national survey with qualitative research interviews with healthcare professionals in elderly care organisations. The survey was administered to a random sample of 1578 registered nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists. Qualitative interviews with 17 professionals were conducted in six elderly care facilities. Qualitative and quantitative content analyses, chi2 and constructivist grounded theory were used to analyse the data.

There was a statistically significant difference in overall work satisfaction between those who worked in elderly care and those who did not (64 and 74,4% respectively, p <0.001). Nine themes were derived from open-ended responses in the questionnaire. The qualitative interviews revealed four prominent storylines: ‘Team social cohesion’, ‘Career development and autonomy’, ‘Client-centeredness’, and ‘Invisible and ignored power structures’.

The results show the complexity of elderly care work and describe several aspects that are important for work satisfaction among health professionals. The results reveal that work satisfaction is dependent on social interrelations and cohesion in the work team, in possibilities to use humour and to have fun together, and in the ability to work as professionals to provide client-centered elderly care. Power relations such as gendered hierarchies were less visible or even ignored aspects of work satisfaction. The storylines are clearly linked to the two central discourses of professionalism and gender equality.