Utilization of Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) Theory to Evaluate Workplace Stress Experienced by Health Care Assistants in a UK In-Patient Dementia Unit after 10 Years of National Financial Austerity (2008-2018)

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Dec 21;20(1):65. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20010065.


Aims: Workplace stress for support workers in UK hospitals (Health Care Assistants; HCAs) is poorly understood. This study explores experiences of HCAs working in a National Health Service in-patient dementia unit after 10 years of national financial austerity (2008-2018).

Design: Qualitative evaluation.

Methods: 15 HCAs (42%) from a specialist dementia care Unit were interviewed. Interviews were guided by UK Health & Safety Executive published dimensions of work stress. Framework analysis was applied to interview transcriptions, corroborated by a follow-up focus group (6 HCAs). Post hoc interviews with 10 nurses were later introduced to obtain a balanced view of teamwork on the Unit.

Results: Health care assistants were altruistic regarding demands of dementia care but otherwise negative of most aspects of their work environment. Staff shortages had increased job demands: workload, poor shift rotas, and excessive reliance on inexperienced agency staff. According to HCAs, job resources of the care team were in significant deficit: nurses in charge were perceived as poor team leaders, had poor interpersonal skills, lacked respect for experienced HCAs, and deemed to be frequently absent from the ward so failing to support carers. HCAs' lack of decision-latitude exacerbated the situation. In contrast, nurses interviewed did not recognise the teamwork issues raised by HCAs, who were considered obstructive, unsupportive, lacked awareness of nurses' responsibilities, and of insights how understaffing meant excessive administration and time required to support patients' relatives. Such dissonant inter-group views caused considerable friction and exacerbated the work pressure.

Conclusion: Study outcomes spotlighted impacts of socioeconomic issues for HCAs. Staff shortage, exacerbated by financial austerity measures (pre-COVID pandemic), increased job demands for HCAs but their psychosocial job resources were in serious deficit, so putting them at risk of burnout. Inter-group relations are key for a collaborative ethos, and are amenable to interventions. Such difficulties should not be allowed to fester.

Keywords: HCA; dementia; health care assistants; healthcare support worker; job stress; social therapist; workplace stress.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Dementia*
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Occupational Stress*
  • State Medicine
  • United Kingdom
  • Workplace / psychology

Grant support

C.C.U. was supported by a research studentship grant from the Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care; Anglia Ruskin University, Chelmsford, Essex, UK.