As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic aggravates problems with alcohol abuse, an Australian Government-commissioned report, titled ‘Australia’s alcohol & other drug national workforce: national survey results 2019–2020’, has been released, revealing a highly committed workforce operating under significant pressure. The report reveals that more than 40% of respondents reported moderate to high levels of burnout, and that close to one-quarter of respondents intend to leave their jobs within the next 12 months, citing stress, burnout and high workloads among the reasons for the high turnover in the alcohol and other drug (AOD) support sector.
Despite these pressures, the workforce is also committed, with 93% of respondents saying their work is meaningful, and three-quarters reporting being highly motivated. The survey was conducted by Flinders University’s National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) for the Australian Government Department of Health, to inform workforce planning and development in the AOD support sector. From 14 August 2019 to 19 February 2020, 1506 workers were surveyed with 71% in direct client service roles. All workers in the AOD support sector were invited to participate, including those involved with client service, management, projects and administration.
The survey revealed that 65% of workers had lived experience of AOD issues, either personally, with a family member or other experience. The AOD workforce is comprised of a high proportion of women, together with workers in the middle years of their careers. These workers help the estimated one in 20 Australians who have substance abuse problems and just under one in six who drink at risky levels. Alongside long-term damage to physical health, substance use problems can cause mental health problems and contribute to social issues such as homelessness, risky or criminal activity, and family, domestic and sexual violence.
Report co-author Dr Natalie Skinner of NCETA noted that Australia’s AOD workforce is generally well qualified, with many workers having lived experience dealing with substance issues. However, one-third of employees working with addiction do not hold any form of AOD-related qualification. “This speaks to an urgent need to prioritise improved professional development opportunities for those working on the ground,” Dr Skinner said. “We also found that most respondents were satisfied with their jobs and intended to stay in the sector but around a quarter were looking to move in the short term.
“This further highlights the need to prioritise strategies to address and prevent chronic stress in the workforce, and ensure professional development and career enhancement opportunities are in place,” Dr Skinner added. Dr Skinner also said that ensuring the AOD workforce is suitably supported is vital, particularly in the COVID-19 era, which has changed drug and alcohol use in the community, as well as causing major disruptions to service delivery. These factors have resulted in increased pressure on the AOD workforce, which must be acknowledged and managed. “It’s also important that attention is given to new recruitment activities as older workers move towards retirement,” Dr Skinner said.
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