Ambulance Victoria workers want to quit as they reach peak burnout

The long-awaited second report on Ambulance Victoria employees shows that staff are experiencing greater levels of burnout and a mass resignation could be coming.

After already worrying results in 2021, the second release of data shows a continued decline in the wellbeing of staff as the demands rose even further. This contributes to long-term stress and mental health-related issues for our frontline workers.

The statistics paint a sobering picture.

More emergency calls, fewer staff

In 2021, the pandemic continued with the new Delta and Omicron variants. Paramedics and ambulance staff experienced increased risk from interacting with COVID-infected patients, as well as increased caseload and understaffing caused by employees needing to quarantine.

Ambulance Victoria responded to over one million incidents by road and air, including 801,984 Triple-Zero calls – an increase of 4.3 per cent from the previous year. Of the Code 1 (lights and sirens) calls, they reached 77.2 per cent of calls within 15 minutes.

It is, then, unsurprising that 70 per cent (up from 58 per cent last year) of respondents reflected that they often have more work than they can do well.

Burnout is getting even worse

Burnout is the state when people feel overextended and depleted of their emotional, mental and physical resources. The latest survey results show that burnout for ambulance staff continues to worsen.

Researcher Dr Lara Thynne says, “These results are concerning on their own. But when burnout is considered alongside the findings on work intensification, there is a lot here that needs to be addressed.”

Three quarters (76 per cent, up from 59 per cent in survey one) of respondents indicated they were often or always worn out at the end of the working day. Over half (55 per cent, up from 31 per cent in survey one) reported that they were either often or always exhausted in the morning at the thought of another day at work. Thirty-five percent of respondents (compared with 16 per cent in survey one) indicated that they often or always find every waking hour to be tiring.

Beyond how they feel at work, employees are experiencing overspilling into their life, relationships and leisure. Thirty-five percent (up from 22 per cent) of people indicated that they seldom, if ever, have enough energy reserved for family and friends. Only two in ten (compared with 4 in 10 as seen in survey one) indicate they often and always have enough energy for leisure time.

Will we see a mass resignation?

The new data reveals a massive decline in job satisfaction. Only 42 per cent of employees said they were satisfied with their jobs, down from 62 per cent in the first survey. This may point to the growing exhaustion of the workforce.

One respondent said, “I’m falling out of love with a job that I have loved and excelled at for nearly a decade and a half. Managers are pushing KPIs and budgets and times, whilst on road staff are exhausted.”

When asked if they intend to leave the profession, 16 per cent of paramedics said they intend to seek new employment opportunities in the next year (up from 9 per cent). When asked about long-term career decisions, nearly forty-five percent (up from 29 per cent) indicated they often think about quitting the profession.

The findings indicate a change in attitude and could point to significant retention issues for highly skilled frontline health workers.

Professor Holland says, “The important context is, this survey was conducted in the middle of a pandemic. However, I don’t believe these issues will resolve with an improvement in the pandemic (i.e. fewer cases). What we’re seeing could signal a longer-term issue. In fact, a stabilisation could see this highly skilled workforce feeling more confident in changing employment.”

About the study

This study is derived from the second phase of a comprehensive survey on the paramedic

workforce through a joint Swinburne University of Technology and RMIT study in conjunction with the Victorian Ambulance Union (VAU). It is led by Swinburne’s Professor Peter Holland and also includes Dr Lara Thynne, Dr Julian Vieceli and postdoctoral researcher Dr Tse Leng Tham.

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