Ottawa hospital workers face 'unsustainable' stress | National Union of Public and General Employees

Ottawa hospital workers face 'unsustainable' stress

Study at four city hospitals represents the first in-depth investigation of 'role overload' in Canada's health care system.

Ottawa (20 Jan. 2010) - Workers at four Ottawa hospitals are under so much stress that their workload is "unsustainable," says a new study by two experts renowned for their research on workplace health.

The study was carried out by Linda Duxbury of Carleton University in Ottawa and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario in London.

It was released this week as public sector workers at all levels are being targeted for new rounds of austerity and cutbacks as governments take measures to cope with ballooning deficits caused by the recession.

“In my opinion, health care workers are already overloaded," Duxbury told the Ottawa Citizen. "There is no slack in the system."

The study says stress causes poor physical and mental health, conflict between family life and work, and declining relationships between people at work and at home. As a result, workers tend to quit, look for other jobs, take “mental health” days off to regroup and lack a healthy connection and commitment to their work, all of which affects productivity.

The study comes as Ottawa hospitals could face as much as $51.6 million in cuts to balance budgets.

Duxbury said the problem isn’t that employees – from nurses and doctors to technicians – are working longer and harder but that the complexity and intensity of their work has changed dramatically, largely because of downsizing, restructuring and policy pressures, including the growing emphasis on reducing hospital stays.

“This is a system that ran the 100-yard dash, then the 800-metre and then the marathon with no break," she says. "Workers faced change after change and each one was bigger and more exhausting and built on the previous one. They have never had a chance to stabilize the system.”

The study focused on the Ottawa Hospital, the Queensway Carleton, the Montfort and Royal Ottawa. It is the first in-depth investigation of “role overload” in Canada’s health care system.

The research was based on a survey of 1,500 health-care workers (ranging from doctors to orderlies), focus groups and in-depth interviews with 250 of the participants, most of them women. The study was funded by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE 

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