Motivated to make a difference

(If you have been wondering what I’ve been doing – this is my 100th post on ‘just saying’ at


What motivates an individual to undertake employment as an individual support worker, either in aged care or disability care settings?

There is no debate, that the work requires a specialist skill base. It can be physically demanding, emotionally draining, confronting and leave many workers dealing with grief and loss on a regular basis.

And then there is the small matter of poor staff ratios and low wage. So why choose this occupation?

Aged care and disability care are essential social services, and with a rapidly ageing population, the Productivity Commission estimate that by 2050, Australia will need 980,000 aged care and disability workers. There is a ongoing skills shortage and need for labour. Is that enough motivation?

It could be argued that for many support workers, the motivation is greatly influenced by their desire for intrinsic rather than extrinsic benefits alone.

Many recently qualified individual support workers are driven by social justice values, like those before them and enter the industry armed with work practicum experience, personal stories of caring for a loved one and/or genuinely want to make a difference in the lives of others.

The behaviours of individual support workers that excel in their role include, the ability to act with compassion, adhere to ethical confidentiality, demonstrate patience, inclusivity and cultural sensitivity, and be supportive of ‘person centred care’. Then there is the matter of personal care skills, which require capability and often a strong stomach.

It is agreed by many psychologists and organisational behaviourists, that workers operating from intrinsic motivations are fully engaged and are often more productive.

It would be foolish to think that the extrinsic rewards of a wage, recognition, a sense of belonging, praise and public acclaim is what singularly motivates a person to work in social services.

Extrinsic reward can be a useful tool, when applied to a tedious work-related task, to build momentum and skills.

Many people sacrifice intrinsic reward for extrinsic rewards, focusing on their exterior lives to find their sense of meaning. Often finding that ‘time’ to invest in activities that bring about a sense of personal satisfaction can be the real challenge.

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull stumbled recently with poorly selected words, when he said that an aged care worker can ‘aspire to get a better job’. The worker was 60 years old.

Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten took the opportunity to claim that the Prime Minister was ‘disrespectful of aged care workers’, at a time when there was a long-term industry demand and protracted staff shortages.

Politics aside, the objective is to have high-quality individual support workers and enable them to be ‘work ready’ for an industry that is demanding.

As for the Prime Minister, it seems that perhaps he has more in common with that ’60 year old age care worker’ than he realises. Both appear to be ‘intrinsically’ motivated, it may be only a matter of wage disparity and degrees.

Oh and that inconsequential thing, called privilege.

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