An exploratory study on workplace violence and its effect on residential disability social care workers in Ireland: a mixed method approach

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Mech-Butler, Agnieszka
Swift, Róisín
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Community-Academic Research Links, University College Cork
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Social care workers working in the area of residential disability services in Ireland are at a high risk of workplace violence. Current literature provides limited knowledge about the supports and coping strategies available and utilised by Irish social care workers who are affected by this problem. This mixed method study consists of two parts. Part (a) is based on surveys completed by individuals (quantitative study) and part (b) includes interviews conducted with the participants (qualitative study). The survey inquired about a participant’s experience of workplace violence in a residential disability service. In addition, it aimed to identify the effects of workplace violence and the supports which are most useful among affected workers. Lastly, it queried whether organisations provide enough supervision and training to lessen workplace violence. It looked at the prevalence of workplace violence in this study and what needs to be improved for social care workers working in residential disability services. The aim of this study was to determine if social care workers had access to supports from their organisations when they were affected by workplace violence. It also examined whether the supports were formal (structured from organisation/management, which include supervision or debriefing) or informal (from a spouse/partner, or colleague) within residential disability settings and if this was enough to alleviate the stress that comes with workplace violence. The findings from the quantitative study highlighted that workers felt workplace violence was underreported. The reasoning was the fear for professional capacity as well as fear of criticism from colleagues and time-consuming reporting procedures. Unfortunately, from this research over 70% of participants felt that organisations were not addressing the issue; which has negative consequences on the workforce. The qualitative part of this research focused on semi-structured interviews to explore the experiences of social care residential workers in disability settings who have experienced violence in the workplace. Using thematic analysis, the results identified the ‘context in which workplace violence occurs’ and ‘preferred strategies and supports’ used by staff following an incident. Concerns were raised in relation to a culture which normalises workplace violence. This culture appears to impact on the supports that are offered by some organisations within the disability sector. Furthermore, social care workers highlighted that they mostly rely on the support of peers and work colleagues, who share similar experiences of workplace violence. Findings of this study suggest that open communication between staff and management is essential to ensure that staff feel adequately supported and the problem of workplace violence is being adequately tackled by the organisations. This will ensure that people who use the services receive the best quality care and support. Suggested recommendations that could promote safe working environment are provided within this report to encourage for workplace violence to be addressed universally.
Workplace violence , Residential disability social care workers , Disability sector , Violence in the workplace
Mech-Butler, A. and Swift, R. (2019) An exploratory study on workplace violence and its effect on residential disability social care workers in Ireland: a mixed method approach. Cork: Community-Academic Research Links, University College Cork.
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©2019, Agnieszka Mech-Butler and Róisín Swift.