Agency Working and the Degradation of Public Service Employment: The Case of Nurses and Social Workers

Alex De Ruyter, I Kirkpatrick, K Hoque, Christopher Lonsdale, J Malan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    31 Citations (Scopus)


    In the UK and elsewhere government efforts to reform or ‘modernize’ public services are currently having marked consequences for job quality, due to rising levels of work intensification, stress and declining morale. Such change has been linked to absenteeism, recruitment and retention problems. It is also suggested that deteriorating job quality has much to do with the current trend towards agency working among core public service professionals. In this article our aim is to explore this matter focusing on the experiences of National Health Service (NHS) nurses and local authority social workers. Our analysis suggests that benefits such as higher pay and improved flexibility have generated a strong ‘pull’ into agency contracts. However, the analysis also points to the deterioration of job quality as a key factor influencing decisions to opt out of permanent employment. The article concludes by suggesting that, in the longer term, public sector managers will only be able to stem the tide of nurses and social workers opting to work through agencies if they are also able to address wider problems associated with declining job quality.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)432-45
    Number of pages14
    JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2008


    • nurses
    • agency work
    • social workers
    • public sector
    • job quality
    • psychological contract


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