Should I stay or should I go? Agency nursing work in the UK

Alex De Ruyter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    There are competing perspectives as to whether agency represents the desire to be a 'free agent' in terms of greater flexibility and control, or whether it represents a reluctant retreat from permanent employment. This paper explores the reasons why nurses in the UK work on an agency basis through surveys of two nursing agencies and asks: to what extent do supply-side preferences contribute to the decision for nurses to work on an agency basis? How does working on an agency basis affect the work-life balance and career aspirations of nurses? Two surveys were conducted; one with a 'generalist' nurse agency; and one with a 'specialized' agency, in order to examine the impact of rare/specialized skills on pecuniary motives. It is found that while nurses who also have a permanent job are more likely to report pecuniary factors as influencing the decision to work through agencies, nurses who solely work agency are more likely to emphasize work-life balance issues and escaping 'office politics' as key factors. Importantly, the findings point to the continued appeal of agency work as a means to exit the nursing workplace, suggesting that government reforms to increase the appeal of nursing as a profession have only partially addressed the concerns of nurses.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1666-1683
    Number of pages18
    JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


    • agency work
    • nurse
    • labour flexibility
    • NHS
    • nursing


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