Published: August 24, 2020

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2020-17


Jack Lam and Janeen Baxter.

Non-Technical Summary:

A rise in services sector employment has led to increased attention on the myriad forms of labour workers must enact as part of their jobs. In an ageing society, whereby social support is increasingly acknowledged as important for healthy ageing and in fact funded by governments, how does this shape the nature of care work? Further, what are the dilemmas workers face, especially when they are challenged to provide services with ‘loving care’? Drawing on rich qualitative interview data with fifty older adult consumers, we build on and extend prior studies that have documented the different components of home care work, to begin to lay out another form of labour—social labour— whereby home care support workers need to actively manage the relationship boundary between the professional services they perform and the personal relationships that may develop. Drawing on interviews with fifty older adult consumers, we find that home care support workers need to engage in social labour through 1) following the lead of clients who set out the terms of the relationship and the degree of sociality, 2) managing the potential dual role of a ‘support worker’ and a ‘friend’, and 3) meeting the social needs of clients vulnerable to isolation, as well as attending to clients at vulnerable times.  Our findings highlight the complexity of the relationship between care workers and consumers, and the negotiation of the professional role that care workers must engage in as an additional aspect of their employment. As Australian Government programs and the community care sector increasingly acknowledge the value of social support and companionship, greater attention is needed to this aspect of employment of care work, with its attendant implications for both workers and clients.


August 24, 2020