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Open Access Open Badges Research

Understanding the factors influencing health-worker employment decisions in South Africa

Gavin George1*, Jeff Gow12 and Shaneel Bachoo1

Author Affiliations

1 Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Research Division, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X54001, Durban, 4000, South Africa

2 School of Accounting, Economics and Finance, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, QLD, 4350, Australia

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Human Resources for Health 2013, 11:15  doi:10.1186/1478-4491-11-15

Published: 23 April 2013



The provision of health care in South Africa has been compromised by the loss of trained health workers (HWs) over the past 20 years. The public-sector workforce is overburdened. There is a large disparity in service levels and workloads between the private and public sectors. There is little knowledge about the nonfinancial factors that influence HWs choice of employer (public, private or nongovernmental organization) or their choice of work location (urban, rural or overseas). This area is under-researched and this paper aims to fill these gaps in the literature.


The study utilized cross-sectional survey data gathered in 2009 in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The HWs sample came from three public hospitals (n = 430), two private hospitals (n = 131) and one nongovernmental organization (NGO) hospital (n = 133) in urban areas, and consisted of professional nurses, staff nurses and nursing assistants.


HWs in the public sector reported the poorest working conditions, as indicated by participants’ self-reports on stress, workloads, levels of remuneration, standard of work premises, level of human resources and frequency of in-service training. Interesting, however, HWs in the NGO sector expressed a greater desire than those in the public and private sectors to leave their current employer.


To minimize attrition from the overburdened public-sector workforce and the negative effects of the overall shortage of HWs, innovative efforts are required to address the causes of HWs dissatisfaction and to further identify the nonfinancial factors that influence work choices of HWs. The results highlight the importance of considering a broad range of nonfinancial incentives that encourage HWs to remain in the already overburdened public sector.

Health workers; Human resources for health; Public sector; Private sector; Nongovernmental organization sector; KwaZulu-Natal; South Africa