Professional Boundaries. The Case of Childcare Workers in Norway PhD
Peer reviewed, Doctoral thesis
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This thesis explores professionalism among Norwegian daycare workers by two questions: 1) Do the attitudes of daycare workers express boundaries of professionalism? 2) Are there divisions of work among daycare workers that can be described as professional boundaries? The professionalism of daycare workers has received little attention, and this thesis seeks to correct that by four papers and an overarching analysis. All four papers analyze survey data from a comprehensive study of Norwegian daycare workers. The four papers focus on different aspects of daycare work and daycare workers. The different themes come together under an analytical umbrella consisting of the theoretical terms boundaries and jurisdiction, with an additional focus on gender as a potentially boundary-producing dimension. Paper 1 investigates the attitudes of daycare workers on the best perceived enrollment age and daily length of stay of children enrolled in daycare. The findings are that professionals are more accepting of the children starting younger and staying more hours per day than nonprofessionals are. Likewise, younger workers are more accepting than older workers of an earlier start age and more hours of stay per day. Of main interest here is the fact that the two occupational groups differ in their expressed attitudes. Furthermore, seen through the lens of jurisdictional boundary work, the expressed attitudes of the professional group does not reconcile with a notion of a professional group struggling to expand its jurisdiction. In conclusion, the authors propose suggestions as to why the professionals express these attitudes. Paper 2 explores divisions of work tasks and attitudes toward these tasks between professional daycare workers and nonprofessionals, in addition to differences on other dimensions – such as tenure, age and subjective experiences of e.g. competence. The findings are that the groups agree on the general direction – meaning which tasks are suited for whom - , that no tasks are considered better suited for nonprofessionals and that there is a discrepancy between expressed attitudes and self-reported work task participation frequency. In regard to boundary work, of main interest is the fact that despite differences in work tasks participation being apparent, the professionals do not seize this opportunity to distance their group from the nonprofessionals. Paper 3 investigates emotional exhaustion (EE) among daycare workers. EE arises as a response to prolonged work related stress, originating from factors such as coworker relationships, total work load and diversity of work load. The findings are that position (as professional or nonprofessional) is correlates with higher levels of EE until the inclusion of work tasks, indicating that certain tasks –either by themselves or by being interlinked with other work tasks – are emotionally taxing for the daycare workers. The identification of such an effect indicate that the professionals have a different emotional experience than the nonprofessionals due to their different work responsibilities. Paper 4 examines if and how gender is important in daycare work by asking whether daycare workers are gender traditionalists. Previous literature often find that gender is of importance to the organization of work and that daycare workers report gender traditional attitudes. These findings are not reproduced in this analysis, where the attitudes and work task participation of daycare workers are investigated. Gender does not appear to be a prominent boundary in daycare work – despite a gender-skewed work force. Empirically, the findings from these papers in sum indicate that professional boundaries do exists in the Norwegian daycare sector. The group of nonprofessionals does not appear as a distinct group of equal professional standing to that of those employed as such. The answer to the first question of whether the attitudes of the workers express boundaries of professionalism is that they do. The group of professionals is acknowledged as such. In contrast, the group of nonprofessionals is not considered as having distinctive jurisdictional responsibilities or claims of such. The answer to the second question, whether there are divisions of work among daycare workers that can be described as professional boundaries or not, is also yes – although a question to be explored in future research is whether there is a hierarchy of professionalism within the group employed as professionals. The group of professionals does appear to have specific responsibilities, and these responsibilities are - to some extent - emotionally taxing. Theoretically, the framework of jurisdictional boundaries developed in this analysis is one of synthesis. It has proved to be fruitful in the sense that the topic of interest – whether boundaries of professionalism exists in the attitudes or work task division of Norwegian daycare workers – has been explored. However, as the group of professionals does – at least in this analysis and in the factors investigated here – appear to take part in a jurisdictional struggle, the theoretical framework fail to capture how these jurisdictional boundaries came about or are maintained. For these factors, we need to look at the history of the sector and the societal context within which it is placed.