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Work satisfactoriness of former clients with severe handicaps to employment.

The most important single indicator of vocational rehabilitation success is the employer's appraisal of the former client's occupational adjustment. The employer's evaluation of the employee is called work satisfactoriness in the Minnesota Theory of Work Adjustment (Dawis, 1987). The assessment of work satisfactoriness can only be completed in conjunction with follow-up contacts with employers of former clients placed on jobs.

The measurment technology for qualifying employers' judgements about the adequacy of former clients' vocational adjustment is well-established (Bolton, 1985, 1987a, 1988; Walls & Tseng, 1987). In state vocational rehabilitation agencies, the major obstacle to the assessment of work satisfactoriness appears to be procedural, because the argument for implementing ongoing follow-up studies of ex-clients is irrefutable (Bolton, 1981, 1983).

This article summarizes the results of a follow-up investigation of the work satisfactoriness of a sample of vocational rehabilitation clients with severe handicaps to employment. All were vocational graduates of a comprehensive residential facility in Arkansas, the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center. Severe handicap to employment (or high case difficulty) in this article refers to diminished potential for successful vocational adjustment, reflecting a combination of minimum aptitude and skills, immature work personality, and/or severely disabling medical or behavioral condition. Employers of 174 vocational graduates of a comprehensive rehabilitation center completed the Minnesota Satisfactoriness Scales (MSS) three months or longer after job placement. Most former clients were judged to be somewhat lower than their coworkers on all MSS scales, with their lowest scores on job performance (31st percentile) and highest scores on dependability (45th percentile). There was considerable variability in the research sample, indicating that many employees with handicaps were rated above average by their employers. Implications of the findings for vocational rehabilitation professionals are discussed.



The sample consisted of 174 former clients of Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center who had graduated from a vocational training program and were subsequently placed in jobs by the center's employment specialist. The clients may have also received one or more of the following services: medical, psychosocial, vocational evaluation, work adjustment, and job seeking skills. The population served by the Center can be charaterized accurately as severely handicapped with respect to employment.

The research sample was two-thirds (67%) male with a median age of 24 years (29% were under 21;41% were between 21 and 30;30% were between 31 and 54). The major disabilities represented were: 37% physical or medical handicaps; 24% psychiatric; 20% mental retardation; 13% learning disabled; 6% hearing impaired. More than one-third (39%) of the clients had secondary disabilities, with two-thirds of these (69%) being psychiatric or cognitive impairments.

Educational attainment of the sample was: 59% completed 12 years (55%) or more (4%) of formal schooling, 31% completed between 9 and 11 years, and 10% finished 8 years or less. Although clients were administered a variety of intelligence tests and aptitude measures, their typical performance in comparison to the general population can be summarized as follows: verbal intelligence, one standard deviation (SD) below the mean; nonverbal intelligence, one half SD below the mean; psychomotor skill, one SD below the population mean.

The 174 clients graduated from 18 different Center vocational training curricula. The major areas were: service (30%), including custodial, food service, housekeeping, maintenance, and laundry; business (26%), including accounting, general clerical, data processing, and sales clerk; mechanical (25%), including auto mechanics, body and fender repair, electromechanical, welding, and small engine repair; industrial (15%), including sewing, upholstery, and printing; and cosmetology (3%).


The Minnesota Satisfactoriness Scales (MSS; Gibson, Weiss, Dawis, & Lofquist, 1970) consists of 28 items that can be completed by an employee's supervisor in about 5 minutes and is scored on four factor analytically derived subscales, as well as general satisfactoriness (Bolton, 1986; 1988). The employee is rated by the respondent on each of the first 27 items using a 3-point format that compares the employee to his/her coworkers. The three categories of comparison are: "better than," "about the same as," and "not as good as." The last item requires an evaluation of overall job competence using four quartiles (i.e., "in the top one-fourth," etc.). The four subscales and the items that comprise them are listed in Table 1.

Normative comparisons for the four subscales scores and general satisfactoriness may be derived using a workers-in-general norm group that is representative of the U.S. labor force. Internal consistency reliabilities for the four subscales and general satisfactoriness for the workers-in-general sample (N = 1,000) were .90, .85, .85, .71, and 94, respectively. The corresponding values calculated for the 174 former clients in this study were .91, .91, .86, .78, and .95. A confirmatory factor analysis of the MSS for the current research sample established that the four subscales and total score are generalizable to the population of workers with severe handicaps to employment (Brookings & Bolton, 1989).


The employers of former clients were contacted three months or longer after the former client had been placed on the job. The mailed follow-up consisted of a single page cover letter explaining the purpose of the study, the Minnesota Satisfactoriness Scales, and a postage-paid return envelope. If the questionaire was not returned within two weeks, a second packet labeled "second request", was mailed to the employer.

The employer follow-up was initiated in December 1986 and concluded in November 1988. The employers of record for 31 former clients were classified as non-responders because they could not be located, did not respond to the survey requests, or said they had no record of employment for the former client. The questionnaires returned by 27 employers were considered not useable because the MSS was only partially completed (or left blank, usually due to a short period of employment) or carelessly or stereotypically completed (e.g., all ratings were "average"). In summary, the final sample of 174 former clients resulted from a useable data response rate of 69%.

Because the earliest graduates were placed in employment beginning in July 1985 and the employer survey was not initiated until December 1986, and some employers did not respond to the first request, the follow-up interval varied from the established minimum of three months to as long as 18 months. The distribution of months elapsed between job placement and employer completion of the MSS was as follows: 3 months (60%), 4-6 months (13%), 7-12 months (14%), and 13-18 months (13%).


Employment tenure for the 174 former clients ranged from one week to 18 months or longer. Almost one fifth (18%) of the clients were terminated or left their jobs within one month of placement and another fifth (19%) were terminated or left in the second or third months of employment. Thus, more than three fifths (63%) of the former clients were employed for three months or longer, with 53% still employed at the time of the follow-up contact with the employer. The decrement in the last figure reflects the variable follow-up interval, which exceeded three months for two-fifths (40%) of the subjects.

However, just being employed at follow-up or, conversely, having a relatively short job tenure does not tell the whole story, as the reasons for former clients not being employed at follow-up suggest.

* Terminated for inadequate job performance (24%).

* Terminated for problems in vocational maturity and work adjustment (11%).

* Not retained at the end of a tryout period with a stipulated limit (11%).

* Dismissed in conjunction with a work force reduction due to business slow-down (12%).

* Quit because of health or personal problems (6%).

* Quit to take a different or better job (11%).

* Quit without notice/reason unknown (15%).

* Quit for other reasons, e.g., moved away, dissatisfied with job, etc. (11%).

Many of the individuals who were dismissed or left their jobs for reasons three through eight were not unsatisfactory employees. Also, there is considerable variability in the job satisfactoriness of those former clients terminated for reasons one and two. In other words, it can be argued reasonably that the MSS ratings provide the best overall indication of the employment satisfactoriness of former clients.

The 174 research subjects were placed in a wide variety of occupations representing the following areas: service (37%), including custodian, food service, housekeeping, and laundry; business (18%), including clerical, cashier, receptionist, and sales clerk; industrial (18%), including printing, upholstery, and assembly work; mechanical (14%), including auto mechanic, machine repair, and welding; and other (12%), including cosmetologist, counselor aide, food preparation, and laborer.

Two judges examined the correspondence between each former client's vocational training program and subsequent job placement and inadequately decided whether the training area and job constituted a reasonable "match" or were substantially different. The judges concluded that 74% of the former clients were employed in occupations for which their vocational training programs afforded specific job preparation. The judges agreed on 93% of their independent decisions; disagreements were resolved through discussion.

Two types of analyses of the MSS data are presented. The first involves comparisons between the research sample and a large (N=1,000) sample of workers-in-general (WIG) that was assembled to represent proportionally the U.S. labor force (see Gibson, et al., 1970, p.48). The second approach to analyzing the MSS data examined each of the 28 items in terms of the absolute ratings given by the employers.

In comparison to the WIG normative sample, the 174 former clients were judged to be somewhat lower on the four subscales of the MSS, as well as general satisfactoriness. On performance the research sample was located at the 31st percentile, on conformance at the 39th percentile, on personal adjustment at the 39th percentile, on dependability at the 45th percentile, and on general satisfactoriness at the 31st percentile. It is important to note, however, that there was substantial variability in satisfactoriness scores for the 174 employees: individuals were ranked as low as the 1st percentile and as high as the 99th percentile on each of the subscales and general satisfactoriness

In contrast to the below-average MSS normative scores of the research sample, the absolute satisfactoriness ratings by the employers tended to be average or above average (see Table 1). In the four MSS areas, the 174 former clients were judged to be average or above on performance (61%), conformance (86%), personal adjustment (83%), and dependability (85%). On MSS item number 28 which requires an overall evaluation of job competence in comparison to other employees, 24% of the former clients were placed in the first quartile (i.e., top one-fourth), 29% in the second quartile, 30% in the third quartile, and 18% in the fourth quartile (i.e., bottom one-fourth).

Examination of the individual MSS items (see Table 1) suggests that the following work attributes represent the relative strengths of this sample of employees with handicaps: accepts job responsibility (No. 4), adapts to job changes (No. 5), gets along with supervisors (No. 8) and coworkers (No. 10), dosen't "wander" when talking (No. 27) or complain about ailments (No. 23), and is punctual (Nos. 17 & 21).

At the other end of the spectrum, employers rated three fifths (60%) of the former clients below average on the two promotability items (Nos. 15 & 16). Ironically, two fifths (41%) of the employees with handicaps were rated above average on qualification for a pay raise (No. 14), despite the paucity of above average ratings on work quality (No. 12) and work quantity (No. 13).
Table 1
Employer Ratings of 174 Former VR Clients
Performance Below Average Above
(61% were rated "average"
or "above" for entire area.)
 4. Accepts job responsibility? 22% 60% 18%
 5. Adapts to changes? 27% 58% 16%
12. Produces high-quality work? 30% 55% 15%
13. Produces a large quantity of 37% 49% 14%
11. Performs a variety of tasks? 37% 50% 13%
14. Would be qualified for a pay 40% 20% 41%
15. Would be qualified to transfer 60% 22% 17%
 to higher level?
16. Would be qualified for a 61% 18% 21%
 promotion to a more
 responsible job?
(86% were rated "average"
 or "above" for entire area.)
 8. Gets along with supervisor? 8% 69% 24%
10. Gets along with co-workers? 10% 72% 18%
 6. Respects supervisor authority? 12% 61% 27%
 2. Accepts supervisory direction? 16% 64% 21%
 1. Follows company policies? 17% 71% 12%
 3. Follows work rules? 17% 66% 17%
 7. Works as team member? 17% 63% 20%
Personal Adjustment More Average Less
(83% were rated "average" or
 "less" for entire area.)
27. "Wanders" when talking? 13% 57% 30%
23. Complains about ailments? 13% 51% 36%
24. Says "odd" things? 16% 59% 26%
18. Becomes overexcited? 17% 57% 26%
25. Seems to tire easily? 17% 58% 25%
19. Becomes upset? 20% 55% 25%
22. Seems bothered by something? 23% 55% 22%
(85% were rated "average" or
 "less" for entire area.)
17. Comes late for work? 13% 37% 49%
20. Needs disciplinary action? 14% 55% 31%
26. Doesn't listen carefully? 15% 53% 32%
21. Stays absent from work? 16% 39% 45%

Items are ranked in each of the four areas from highest level of supervisory satisfaction to lowest level. These relative satisfaction levels were determined by adding the "average" and "above average" percentages for performance and conformance and the "average" and "less than average" percentages for personal adjustment and dependability. (Calculations were handled this way because for the first two areas an "average" or "above average" rating indicates satisfaction; this is true of an "average" or "less than average" rating for the last two areas.) Totals may not equal 100% because of rounding. In order to identify subgroups of former clients who are more (or less) satisfactory employees, the reasearch sample was divided on four demographic characteristics (sex, age, education, disability and three vocational variables (vocational training area, job skill level, job-training match) and compared on the MSS scales and items.

Most of the demographic differences were consistent with expectations, i.e., older employees were rated higher on conformance and dependability, and physically handicapped workers were higher than behaviorally disabled employees on performance, personal adjustment, and dependability. Males were also rated higher on personal adjustment; there were no differences for educational level. Former clients who graduated from more demanding vocational training areas were rated higher on punctuality (Nos. 17 & 21), while grduates employed in jobs requiring higher skill levels were higher on following work rules (No. 3) and punctualitty (No. 21). There were no differences for employees with good job training matches.


In comparison to their coworkers, former vocational rehabilitation clients with severe handicaps to employment were judged by their employers to be somewhat below average in all areas of job functioning. Considering the limited abilities and lack of work experience possessed by many of the clients, these results should be interpreted to reflect favorably on the effectiveness of comprehensive rehabilitation services in preparing persons with handicaps for competitive employment. Furthermore, the substantial variability in satisfactoriness scores indicates that many former clients were rated well above average by their employers.

The especially low ratings of promotion potential for the handicapped employees are not inconsistent with their typical level of job skill acquisition and subsequent employment. In fact, many of the former clients were placed on jobs at semi-skilled and unskilled levels, with little realistic probability of advancement. If anything, the work satisfactoriness ratings in this study suggest that employers make every reasonable effort to emphazie the assets of their workers with severe handicaps to employment.

There are three categories of reasons for termination of employment: inadequate work capabilites, personal problems, and adverse labor market conditions. One half of the former clients in the research sample were terminated or quit their jobs before the follow-up contact. The most frequent reasons were inadequate job performance or poor work adjustment; several other reasons given imply deficient vocational maturity. These results indicate that rehabilitation programs for severely handicapped clients must place even more emphasis on employment preparation, especially the inculcation of fundamental work personality attributes.

The conclusion that three fourths of the vocational graduates were placed on jobs for which their vocational training curricula provided relevant preparation suggests that all vocational training programs are valuable, including those aimed at clients with relatively low capacity for skill acquisition. It is clear, however, that all programs must stress enhancement of general employability skills, as well as acquisition of specific occupational skills.

The finding that employees with severe handicaps were rated lowest on job performance and highest on dependability is consistent with the results of a recent national survey conducted by Harris and Associates (1986). In this investigation, managers rated handicapped employees higher on willingness to work hard, reliability, and punctuality, and lower on productivity, desire for promotion, and leadership ability. It should be noted that the Harris, et al., study was an opinion poll that did not use psychometric methods.

Finally, the search for demographic and vocational correlates of the satisfactoriness ratings yielded few relationships, leading to the conclusion that workers with severe handicaps to employment constitute a fairly homogeneous group in the eyes of their employers.

Although the data presented in this investigation pertain to only a subset of the population of vocational rehabilitation clients, the follow-up procedure illustrates a methodology that should be implemented in all vocational rehabilitation agencies. Post-employment services could be offered to those former clients who need further assistance and, simultaneously, data about agency effectiveness could be ascertained. Follow-up information gives vocational rehabilitation professionals a long-term perspective on their work with persons with disabilities by enabling them to see results beyond case closure.

What about the former client's job satisfaction? Should it also be measured? The answer is yes. But, the primary concern from the vocational rehabilitation perspective must be the employee's job satisfactoriness. There are two reasons for stressing the employer's assessment of job satisfactoriness. First, it determines whether the former client will retain the job. Second, it determines whether the employee will be satisfied with the job, i.e., job success leads to satisfaction, and not vice versa. Work satisfaction, in turn, predicts job tenure, attendance, participation, morale, and overall life satisfaction and longevity (Bolton, 1987b).


The research reported in this article was supported by Research and Training Center Grant G0083C0010 from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to the Arkansas Research and Training Center in Vocational Rehabilitation, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. The authors express their thanks to Vaughn Kesterson, job placement specialists at the Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center, for collaborating on the follow-up project.

References [Bolton, B. (1981). Follow-up studies in vocational rehabilitation. In E.L. Pan, T.E. Backer, & C.L. Vash (Eds.), Annual Review of rehabilitation (Vol. 2; pp. 58-82). New York: Springer. Bolton, B. (1983). Psychosocial factors affecting the employment of former vocational rehabilitation clients. Rehabilitation Psychology, 28, 35-44. Bolton, B. (1985). Measurement in rehabilitation. Annual review of rehabilitation, 4, 115-144. New York: Springer. Bolton, B. (1986). Minnesota Satisfactoriness Scales. In D.J. Keyser & R.C. Sweetland (Eds.), Test Critiques: Vol. 4 (pp. 434-439). Kansas City, MO: Test Corporation of America. Bolton, B. (1987a). Outcome analysis in vocational rehabilitation. In M.J. Fuhrer (Ed.), Rehabilitation outcomes: Analysis and measurement (pp.57-69). Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes. Bolton, B. (1987b) Minnesota Satisfaction Questionaire. In D. J. Keyser & R.C. Sweetland (Eds.), Test critiques: Vol. 5 (pp. 255-265). Kansas City, MO: Test Corporation of America, 1987. Bolton, B. (Ed.) (1988). Special education and rehabilitation testing: Current practices and test reviews. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. Brookings, J.B., & Bolton, B. (1989, August). Confirmatory factor analysis of the Minnesota Satisfactoriness Scales. Paper presented to the American Psychological Association meeting in New Orleans. Dawis, R.V. (1987). The Minnesota Theory of Work Adjustment.

In B. Bolton (Ed.), Handbook of measurement and evaluation in rehabilitation (2nd ed.) (pp. 203-217 Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes. Gibson, D.L., Weiss, D.J., Dawis, R.V., & Lofquist, L.H. (1970). Manual for the Minnesota Satisfactoriness Scales (Minnesota Studies in Vocational Rehabilitation:27). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Vocational Psychology Research. Harris, L., & Associates (1986). The ICD survey II: Employing disabled Americans. New York: Author. Walls, R.T., & Tseng, M.S. (1987). Measurement of client outcomes in rehabilitation. In B. Bolton (Ed.), Handbook of measurement and evaluation in rehabilitation (2nd ed.) (pp. 183-201). Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes.]
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Author:Brookings, Jeffrey
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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