Burnout in social workers treating children as related to demographic characteristics, work environment, and social support.
Burnout in the context of the helping professions began to attract research attention at the beginning of the 1980s; it focused on identification of factors that contribute to professionals' loss of motivation and interest in therapeutic work and to worker turnover. Early studies emphasized definitions and characteristics of the concept (Freudenberger, 1980; Maslach, 1987) and explored personal and environmental factors that may reduce the burnout phenomenon (Etzion & Pines, 1986; Maslach, 1982; Paine, 1982; Pines, 1984, 1989). Social workers were included in those caring professions studied for their experience of burnout (Bargal & Guterman, 1996; Cohen, 1990; McNeely, 1992). However, these studies made no distinction between workers treating adults (over age 21) and those treating children. The present study examined Israeli social workers who directly treat only children and youths and thereby face unique challenges and characteristics that may place them at high risk for burnout.
SOCIAL WORKERS TREATING CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
Children and adolescents are one of the largest populations receiving social workers' attention, constituting more than 50% of referrals to social welfare services (Herz, Harada, Lecklitner, Rauso, & Ryan, 2009; Kazdin, 2000). Epidemiological studies estimate that between 9% and 29% of children under 18 years of age exhibit developmental, emotional, or behavioral disorders to varying degrees, most of which are long lasting and predictive of problems in adulthood (Kazdin, 2000; Ronen, 2007).
Due to children's immaturity, naivete, and vulnerabilities, social workers face constant and unique demands to meet high ethical standards and to work concurrently with a complex mix of related systems, such as parents, family, and colleagues (Lonergan, O'Halloran, & Crane, 2004). Furthermore, children's developmental needs and limitations require social workers to summon high levels of creativity, intellectual ability, emotions, and compassion to communicate and work with them (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995; Rae & Fournier, 1999).
Moreover, treatment of children requires social workers to expend considerable effort to maintain the child's motivation for treatment (for example, through the child's active participation in treatment-related decision making) (Kazdin, 1988; Ronen, 2003). This is because most children do not identify themselves as clients and, even if referred for treatment, do not recognize the need for it.
The gamut of unique challenges inherent to child and adolescent treatment may cause social workers to experience permanent situational stress, which may lead them to distance themselves from or avoid treating young clients (Hazan, 1992; Linzer, 1999). The present study aimed to expand on the literature by examining the perceived extent of burnout experienced by Israeli social workers treating children and adolescents.
THE CONCEPT OF BURNOUT
Freudenberger (1974)initially defined the burnout phenomenon, as found among social workers, paraprofessionals, and volunteers who were in intensive contact with their clients, as the inability to cope with stressors at work. He described these workers' sense of frustration, helplessness, and hopelessness. Later, he defined the concept as a condition of fatigue, depleted physical and mental strength, and a sense of being worn out as a result of exaggerated goals and unrealistic expectations imposed by the workers themselves or by the values of society (Freudenberger, 1980).
Maslach (1987) expanded the definition, describing burnout as emotional depletion, deprofessionalization, and diminution of personal competence. Burnout is characterized by symptoms of psychophysiological arousal, aggression, physical and mental exhaustion, pessimism, problematic work relationships, and decreased performance (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). In line with Maslach and Jackson's (1981) multidimensional burnout model, the present study relates to three components of burnout: (1) emotional exhaustion--the depletion of mental energy involved in professional obligation; (2) depersonalization--the development of negative attitudes, emotional numbness, apathy, and cynicism toward the client; and (3) reduced personal accomplishment-the diminution of self-esteem and ambition.
The consequences of these three burnout components are potentially very serious for workers, clients, and agencies. Burnout can lead to deterioration in the quality of care or service that the worker provides (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). Subsequently, it can affect the solutions offered for children's problems and can impair treatment outcomes.
Paine (1982) asserted that the factors underlying burnout include the worker's personal characteristics and personality traits, environmental factors, and various organizational and social conditions. To determine which factors are associated with burnout among social workers involved with children, the present study investigated personal demographic characteristics, environmental work conditions, and social support at work.
DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS ASSOCIATED WITH BURNOUT
Five personal factors may be related to burnout: age, gender, professional seniority, family status, and education level.
Most research has shown young employees, particularly those under the age of 30, to be more prone to burnout than older employees (for example, Bar-Zaselvisky, 2003; Lauderdale, 1982; Maslach, 1982; McNeely, 1992). These researchers suggested that older workers are more stable, mature, and balanced in their perspectives about work and life in general. They often enjoy a better financial position, stronger familial supports, and more life experience, which all enhance their sense of strength and security. In contrast, young workers generally have lower financial security, emotional support, self-confidence, mental strength, and sense of self-identity; furthermore, they tend to develop unrealistically high expectations of the workplace. Contrary to these findings, in a study conducted in Israel among 591 social workers, Bargal and Guterman (1996) found that older workers reported a greater sense of depersonalization (a burnout component) than younger workers. It may be that these differential findings with respect to age are related to unstudied factors associated with work settings, such as financial incentives for longevity.
Research has shown that burnout was more prevalent among female social workers than male social workers in Israel (Bargal & Guterman, 1996; Cohen, 1990; Etzion & Pines, 1986). Pines (1984, 1989) attributed this finding to the preponderance of females in emotionally demanding human service professions. Furthermore, at the time of these studies in the 1980s, Israeli women were in transition between the traditional female role and the modern career woman. Such transition involves normative stressors that impose challenges and high standards, causing women to have greater anxiety and decreased confidence in their abilities, in comparison with men (Pines, 1984).
Seniority in social work relates to cumulative experience and knowledge gained from employers and clients (Navaro, 1999). According to BarZaselvisky (2003) and Navaro, Israeli workers with high seniority in the profession tend to experience less burnout because they are exposed to more challenging roles and rewards than workers with low seniority.
In a series of studies conducted in Israel (Bargal & Guterman, 1996; Cohen, 1990; Maslach, 1982) and the United States (Siefert, Jayaratne, & Chess, 1991), single female social workers reported higher rates of burnout than married ones. This finding was linked to greater emotional support supplied by the married worker's family and to the married worker's shared financial burden. Data were unavailable regarding males.
Level of Education
Researchers have claimed that higher education, knowledge, and qualifications may also advance the burnout process if workers feel overqualified or "sub-challenged" and thus become bored and frustrated (Lauderdale, 1982; Pines & Aronson, 1988). Kahana-Friedman's (2000) study of 295 social workers in Israeli welfare agencies showed that more highly educated workers reported stronger burnout levels. Kahana-Friedman suggested that higher burnout related to higher expectations from work alongside high personal ambitions, reflected in the subjects' education level.
The present study examined whether variables of age, professional seniority, family status, and education level are linked to burnout intensity among Israeli social workers treating children and adolescents. (Gender could not be statistically analyzed due to the predominance of females versus males in our sample.) The aforementioned studies do not provide sufficient data on the burnout intensity of workers who treat children and adolescents.
WORK CONDITIONS ASSOCIATED WITH BURNOUT
The work environment has four dimensions--physical, psychological, social, and organizational --each of which can induce burnout (Pines, 1982). The current study examined three of these dimensions in relation to the work environment of social workers who directly treat children and adolescents: the physical dimension, defined as extrinsic work conditions; the psychological dimension, defined as intrinsic work conditions; and the social dimension, presented through the social support variable. The fourth dimension--organizational--has been defined in relation to three components: job ambiguousness, job conflict, and perceived job expectations and professional responsibility (Bargal & Guterman, 1996). This dimension was excluded here because the present sample was highly heterogeneous in its organizational settings, thus precluding adequate examination of the multiple job components.
The physical work dimension comprises extrinsic physical conditions such as temperature, light, noise, crowdedness, workplace structure, and the organization's space and flexibility for changing those physical characteristics. A positive correlation has been found between all these conditions and burnout (Lauderdale, 1982; Pines, 1982).
The psychological dimension includes intrinsic emotional and cognitive aspects. Among the emotional causes of work dissatisfaction are a low sense of meaning found in one's work and a low perceived potential for personal growth, development, and self-fulfillment. In the absence of a sense of meaning or opportunities for job challenge, self-fulfillment, and skill utilization, a sense of frustration develops, which can lead to a sense of burnout. For example, job challenge (an emotional aspect referring to interest level and extent of use of knowledge and professional skills; Jayaratne & Chess, 1984) most significantly contributed (negatively) to explaining burnout rates among 591 social workers in welfare agencies (Bargal & Guterman, 1996). From the cognitive standpoint of the psychological dimension, autonomy at work, which imparts a sense of control, has been found to reduce stress, and it may thus delay burnout (Kary, 1990; Pines, 1982).
The social dimension relates to the social environment at work, including all the people who come in contact with the employee within the work framework: clients, colleagues, direct supervisors, and organization managers. An environment that provides social support can reduce and even prevent burnout (Fineman, 1985; Pines, 1982). According to Pines, Aronson, and Kafry (1981), the social support system at work has six functions: listening and attentiveness, professional support, professional challenge, emotional support, mental challenge, and shared worldview. Social support creates a sense of partnership and enables a "dispersion" of stressors (Pines, 1982). Social support in the workplace refers to colleagues, direct supervisors, and people in charge (Bargal & Guterman, 1996; Cobb, 1976; House, 1981).
Pines, Kafry, and Etzion (1980) reported a reduced intensity of burnout among workers who enjoyed social support from work colleagues. Pines et al. (1980) suggested that in an atmosphere of supportive work relationships, workers under stress can turn to their work colleagues for advice and encouragement, thus lessening tensions and reducing the development of burnout. These researchers also asserted that a good relationship with and support from direct supervisors can influence worker satisfaction and thereby diminish burnout. Likewise, Bargal (1979) maintained that employee training or interventions, in the form of giving advice on problem solving as well as giving feedback, can be seen as remuneration for the worker that helps reduce burnout rates. Davis-Sacks, Jayaratne, and Chess (1985) also found the direct supervisor to be a support factor in their study of 62 married female social workers who worked with children. Their findings revealed that these workers' primary support agents were supervisors at work and spouses.
PRESENT STUDY HYPOTHESES
The current study first investigated the extent to which Israeli social workers who directly treat children and adolescents perceive a sense of burnout in their work; it then attempted to identify the contribution of demographic variables, work conditions, and social support in the organization to the workers' development of burnout.
The following four hypotheses were tested:
1. Social workers treating children and adolescents will report a high sense of burnout.
2. Sense of burnout will correlate with demographic characteristics as follows:
(a) Younger social workers will report more burnout than older social workers.
(b) Unmarried social workers will report more burnout than married social workers.
(c) Social workers with less seniority will report more burnout than social workers with more seniority.
(d) Social workers with higher education levels will report more burnout than social workers with lower education levels.
3. Sense of burnout will correlate with work conditions (extrinsic and/or intrinsic) such that workers who report better work conditions (extrinsic and/or intrinsic) will report less burnout.
4. The link between burnout, demographic characteristics, and work conditions will be lower among social workers who report higher social support.
Participants were 126 Israeli social workers working directly with children and adolescents: 76 in social welfare agencies and 50 in various community settings such as probation services, after-school childcare facilities, home-based childcare services, residential facilities, and hospitals. All participants spent most of their working time (85% to 95%) with children and their families. Descriptive information on the sample is presented in Table 1.
The study measures included four questionnaires: a demographic questionnaire, a burnout questionnaire, a work conditions questionnaire, and a social support at the workplace questionnaire.
Demographic Questionnaire. This measure, developed for the present study, included questions pertaining to participants' personal background: age, gender, family status, education, seniority in the social work profession, and full-time versus part-time position.
Burnout Questionnaire. Burnout was assessed using Maslach and Jackson's (1981) Maslach Burnout Inventory, which was developed for human service professionals (doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, teachers, police officers, etc.). The 25-item Hebrew translation (Stav, 1982), which was found to be valid (r = .39, p < .05) and reliable (Cronbach's coefficient [alpha] = .84), included four dimensions. Emotional depletion (nine items) referred to the sensations that accompanyied the individual at work (for example, "I feel emotionally exhausted because of my work"). Depersonalization (five items) referred to the worker's deliberate avoidance of clients and reduction of contact with clients to the minimum (for example, "I feel as though I relate to some of my clients as objects"). Diminution of personal competence (eight items) referred to a decrease in the worker's sense of professional competence (for example, "I can easily understand how my clients feel in the context of different situations"). Personal involvement (three items) referred to the worker's extent of personal involvement in the clients' problems. According to Maslach and Jackson, the personal involvement component explained negligible variance in burnout; therefore, it was excluded from the present study, thus yielding a 22-item burnout questionnaire.
This questionnaire was administered twice in slightly different forms, once to tap frequency and once to tap intensity of the burnout phenomenon. With respect to the 22-item frequency index, participants rated their responses on a seven-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 = never to 7 = every day. The frequency index's reliability was [alpha] =.83 (emotional depletion: [alpha] = .87; depersonalization: [alpha] = .62; diminution of personal competence: [alpha] = .75). With respect to the 22-item intensity index, participants rated their responses on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 = not at all to 5 = with very great intensity. The intensity index's reliability was [alpha] = .86 (emotional depletion: [alpha] = .86; depersonalization: [alpha] = .63; diminution of personal competence: [alpha] = .75).
An examination of the correlation between the two burnout indices, frequency and intensity, indicated a high correlation (r = .86, p< .001). Therefore, in the present study, only the burnout intensity questionnaire was used due to its higher internal consistency ([alpha] = .86). Higher scores indicated a higher intensity of burnout.
Work Conditions Questionnaire. Gorlick's (1998) 21-item work environment questionnaire, developed to study occupational stress and burnout among social workers in health and family treatment agencies, was given to 10 judges --senior social workers who work with children and are field supervisors. These judges were asked to pinpoint all items they thought were related to extrinsic and intrinsic aspects of social workers' work environment. Items selected by more than six judges were included in the questionnaire. Agreement among the judges emerged regarding four items relating to extrinsic aspects of the work environment (privacy, relaxed atmosphere in the room, accessibility to telephone, and noise; [alpha] =.83) and nine items relating to intrinsic aspects of the work environment (for example, ability to succeed in interventions, extent of challenge, interest, self-fulfillment, meaning, and logic at work; [alpha] =.89). Participants rated these 13 items on a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 = to a great extent to 5 = to a low extent or not at all; higher mean scores for the two aspects indicated more favorable extrinsic/intrinsic work conditions.
Social Support Questionnaire. Social support was assessed using Kershner-Cohen's (1998) 10-item support questionnaire in Hebrew, which was based on House's (1981) four types of social support provided by each of three sources of support in the workplace: work colleagues, direct supervisor, and the organization manager. The four types of support from work sources were instrumental support (two items) (for example, "To what extent are they willing to temporarily replace you in your job, when necessary?"), appraisal support (two items) (for example, "To what extent do they voice appraisal as to your ability to cope with difficulties that arise at work?"), emotional support (four items) (for example, "To what extent do you receive encouragement when you encounter difficulties?"), and informative support (two items) (for example, "To what extent do you receive advice that can help you cope with difficulties at work?"). Participants completed the same 10-item scale three times, once for each of the three sources of support (colleagues, direct supervisor, organization manager), using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 = low level of support to 5 = high level of support. A mean score was calculated for each source of support, and higher scores indicated higher perceived social support at the workplace. In the present study, reliabilities were [alpha] = .92 for the work colleagues' support, [alpha] = .94 for the direct supervisor's support, and [alpha] = .96 for the organization manager's support.
The current convenience sample of social workers from different areas of Israel who work directly with children and adolescents in various settings was recruited through the snowball method. In the fall of 2007, 30 social workers were located by the author through professional contacts. They were asked to participate in research that aimed to investigate burnout in relation to demographic characteristics, extrinsic and intrinsic work conditions, and social support by colleagues, direct supervisors, and organization managers. After giving their permission, they were asked to obtain agreement for their participation from their agency and different direct supervisors. Six questionnaire sets were then sent to each social worker through the mail: one set for the worker to complete independently and five other sets to distribute to colleagues who treated children and adolescents and were willing to participate. These colleagues were from within their own work setting or from parallel settings in local or other areas of the country. Questionnaire sets included stamped, addressed envelopes for mailing the completed questionnaires. Of the 180 questionnaire sets distributed in total, 136 were returned, but only 126 were complete--a return rate of 75%.
First, means and correlations were conducted to learn about the descriptive characteristics of the sample and psychometric properties of the measures. Second, correlations were calculated to study the links between the variables. Third, regression analysis was used to examine the contribution of each variable to burnout.
Descriptive Information on the Sample and Scores on the Measures
The sample characteristics are presented in Table 1: The average age of participants was 36.17 years (SD= 8.00). The average seniority in social work was 8.50 years (SD = 7.04). No significant differences were found in participants' sociodemographic variables in relation to their type of work setting.
The means, standard deviations, maximum and minimum values, and reliabilities for the study variables are presented in Table 2. As seen in the table, the participants reported a moderate intensity of burnout, good work conditions, and high support from colleagues and direct supervisors but only moderate support from organization managers.
Correlations between Burnout Intensity and Study Variables
Examination of the links between the sense of burnout and demographic characteristics (age, family status, education, and professional seniority) yielded only two significant correlations. Negative Pearson correlations emerged only between age and burnout (r=-.24, p<.01) and between seniority in the social work profession and burnout (r = -.24, p < .01). Older social workers and those who had worked more years in the social work profession experienced less burnout. One-way analyses of variance conducted for family status and education did not yield any significant differences in burnout levels between married and unmarried workers or between workers with a first versus a second academic degree (p > .05).
The Pearson correlation coefficients between the sense of burnout, work conditions (extrinsic, intrinsic), and social support (from colleagues, direct supervisor, organization manager) are presented in Table 3. With respect to work environment conditions, sense of burnout was significantly negatively correlated both with extrinsic and intrinsic work conditions, although the correlation with intrinsic work conditions was higher. Social workers' burnout was lower when work conditions were better, both in terms of the physical dimension (crowdedness, relaxed atmosphere in the room, noise, privacy) and the psychological dimension (successful intervention, challenge, interest, variety, meaning, self-fulfillment).
With respect to social support at the workplace, sense of burnout was significantly negatively correlated with support both from direct supervisors and from organization managers, although the correlation with manager support was higher. Social workers' burnout was lower when they received better support from supervisors and managers.
To examine the contribution of all the variables together in explaining burnout, hierarchical regression analysis was performed. Burnout intensity was the dependent variable, and the predictors were entered in four steps. In the first step, to assess the contribution of demographic characteristics, the professional seniority variable was entered. (Due to the high correlation found between age and professional seniority [r = .81, p < .001], which were the only two demographic characteristics found to correlate highly with burnout, only professional seniority was entered in the first step.) The support variable (colleagues, direct supervisor, organization manager) was entered in the second step, and work conditions (extrinsic, intrinsic) were entered in the third step. In the fourth step, interactions between the different variables were entered. In the first three steps, forced entry of variables was used, and in the fourth step, the entry of the interaction variables was according to significance (p < .05).
Table 4 presents the hierarchical regression coefficients explaining the variance in social workers' burnout. The overall percentage of explained variance for the sense of burnout was 43%. In the first step, seniority in the social work profession made a small contribution to explaining the variance (7%), and the [beta] coefficient of this variable was negative. In other words, greater seniority predicted a lower sense of burnout. In the second step, the support variables added another 19% to the explained variance. A significant contribution with negative [beta] coefficient was found only for organization manager support. In other words, more managerial support predicted a lower sense of burnout. In the third step, the work conditions added a further 11% to the explanation of the variance. Only the intrinsic index was significant, with a negative [beta] coefficient. In other words, higher intrinsic work conditions predicted a lower sense of burnout. In the fourth and final step, two interactions linked to seniority in the workplace entered the regression (with colleague support and with direct supervisor support), adding 6% to the explained variance. To explain these interactions, the study participants were divided into low seniority and high seniority subgroups according to the sample's median of seniority in the social work profession (6.1 years). In each of the two subgroups, the correlations between the support indices and burnout were calculated.
With respect to the interaction of seniority with colleagues' support, a significant correlation emerged only for the subgroup with less seniority (r=-.24, p<.05). Social workers who had worked fewer years in the profession experienced less burnout when they received more support from their colleagues, whereas in the case of their more senior counterparts, colleagues' support did not affect burnout levels at all.
Regarding the interaction of seniority with the direct supervisor's support, again, a significant correlation emerged only for the subgroup with less seniority (r =-.25, p < .05). Social workers who had worked fewer years in the profession experienced less burnout when they received more support from their direct supervisors, whereas in the case of their more senior counterparts, supervisors' support did not affect burnout levels.
This study examined the contribution of demographic characteristics, work conditions, and perceived social support at the workplace to the intensity of burnout experienced by Israeli social workers who directly treat children and adolescents. The study investigated the current group of social workers under the assumption that children's and adolescents' unique characteristics demand particular professional resources and specific work conditions in order to reduce workers' burnout.
In contrast to the first study hypothesis, Israeli social workers treating children and adolescents did not report a high sense of burnout. It is noteworthy that the present findings coincide with prior outcomes from research on Israeli social workers who treat adults: Similar results emerged for workers' sense of burnout (Bargal & Guterman, 1996; Kahana-Friedman, 2000) and social support (Bargal & Guterman, 1996).
The moderate rather than high burnout intensity can perhaps be explained using Hobfoll's (1989) conservation of resources model. This model assumes that people consciously and unconsciously use the amount and quality of resources at their disposal. In a stressful situation, when a specific resource is threatened, people will "compensate" by utilizing a different resource. According to this model, it seems that social workers treating children and adolescents may be efficient at utilizing social support as an environmental resource when they sense that their personal emotional resources are threatened by distress and by the complex situations and emotional overload that bring clients to therapy. Another possible explanation is that most social workers who choose to work with children and adolescents do so because they accurately evaluate their own strengths and resilience.
Indeed, the most prominent finding in this study relates to the correlation found between professional seniority, the support of colleagues and direct supervisors, and the sense of burnout. The provision of support by colleagues and direct supervisors explained a large part of the variance in the burnout intensity experienced by newer social workers. Moreover, social workers experienced a stronger sense of burnout when their organization manager was less supportive and when their intrinsic, psychological work conditions were less favorable.
Regarding the correlation between higher support by colleagues, direct supervisors, and organization managers and a lower sense of burnout, as predicted in the fourth hypothesis, the current results corroborate previous research, which reported that social support contributed to a reduction in the sense of burnout among social workers and workers in the human service professions (Bargal & Guterlnan, 1996; El-Bassel, Guterman, Bargal, & Kuo-Hsien, 1998; Ezer, 2003; Pines et al., 1980). Nonetheless, the present study on social workers treating children underscored an interaction effect between professional seniority and work support: Workers without much seniority in the profession experienced less burnout when they received stronger support from their colleagues and direct supervisor.
This finding can be explained by Maslach's (1982) clam1 that burnout may tend to emerge during the first five years of professional work. At the start of their career, as social workers face dilemmas and emotional overload while treating children and adolescents, colleagues may provide attentiveness, emotional and informative support, technical assistance, and a sense of partnership in a similar reality (Ezer, 2003). Colleagues may reduce burnout in younger workers by strengthening their professional self-confidence and self-esteem as child and adolescent practitioners and by helping them to gradually develop the ability to share difficulties with similar professionals and to learn from other workers' experiences and skills at solving problems and at coping with clients' unique characteristics. Likewise, Gorlick (1998) demonstrated a negative correlation between burnout and professional self-confidence and self-esteem among 300 social workers with one to five years of seniority who were employed in various Israeli health and social service agencies.
Amrani-Cohen (1999) has explained that workers without much seniority in the profession seem to be psychologically less resilient and to have lower levels of job mastery than social workers with greater seniority. Thus, the ability to receive feedback from a direct supervisor for one's professional interventions and activities provides workers with a sense of confidence in their work and encourages them to persevere at their jobs despite challenges (Bargal, 1979; Cohen, 1990). Social work supervisors play the roles of teacher, enabler, consultant, and manager for frontline social workers (Kadushin, 2002). An effective supervisor must provide essential guidelines, professional skills, and knowledge while also communicating opinions, feelings, and decision making. Studies have reported that perceived supervisory support was associated with low levels of burnout and turnover intentions among those being supervised (Mor Barak, Nissly, & Levin, 2001; Um& Harrison, 1998). Supervisors reduce workers' role stress (that is, role ambiguity and role conflict), and when an individual is experiencing a high level of role stress, the supervisor is an important coping resource (Hansung & Sun Young, 2009).
With reference to the finding that the support of organization managers reduced the sense of burnout among social workers treating children and adolescents, the following explanation can be suggested. In certain situations, a supportive manager can provide responses that offer practical assistance to the worker, whereas colleagues can sometimes provide only emotional support. The manager, who has formal authority and the power to effect change in the organization, can often make decisions that benefit the worker. The organization manager fulfills a central role in determination of the allocation of available resources to enhance work conditions (extrinsic and intrinsic) and implementation of training and continuing education programs that enrich workers' practical knowledge. In practice, the manager provides both appraisal and instrumental support. Therefore, workers who experience the manager of the organization as supportive and as expressing appraisal of their work by supplying resources may manifest a lower sense of burnout. Similar findings were reported in studies that examined prison officers (Drory & Shamir, 1988) and teachers (Beehr, King, & King, 1990).
This study revealed an association between intrinsic environmental work conditions and workers' sense of burnout, which relates to the third hypothesis. This finding supports previous research outcomes (Bargal & Guterman, 1996; Kaczelnik, Aviram, & Katan, 1991), in which Israeli social workers who directly treated clients attributed the intrinsic component of their work with the greatest impact on their decision to remain in their jobs. Likewise, the intrinsic component in the present study showed a higher association with burnout than did extrinsic work conditions. A possible explanation for this finding may be related to the unique characteristics of work with children and adolescents. In other words, despite the emotional overload involved in exposure to young people's internal world and/or distress, these practitioners' professional activity is conducive to an experience of meaningfulness (through protection of the safety and well-being of the vulnerable), variety (through exercise of verbal and nonverbal treatment skills), challenge (through development of a relationship with the children and adolescents and the understanding their inner world), and great satisfaction (through helping children actually express their feelings and achieve change). Ronen (1994) noted,
Treating children ... requires those involved with it, in addition to acquiring specialization in treatment processes, to preserve the spark of innocence, faith, and enthusiasm that are natural to children; to be an artist who is capable of approaching and peeking into the child's soul, an artist who knows how to create, improvise and use various means to bring the child close. (p. 14)
It may be that these unique characteristics of the therapist can explain the negative correlation between the intrinsic conditions in the work environment and the sense of burnout experienced by social workers treating children and adolescents.
This study's findings may contribute to existing theoretical knowledge on the subject of burnout and stress and may also assist in development of practical organizational and coping strategies to reduce the sense of burnout or increase immunity to it. From a theoretical point of view, this study offered the opportunity to examine burnout in a unique group of social workers who directly treat children and youths. It strengthened knowledge on the psychological, physical, and social dimensions of their workplace as related to their burnout experience.
From a practicable point of view, this study's results may contribute to determination of the policies of organizations that deal with human assistance. Such organizations may wish to strengthen their social support in general (support by colleagues, direct supervisors, and organization managers) and the intrinsic rewards for social workers in particular (creating meaning, providing autonomy and a sense of control, variety, and the possibility of self-fulfillment). These steps may reduce stress levels and improve workers' well-being (Natvig, Albrektsen, & Qvamstrom, 2003). Prior research found a correlation between social support at work and workers' sense of well-being (Park, Wilson, & Sun Lee, 2004). Moreover, Dillon (1990) suggested specific supportive means, such as use of "time-outs" for relaxing activities inside the setting, with the agreement of the organization managers, as well as participation in creative activities or development of workers' hobbies.
Specifically in relation to workers who treat children and adolescents, this study's outcomes suggest the importance of implementation of training within the organization as part of its work environment. Such training programs should aim to strengthen professional confidence, disperse stressors, and enhance the sense of efficacy in working for the benefit of clients. In addition, for workers starting a career in direct treatment of children and adolescents, such training will constitute a resource for solving problems linked to entering the job, learning how it is performed, and coping with clients' unique needs.
This study has several limitations that must be considered. The personal resources of social workers who chose to work with children and adolescents were not examined. It may be that these resources would add explanations for the variance in the sense of burnout and would clarify workers' varying use of environmental resources in the form of social support. In addition, the quantitative study design does not give voice to the unique characteristics of social workers treating children and adolescents; qualitative methods would contribute to future understanding of the moderate sense of burnout that characterized the study participants. Therefore, future studies should combine quantitative and qualitative designs.
The next step should be the examination of the burnout subscales (emotional depletion, depersonalization, diminution of personal competence, personal involvement) and their correlates to the independent variables. Moreover, burnout should also be investigated while comparing practitioners' various community settings, such as child welfare, probation services, after-school childcare facilities, home-based childcare services, residential facilities, community mental health, hospitals, and so on. In addition, burnout in males versus females should be investigated. Also, future research on a control group of social workers who treat adults could clarify the similarities and differences between the two subgroups in relation to the burnout components.
The study's major limitations concern its snowball convenience sample and self-report methodology. Recruitment of additional participants by the original 30 was not random, and the original participants likely referred workers with personal characteristics similar to their own. Furthermore, highly burned-out individuals may be more apathetic and less motivated to complete and return the survey, thus suggesting a self-selection process during participant recruitment. Therefore, this snowball convenience sample limits the generalizability of the findings. Future research designs should consider this issue. Moreover, the current data were collected using self-report measures in order to tap subjective perceptions of internal and external factors related to mental health employee turnover. However, individual characteristics may affect how participants perceive both their burnout levels and their work conditions. Thus, to confirm the current outcomes, future studies would do well to collect complementary objective data on the actual work environment.
Original manuscript received November 3, 2008
Final revision received November 17, 2009
Accepted March 23, 2010
Advance Access Publication September 20, 2012
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Liat Hamama, PhD, is lecturer, Bob Shapell School of Social Work, TeI-Aviv University, 69978, Tel-Aviv, Israel; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author thanks Dee B. Ankonina for her editorial assistance.
Table 1: Study Participant Characteristics (N=126) Characteristic Value n % Age (in years) 20-30 40 31.8 1-40 51 40.5 41-50 26 20.6 51+ 9 7.1 Gender Male 6 4.8 Female 120 95.2 Family status Unmarried 46 36.5 (single, divorced, widowed) Married 80 63.5 Education Bachelor's degree 76 60.3 Master's degree 50 39.7 Seniority in the < 1 8 6.3 social work 1-5 50 39.7 profession (in years) 6-10 29 23.0 11-15 22 17.5 16+ 17 13.5 Table 2: Psychometric Characteristics of Study Variables (N= 726) Variable M SD Minimum Maximum [alpha] Burnout severity 2.14 0.44 1.19 0.76 87 Work conditions Extrinsic (a) 3.70 0.98 1.00 5.00 0.83 Intrinsic (b) 3.81 0.58 2.22 4.89 0.89 Social support Colleague 4.02 0.71 1.50 5.00 0.92 Direct supervisor 3.88 0.95 1.10 5.00 0.94 Organization manager 2.93 1.10 1.00 5.00 0.96 (a) Physical work conditions such as temperature, light, noise, crowdedness, workplace structure, and the organization's space. (b) Emotional and cognitive aspects of work such as sense of meaning found in one's work; perceived potential for personal growth, development, and self-fulfillment; autonomy at work; and sense of control. Table 3: Pearson Correlations between Study Variables (N=126) Extrinsic Intrinsic Work Work Colleague Study Variable Conditions Conditions Support Intrinsic work conditions .26 *** -- Colleague support .16 .15 -- Supervisor support .23 ** .25 ** .62 *** Manager support .17 .48 *** .24 ** Burnout severity -.18 * -.55 *** -.90 Organization Direct Supervisor Manager Study Variable Support Support Intrinsic work conditions Colleague support Supervisor support -- Manager support .27 ** -- Burnout severity -.19 * -.43 *** * p < .05. ** p < 01 *** p-001. Table 4: Hierarchical Regression Coefficients ([beta]) to Explain Differences in Burnout (N- 726) First Step Second Step predictor t [beta] t 1. Seniority -2.98 ** -0.28 -3.17 ** 2. Colleague support 0.48 Supervisor support -1.54 Manager support -4.70 *** 3. Work conditions: Extrinsic Work conditions: Intrinsic 4. Seniority x Colleague Support Seniority x Supervisor Support [R.sup.2] .07 * .26 *** [DELTA][R.sup.2] .07 * .19 *** Second Third Step Step predictor [beta] t [beta] 1. Seniority -.27 -2.20 * -.19 2. Colleague support .05 0.43 .04 Supervisor support -.16 -0.89 -.09 Manager support -.39 -2.60 ** -.22 3. Work conditions: Extrinsic 0.00 .00 Work conditions: Intrinsic -4.34 *** -.39 4. Seniority x Colleague Support Seniority x Supervisor Support [R.sup.2] .37 *** [DELTA][R.sup.2] .11 *** Fourth Step predictor t [beta] 1. Seniority -1.28 -.11 2. Colleague support .00 .00 Supervisor support -0.80 -.08 Manager support -3.17 ** -.26 3. Work conditions: Extrinsic 0.68 .05 Work conditions: Intrinsic -4.95 *** -.43 4. Seniority x Colleague Support -3.50 ** -.50 Seniority x Supervisor Support -2.50 * -.34 .43 *** [R.sup.2] .06 * [DELTA][R.sup.2] * P < 05. ** p < .01. *** p < 001.
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|Publication:||Social Work Research|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2012|
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