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Job satisfaction of staff in unionized and non-unionized community residences for persons with developmental disabilities.


The move toward deinstitutionalization of developmentally disabled persons has brought about an increased awareness of the necessity to provide a continuum of community-based residential alternatives. The ideological thrust of the deinstitutionalization movement has been to develop the least restrictive residential environment for individuals with developmental disabilities. It is believed that providing more normalized living surroundings enhances both quality of life and participation in society (Bruininks & Lakin, 1985). A range of supportive living environments is provided for persons who cannot live independently, nor with family or friends. These residential settings typically strive to maximize residents' adaptive functioning and participation in the community.

Individuals with developmental disabilities who live in community residential settings constitute a heterogenous group and, therefore, require an array of habilitative services delivered in a broad range of supportive environments. Community residential settings vary in many ways including type of resident served, number of persons in the residence, staffing patterns, level of supervision, and program philosophy. Some of these settings include such options as foster family care (Intagliata, Crosby & Neider, 1981), supportive apartments (Fritz, Wolfensberger, & Knowlton, 1971), and group homes (Zigman, Schwartz & Janicki, 1984). Various theories address the attributes of community residential settings in contributing to resident autonomy and skill acquisition. Clearly, certain aspects of the social environment, such as normativeness and management style, are critical elements differentiating the effectiveness of residential settings (Bruininks, Kudla, Wieck & Hauber, 1980; George & Baumeister, 1981).

Another more specific factor mediating social environmental outcomes may be the staff employed within the settings. Staff is an essential component of any human service endeavor. This is especially true for staff working with persons who are developmentally disabled and live in community residences (Bergman, 1975). The staff fulfills many personal care needs of residents, provides supervision, and implements habilitation programs based on various theoretical principles. The quality and quantity of staff-resident interactions are critical ingredients in the care and improvement of residents (McCord, 1981). Residential staff appear to be a major determinant of the style and quality of life in such settings.

The characteristics, attitudes, and job satisfaction of persons employed in community residences should be considered when assessing the influence of these facilities on persons with developmental disabilities. Factors impacting negatively on a staff person's level of work satisfaction affect his/her effectiveness in providing quality services to residents. Factors which effect staff attitudes and involvement have long been associated with changes in resident functional level and adaptive behavior (Eyman, Demaine & Lei, 1979; Intagliata & Willer, 1982; Schalock, Harper & Genung, 1981; Zigman, Schwartz & Janicki, 1984). Research also has indicated that greater functional impairment and perceived lack of progress among developmentally disabled persons may be associated with increased staff dissatisfaction and turn-over and with fewer staff initiated interactions with residents (Baker, Seltzer & Seltzer, 1977; Lakin, Bruininks, Hill & Hauber, 1982; O'Connor, 1976; Zaharia & Baumeister, 1978). Staff activities and attitudes seem to be a basis of environmental variation influencing skill acquisition and community adjustment of residents and is an important dimension to study.

The present study was designed to investigate the level of job satisfaction of staff working in community residential facilities for persons with developmental disabilities. A purpose was to determine the level of job satisfaction based on three scales derived from a rational-empirical scale construction process. Specifically, three questions were asked: (1) Do unionized staff differ from non-unionized staff on demographic characteristics? (2) Do unionized staff differ from non-unionized staff in their levels of satisfaction and perceptions of residents? (3) Do staff working with residents who have greater functional impairments differ in level of satisfaction from staff working with residents who are not as functionally impaired?



The population studied was staff employed in twenty-five community residences within two service systems located in Michigan. One system included nine residential settings directly operated by a local community mental health board (CMHB). The second system included sixteen residential settings operated under contract by private providers, with monitoring and supervision provided by the CMHB. The major difference between systems was that the CMHB employees were unionized. Both systems adhered to the same policies and procedures for providing services. Within both systems, residential settings provide a 24-hour supervised environment for between three and eight developmentally disabled adults. Residential settings were not responsible for the provision of day program services, except on weekends and holidays. Both systems operate four basic types of residential settings. These settings, designated as level I, II, III, or IV residences, differ primarily in terms of the number of in-home staff and programming. For example, Level I residences provide care and supervision to persons who are generally higher in adaptive behavior and community survival skills (i.e., semi-independent apartments). Level IV residences provide more intense programming for persons with more severe disabilities (i.e., severe physical and/or behavioral characteristics).

One hundred and sixty-one staff persons employed within either a unionized residence (n= 64) or non-unionized residence (n= 97) completed a survey form. Staff represented all shifts and positions within each residence (e.g., day and night shifts; relief staff, aide staff, resident manager). A substantial proportion (84%) of the total number of staff employed at the time of the survey was represented.


Prior to the development of a survey instrument, the researcher spent a considerable amount of time in the field holding informal discussions with staff employed within both systems. The focus of these discussions was to ascertain issues and concerns which staff felt affected level of satisfaction and morale. Therefore, the final version of the survey utilized questions derived from those discussions, as well as issues from the literature. The survey (A copy of the instrument may be obtained from the author) included 50 items which assess staff opinions and attitudes concerning: (1) the work environment, (2) staff and resident supervision, (2) perception of resident autonomy, (3) critical system needs and (5) demographics. Most of the items required staff to express an opinion on a 6-point Likert scale format (e.g., "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree" or "an extremely serious problem" to "no problem"). Space was provided for staff to communicate additional comments.

In order to simplify interpretation of the large number of items used in the survey, rational-empirical scale construction and item analysis strategies were used to identify the most salient dimensions contained in the data set. This scale development and data reduction process involved several steps. First, the response frequency for all items was examined and items with low variance were eliminated from further analysis. Second, the inter-item correlation matrix was reviewed using exploratory factor analysis (i.e., principal components with communalities followed by a Varimax rotation). An oblique multiple groups factor analysis with communalities (i.e., confirmatory factor analysis) was then employed to evaluate resulting clusters. This was performed using the PACKAGE cluster analysis computer program (Hunter, 1969). A policy of employing items in only one cluster was followed. In addition, internal consistency was determined by achievement of high coefficient alphas.

The result from this analysis procedure yielded three sub-scales which characterized the data set. The three scales were labeled based on the underlying content of the items:

1. Resident Activities. This domain contains 12 items. The general theme concerns staff initiated activities, both in and outside the residence, directed toward assisting residents in the development of skills required for the independent management of their leisure time and physical surroundings. This domain has an inverse relationship with Dissatisfaction with Work Environment domain (r= -.34) and Problems Areas domain (r= -.10). High scores on this domain indicate that high levels of perceived resident activities are taking place within a residence.

2. Dissatisfaction with Work Environment. This domain contains 10 items which concern a staff person's level of satisfaction with his/her current work environment. High scores on this domain indicate high levels of dissatisfaction with the current group home work environment. This domain is inversely related to the Resident Activities domain. This indicates that as resident activities increase, staff members' level of dissatisfaction with the work environment decreases.

3. Problem Areas. This domain contains eight items which assess need areas within residential services. Therefore, high scores on this domain indicate more need or problem areas were identified. This domain is positively related the Dissatisfaction domain (r= -.39) and inversely related to the Resident Activities (r= -.10) domain. This relationship indicates that as problem areas increase, resident activities within the residence decreases.

All three clusters were satisfactorily reliable, with coefficient alphas ranging from .83 to .89. Pearson correlations among the scales ranged from . 10 to .39. Although there was overlap between scales, each scale represented unique characteristics.

The subscales developed from the instrument and the items contained within each subscale.

Simple-sum composite scale scores were computed for each staff person on the three staff domains and were used as dependent measures for comparisons between residential system (i.e., union versus non-union) and residence levels (i.e., Levels 1-4).


The surveys with a brief explanatory letter attached were disseminated to residences, and each resident manager asked staff present during one regularly scheduled staff meeting to complete a survey anonymously. The resident manager then placed completed surveys in an envelope with only the residence name identified and returned the packet to the researcher. Thus, all staff employed within the residence did not complete a survey, nor was completing the survey a mandatory requirement.


Characteristics of residential staff serving both union operated and non-union operated residences. This table shows that, overall, persons employed within both residential systems were predominantly female (82% were female), young (59% were between 18 to 27 years of age), educated (74% had some college level experience), and experienced (41% had been working in their residence for a year or more, and 43% had prior working experience in residences serving the developmentally disabled).

Comparisons between community systems showed a tendency for union employees to have obtained a higher level of education (95% union employees had more than a high school education versus 59% for non-union), more prior residential group home work experience with the developmentally disabled (60% for union versus 32% for non-union) and more work experience at their current residence than did non-union employees (84% of union employees had 6 or more months at their current residence versus 53% for non-union). There were no differences between systems with respect to staff age or sex.

The relationship between the two residential systems and the three subscales developed from the survey. There were differences identified for all three subscales. Non-union employees had higher scores on the Resident Activities subscale, while union employees had higher scores on Dissatisfaction with Work Environment and Problem Areas subscales. This relationship indicates that union staff were more critical of the work environment and client care issues.

There were no significant differences between residence levels and the three subscales. Therefore, staff working in residences requiring more individualized or specialized resident care were as satisfied with the working environment and perceptions of resident treatment as were staff working in residences requiring less individualized or specialized resident care.

Staff was also asked to characterize expectations for resident improvement and movement to a less restricted environment. Both union staff (82%) and non-union staff (78%) anticipated that residents would improve. However, staff expectations of resident movement through the residential system showed differences between systems. For example, more union staff felt residents would move to a less restricted living environment (union 41% versus 27% for non-union); more non-union staff felt that residents would stay where they were living (union 29% versus 62% for non-union).


This study examined the overall satisfaction of staff working in residential facilities serving persons with developmental disabilities. Staff was surveyed on perceptions of the work environment, supervision, critical system needs, perceptions of resident autonomy, and demographics. Similar to Bordieri and Peterson (1988) and Lakin, et al. (1982), staff members in the present study were primarily females, under 30 years of age, with some college training, and over one year prior experience as direct care workers. Findings also showed distinct differences in demographics and in the perceptions of staff depending on source of employment. Staff employed by a unionized community mental health organization had more tenure with the current residence compared to staff employed by non-unionized private providers. Over 80% of union staff were employed in the same residence for 6 months or longer, while 47% of non-union staff were employed for less than 6 months. Union staff was also more likely to have had more prior work experience within residential group home settings for the developmentally disabled. Sixty percent (60%) of union staff had prior residential group home work experience, while only 32% of non-union employees had prior group home work experience.

Staff was found to perceive work environment and the residents served quite differently. Non-union staff perceived more positive resident activities occurring in the residences. On the other hand, union staff showed higher levels of dissatisfaction with the work environment and identified more problem areas. The extent to which this was influenced by staff perceptions of reprisals from the work site was undetermined. Staff working in unionized facilities may have felt comfortable to convey dissatisfaction, knowing an organized mutual support base was available. However, non-union staff may have been inhibited without such support.

Providing habilitative services to developmentally disabled persons who are more severely involved, both physically and/or behaviorally, has been linked with greater staff dissatisfaction (Zigman, et al., 1984). The present study, however, found no such difference in satisfaction between staff who worked in residences where all or nearly all the residents had severe behavioral and/or physical characteristics (e.g., Level IV residences) and those who worked with residents at higher levels of adaptive functioning (e.g., residence levels I-III).

This study investigated the effects of one organizational variable on the level of satisfaction of staff working in community residential settings. The focus on union representation as an independent variable has been largely overlooked in the literature to date. The results would seem to indicate that union representation could possibly be a significant variable mediating resident outcome. Obviously, other issues, such as organizational structure and communication, effect the level of staff satisfaction and morale. Further research in this area is needed to consider in greater detail staff and environmental attributes on the effects of residents in the residential settings.

In summary, the survey of staff showed that staff satisfaction is a complex issue requiring extra attention. The survey revealed that staff varied in perceptions of resident movement to the least restrictive setting. Because a greater number of more severely disabled persons are being placed and will continue to be placed in the community, it is critical that appropriate staff attitudes and expectations are fostered.

Staff constitute an important source of information for program planning, program evaluation and staff training. Since staff play a vital role in the habilitation of persons with developmental disabilities, an increased understanding of employee satisfaction, retention, productivity, and other important dimensions of employment is needed. For example, future research might consider: (1) the impact of staff expectations on client improvement and movement to less restricted living settings; (2) the relationship between staff being unionized or not and the effect on staff satisfaction and resident improvement; and (3) the relationship between staff satisfaction levels and the influence on resident skill learning and leisure activities.


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McCord, W. T. (1981). Community residences: The staffing. In J. Wortis (Ed.), Mental retardation and developmental disabilities (Vol. 12). New York: Brunner/Mazel.

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Author:Coelho, Richard J.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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