Improving Organizational Culture, Climate and Staff Turnover in Child Welfare Systems
Charles Glisson, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
This paper describes an NIMH-funded, randomized controlled trial (RCT) of an organizational intervention model, labeled ARC for availability, responsiveness and continuity. The ARC model was developed to improve work environments and reduce staff turnover in social service and mental health systems. The RCT was designed and conducted to test the ARC model in a child welfare system following a series of five preliminary studies by the author that are summarized in the paper. The preliminary studies examined a variety of child welfare service quality and service outcome criteria as a function of work environment characteristics captured by the constructs of organizational culture and climate. Collectively, these studies indicate that positive work environments in child welfare systems are associated with lower staff turnover, greater job satisfaction, higher service quality, and better service outcomes. Organizational culture and climate each explain variance in service system performance criteria, after controlling for the variance explained by community, caseworker and client characteristics. The RCT provides evidence that the ARC organizational intervention model can successfully improve work environment climate and lower staff turnover in child welfare systems. Using a pre-post, randomized blocks, true experimental design, 10 urban case management teams and 16 rural case management teams were randomly assigned to either the ARC organizational intervention condition or control condition. Full-time ARC change agents with masters or doctoral degrees in psychology, counseling, or social work were trained to implement the intervention. The ARC model includes a dozen organizational intervention components (e.g., team building, participatory decision-making, goal setting) grouped in three stages (i.e., collaboration, participation, innovation) and implemented over four phases. The culture and climate of each case management team were assessed at baseline and again after the one-year ARC intervention was completed. In addition, caseworker turnover was assessed by identifying caseworkers in the sampled teams who quit their jobs during the year. Hierarchical Linear Models (HLM) analyses indicate that the ARC intervention reduced caseworker turnover by two-thirds and improved work environments by reducing role conflict, role overload, emotion exhaustion, and depersonalization in both urban and rural case management teams. The study concludes that organizational intervention strategies can be used to reduce staff turnover and improve work environment climate in child welfare systems. This is important because child welfare systems nationwide are plagued by poor work environments and high turnover rates, and there is evidence that high staff turnover and poor work environments negatively impact service quality and outcomes in these systems.