Friday, 14 January 2005 - 8:00 AM

This presentation is part of: Occupational Stress in Social Work

Unlocking Social Worker Stress: The Relationship Between Supervisor Emotional Support And Stress On The Job

Amy J. Cohen-Callow, MSW, University of Maryland Baltimore, School of Social Work and Karen M. Hopkins, PhD, University of Maryland Baltimore, School of Social Work.

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between supervisor emotional support and worker stress in human service organizations. Women are currently reporting more occupational stress and stress-related illness (Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 2000). Social workers (who are predominately women) have been identified as being at high risk for stress (Lloyd, King & Chenoweth, 2002). They are increasingly vulnerable to problems related to prolonged stress, including burnout which may impair workers ability to be effective on the job. From an organizational perspective, stress and burnout may result in job dissatisfaction and staff turnover affecting an agency’s capacity to provide quality services.

Method: This paper will report findings from a pilot study in which 140 randomly selected direct service workers from a diverse set of public and private nonprofit family service agencies completed a self-administered questionnaire. Worker stress was measured with 15 items from the classic Job-Related Tension/Stress in Organizations Scale (Kahn, 1964) developed to measure the amount of tension experienced by an individual as a result of their job. Proxies for personal and professional role demand –- number of children, income, and hours worked per week -- were measured as continuous variables. Work-family interference was measured by a single item asking how much do your job and your family life interfere with each other (Quinn & Staines, 1979) and was used as a dichotomous variable. Supervisor emotional support was measured with a six item scale adapted from the Michigan Assessment Organization Questionnaire (Cammann, Fichman, Jenkins & Klesh, 1983). A multiple regression analysis with hierarchical entry was conducted.

Results: The final model was statistically significant, (F=16.250, p<.001) explaining 48.3% of the variance (adjusted R square = .453). Supervisor support had the greatest R square change on stress accounting for 21.6% of the variance after controlling for income, number of children, number of work hours per week, and work family interference. Work hours was not statistically significant in the final model (p=.241). Income (p<.001), number of children (p=.029) and work family interference (p=.003) were positively related to stress. Supervisor support (p<.001) was negatively related to stress.

Practice Implications: The findings from this study provide insight into the relationship between supervisor emotional support and worker stress in the human services. Organizations may have some control over worker stress levels by ensuring that supervisors provide the emotional support that workers, especially women, need. Results from this study would suggest that current social work supervisors and social work students who will be entering the field as administrators should be trained for this aspect of the supervisory role.

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