Abstract: Work Engagement and Retention in Public Child Welfare: A Conceptual Model (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11691 Work Engagement and Retention in Public Child Welfare: A Conceptual Model

Friday, January 15, 2010: 2:30 PM
Bayview B (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Sara L. Schwartz, PhD , University of California, Berkeley, Post Doctoral Fellow, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose

Employee burnout is a pervasive problem that harms workers, organizations, and service recipients. Prior research identifies burnout, a psychological response to work stress, as an important predictor of intent to leave and turnover. Despite evidence that public child welfare workers are at risk for developing burnout, and that public child welfare organizations frequently experience high levels of burnout and turnover, there has been limited empirical research utilizing theory or conceptual frameworks to better understand and respond to this problem.

This study uses the Job Demands-Resources Model (JD-R) to examine public child welfare worker burnout, work engagement, and intent to leave. The model assumes that organizations have specific work characteristics associated with burnout, engagement, and turnover. These characteristics are categorized as either job demands or job resources. Application of the JD-R model to turnover suggests a mediated model in which job demands lead to burnout, job resources lead to work engagement, and both burnout and engagement influence intentions to leave the organization.


A large public child welfare organization in an urban area was the focal point for this study. An agency-specific JD-R model was developed using data from five focus groups in which workers identified the demands and resources they felt were particularly important. This process generated a model with five job demands (role conflict, role ambiguity, psychological job demands, emotional job demands, and operating procedures) and four resources (supervisor support, co-worker support, self-efficacy, and contingent rewards). The hypothesized model was tested using a survey of 243 public child welfare employees, with a response rate close to 100%.


A series of path analyses indicated support for a partially-mediated model. Although the chi-square test for the model was significant [χ (57) = 129.3), p <.001], three fit indices provided evidence of acceptable fit, IFI = .96, TLI = .89, and RMSEA = .07. Consistent with the expectations, the findings suggest that the dimensions of burnout and engagement mediate the effects of job demands and resources on intent to leave. None of the five job demands demonstrated a direct effect on intent to leave. Of the significant variables, emotional job demands, psychological job demands and operating procedures had the strongest relationship with burnout. Coworker support, supervisor support, and self-efficacy were strongly associated with work engagement. Supervisor support was the sole predictor variable that had both indirect and direct effects on intent to leave. The emotional exhaustion component of burnout had the strongest direct effect on intent to leave. The dedication component of work engagement had the strongest direct relationship with intent to remain employed.

Conclusions and Implications

The findings contribute to the widely studied construct of burnout as well as to the emerging literature on work engagement. The results demonstrate that both job demands and job resources, particularly workplace support, play an important role in the development of burnout, engagement, and intent to leave/remain employed. This study also illustrates how the Job Demands-Resources Model may be used to enhance understanding of organizational variables that contribute to workforce retention.