Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17088 Motivating Child Welfare Caseworkers: The Direct and Indirect Effects of Instrumental Feedback

Friday, January 13, 2012: 10:00 AM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Mark S. Preston, PhD, Assistant Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Consistent with the positive psychology movement, a growing academic interest in work motivation has emerged within social work. Child welfare scholars, however, have ignored the topic; choosing instead, to focus on job stress and burnout. Since these constructs portray case workers as passive, rather than proactive agents, advancements in worker well-being are restricted. Furthermore, empirical evidence indicates work motivation is more strongly association with job performance. Thus, the present study fills an important gap in the child welfare literature by examining the affective effects of instrumental (or goal-related) feedback, a core motivational construct. Action regulation theory (ART) posits work as a goal-oriented endeavor encompassing three levels of mental regulation. Routine regulation is unconscious, automated, and highly integrated. Knowledge-based regulation is conscious and focused on the application of predefined procedures. Intellectual regulation pertains to complex situations with no predetermined solutions. Mental regulation, unlike the previous two levels, is directed toward learning, experimentation, and/or problem solving; all feedback-dependent behaviors. Because more complex jobs require greater levels of intellectual regulation, three hypotheses were tested; a significant:

1) main effect for instrument feedback on motivation; 2) feedback-job complexity interaction; and 3) job control-feedback-job complexity interaction.

Methods: The present study surveyed 487 case managers from 13 county-based child welfare agencies across New York State (72 % response rate). Survey procedures followed Dilman (1978). No violations of OLS regression were noted. Cronbach's alphas ranged from 0.74 to 0.92. Confirmatory Factor Analysis indicated that items loaded heavily onto their respective measures from 0.31 to 0.90. Discriminant validity was evaluated and fit indices pointing towards good model fit. Hypotheses were tested using hierarchical multiple regression.

Results: Support was observed for all three hypotheses. Specifically, a main effect for instrumental feedback (β = 0.14, p > 0.05), and the feedback-job complexity (β = -0.14, p > 0.05) and job control-feedback-job complexity (β = 0.27, p > 0.05) interactions all were significant. Jointly, the three predictor variables explained 11% of the variance in case worker motivation. More importantly, the variance accounted for by the three-way interaction (R2 = 0.05) was 25 times larger than the median effect size uncovered in a 30-year review of categorical moderators.

Conclusion and Implications: Contributions to the child welfare literature include 1) instrumental feedback's direct and indirect effect on work motivation; and that, 2) job complexity, absent sufficient instrumental feedback, may negatively impact motivation (a finding counter to job enrichment theory). Ilgen and colleagues (1979) noted that feedback is most useful when it is accurate, timely, and from credible sources. Thus, not only is it important case managers receive goal-related feedback, but quality control mechanism should be present and abide by to ensure effective delivery. Findings also suggest that for subunit housing more complex jobs, feedback-focused work cultures should be institutionalized. Examining the affective effects of feedback-seeking, and comparing instrumental feedback with social support are areas of future research. If case managers are goal-oriented actors, feedback-seeking should produce significant direct/indirect effects, and instrumental feedback should yield stronger interactions than social support.

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