The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Why Am I Zoning Out? A Longitudinal Model of the Stress-Related Determinants of Employee Disengagement

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 9:45 AM
Executive Center 2A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Erica Leeanne Lizano, MSW, MPA, PhD Candidate, University of Southern California, Whittier, CA
Dnika J. Travis, PhD, Senior Director, Research, Catalyst, New York, NY
Michàlle E. Mor Barak, PhD, Lenore Stein-Wood and William S. Wood Professor in Social Work and Business, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Researchers have identified job stressors (low wages, high caseloads, inadequate training, and poor supervision) as substantial risk factors to employees and organizations (AECF, 2003; General Accounting Office, 2003). Employees are considered the heart of social service delivery systems. The study of stress-related predictors of employee engagement is a worthwhile path of inquiry considering the critical role that child welfare workers—particularly frontline workers—play in meeting the needs of the vulnerable client population they serve. The present study contributes to the child welfare administration literature by examining work place stressors (work-family conflict, job stress: role ambiguity and role conflict, and job burnout: emotional exhaustion and depersonalization) as predictors of engagement (job neglect and exit) among public child welfare workers over time.

Method: Data were collected in three six-month intervals, over a 12-month time frame from an availability sample of 362 public child welfare workers at a large urban public child welfare agency using a self-report questionnaire. This study used scales with well-established psychometric properties. A form of structural equation modeling, path analysis using AMOS 18 was employed to test the hypothesized theoretical model.

Results: The theorized model interrelationships among study variables yielded a good model fit (RMSEA = .06, CFI =. 96, NFI =.94). Findings from the path analysis suggest that work-family conflict (b = 0.65) and role conflict (b = 0.20) significantly and positively impact emotional exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion significantly impacts depersonalization (b = 0.20), neglect (b = 0.20), and exit (b = 0.16). The outcome variable, exit was positively impacted by both depersonalization (b = 0.25) and neglect (b = 0.35) at a statistically significant level. Age was the only control variable found to be positively related to any of the outcomes of interest and was found to have a negative relationship with neglect (b =- 0.12). Work-family conflict, role ambiguity and role conflict were only found to impact employee engagement through job burnout.

Conclusion/Implications: Study findings support the relationship between workplace stressors and child welfare job neglect and exit as forms of worker disengagement over time. Findings illuminate the differential impact of job-related stress factors on worker employee disengagement.  A central finding in this study is that workplace stressors only impact employee disengagement through job burnout. Further, findings suggest that job burnout serves as a threat to worker engagment and points to the importance of further examining both the development of job burnout among childwelfare workers but also managerial and administrative strategies that may be employed to mitigate work place risks of burnout development.


Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2003). The unsolved challenge of system reform: The condition of the frontline human services workforce. Retrieved from AECF website:

General Accounting Office. (2003). Child welfare: HHS could play a greater role in helping child welfare agencies recruit and retain staff (Publication No. GAO-03-357). Washington, DC: General Accounting Office.