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

Job Control and the Well-Being of Child Welfare Case Managers: Testing the Mediating Role of Goal-Related Feedback

Friday, January 18, 2013: 11:00 AM
Nautilus 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Mark S. Preston, PhD, Assistant Professor, Columbia University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose:  Although child welfare scholars identify job control as critical to worker-well being1, empirical evidence indicates inconsistent findings.2  Consequently, some scholars have advocated searching for intervening variables.3  To date, no published studies have identified any mediating mechanism. 4  The present study fills this gap in the literature by testing the mediating role of goal-related feedback on the affective effects of job control.  Skinner argued perceived control is best conceptualized as a set of agent-means-ends beliefs. Agent-means beliefs references efficacy beliefs5 which develop from four types of feedback-dependent methods (practice, modeling, verbal persuasion, and emotions). 6  Means-ends beliefs reference causal attributions7 which arise from three feedback-dependent dimensions (instability-stability, luck-ability, uncontrollability-controllability). 8

Given the feedback contingent nature of both types of beliefs, goal-related feedback should fully mediate job control’s impact on worker affect.  Goal-related feedback signals whether or not the environment is controllable (efficacy) and if work outcomes are contingent on work actions (attributions).  Because malleable work milieus and attainable goals elicit positive emotion, and intractable work environments and unattainable goals trigger negative emotions9, I hypothesize that goal-related feedback will fully mediate job control’s effects on both positive and negative worker affect.

Methods:  Four hundred and nineteen case managers from 10 county-based child welfare agencies across New York State were surveyed (79.5 % response rate).  Cronbach’s alphas and factor loadings all were above the recommended levels.10  Discriminant validity was evaluated and fit indices pointed toward good model fit.11  No violations of OLS regression were present.  Hypotheses were tested using procedures suggested by Baron and Kenny. 12

Results:  Baron and Kenny state several conditions must be met in order to establish a mediated relationship.  First, both criterion variables possess a significant relationship with each predictor variable.  Second, a nonsignficant relationship must exist between job control and both criterion variables, once the effects of goal-related feedback are controlled. 13  Hypotheses 1 and 2 met both of these conditions, thereby providing strong evidence that goal-related feedback fully mediates the relationship between job control and worker affect.  Sobel test confirmed the mediational role of goal-related feedback on both positive (Sobel test statistic = 1.96, p<.05) and negative (Sobel test statistic = -2.89, p<.05) worker affect. 

Conclusion and Implications:  The present study is the first known empirical investigation demonstrating a fully mediated relationship between job control and worker welling-being.  Findings suggest that if child welfare agencies wish to develop a healthy sense of job control in their case managers, they must take into account goal-related feedback.  The inability to translate objective control conditions into subject control beliefs induces negative emotions.  Negative emotions, experienced over an extended timeframe, serve as the basis for job strain and burnout14; two prevalent and problematic issues facing the field of child welfare.15    Examining the mediating effects of various sources of goal-related feedback is one area of future research.  Because workers look to their superiors for clarification on performance expectations, feedback from one’s supervisor, rather than co-workers or clients16, is more likely to mediate job control’s affective effects.