Explaining Occupational Health Outcomes for Human Service Workers: The Effect of Workplace Variables
Methods: The study utilized a cross-sectional research design of members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), which represent all human service workers employed by the Government of Alberta. Data were collected by self-report through an online survey platform (n=674). Multiple regression analysis was utilized to determine the extent that 1) participant demographic factors (such as gender, age, and education status), 2) workplace characteristics (such as congruence between worker and workplace expectations around workload, professional values, and the working environment measured with the Areas of Work Life Scale), and 3) the nature of interaction with colleagues (such as experiences with bullying or harassment) and service users (including both direct and indirect experiences with violence) predicted respondent experiences with symptoms of burnout (Maslach Burnout Inventory), distress (Brief Symptom Inventory), and secondary traumatic stress (Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale), along with intention to leave (Intention to Leave Scale) and decreased life satisfaction (Satisfaction with Life Scale).
Results: The analysis shows that greater congruence between workplace and worker expectations around workloads, workplace values, and the quality of the work environment significantly decreases symptoms related to burnout, distress, and secondary traumatic stress (p<.05), decreases intention to leave (p<.001), and increases overall life satisfaction (p<.01). The analysis also found a high frequency of negative workplace interactions (for instance, over 50% of the sample experienced bullying within the workplace in the last 12 months), and these interactions contributed negatively towards occupational health outcomes. For instance, having experienced false allegations and physical violence increases intentions to leave (p<.05), and having experienced verbal threats, interference, name calling, harassment, physical violence, and yelling increases at least one of the symptoms associated with burnout, distress, and secondary traumatic stress (p<.05). Experiences with negative workplace interactions did not have a significant effect on life satisfaction. Finally, direct traumatic/violent experiences with service users was not statistically significant in any of the models, but higher levels of indirect violence from service user interaction increases all symptoms related to burnout and distress (p<.001). Between 25 and 47 percent of the variance in the various occupational health outcomes is explained by these workplace factors.
Implications: The study highlights the importance of proactive and protective workplace practices that uphold and support worker well-being and safety. The findings provide some evidence for recommendations such as participatory organizational level management and workplace interventions that aid in adapting processes of interaction between agency personnel.