Abstract: The Strain of Workplace Discrimination on Child Welfare Worker Well-Being (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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The Strain of Workplace Discrimination on Child Welfare Worker Well-Being

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Amy He, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Shauna Rienks, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Background: Workplace discrimination is considered a work stressor (Bowling & Beehr, 2006; Hershcovis & Barling, 2010) that negatively impacts worker well-being (e.g., job satisfaction; Wood et al., 2013). Research on workplace discrimination has mostly focused on perceptions of discrimination related to gender, race, and sexual orientation. For example, workplace discrimination has been found to impact mentoring relationships for LGBTQ staff (Church, 2012) and job satisfaction among Muslim American women (Alie et al., 2015). Given that worker well-being is essential to staff retention in the child welfare (CW) profession (Kim & Kao, 2014) and to the delivery of quality services to CW-involved families (Glisson, & Green, 2011), insight on workplace discrimination can serve to advance equity and inclusion efforts within a profession that interfaces with diverse individuals and key family- and child-serving systems.

Purpose: Drawing from tenets of the psychological stressor–strain theory (Lazarus et al., 1985), this study aims to understand workplace discrimination (stressor) and its potential strain on psychological well-being (job satisfaction, burnout, psychological safety) among a diverse group of CW staff.

Methods: Data comes from a comprehensive organizational health assessment of staff from two state and two county public CW agencies (N=4,117). Most of the staff were women (88%), with 48% identifying as Black, 45% as White, and 7% as Other. Workplace discrimination was measured using the Workplace Prejudice/ Discrimination Inventory (WPDI; James, Lovato, & Cropanzano, 1994). Psychological well-being indicators included job satisfaction (general job satisfaction and engagement), client- and work-related burnout (Copenhagen Burnout Inventory), and psychological safety. Linear regression models were used to explore the relationship between workplace discrimination and worker well-being while controlling for job stress, time pressure, and staff demographics (race/ethnicity, age, gender, education, and tenure at agency); the models also tested for interaction effects between WPDI and race/ethnicity.

Results: Preliminary analyses demonstrated a significant relationship between workplace discrimination and race/ethnicity, with Black staff reporting greater workplace discrimination than did their White counterparts. Regression models indicated that workplace discrimination was significantly associated with all psychological well-being indicators: general job satisfaction (b=-.31, p<.001), job engagement (b=-.29, p<.001), client-related burnout (b=3.25, p<.001), work-related burnout (b=5.03, p<.001), and psychological safety (b=-.49, p<.001). However, no significant interaction effects between workplace discrimination and race/ethnicity were found in any of the statistical models.

Conclusion/Implications: Results indicate that, among a diverse group of CW staff, workplace discrimination is related to lower levels of job satisfaction and engagement, greater burnout, and lower psychological safety, even when controlling for job stress, time pressure, and key demographic variables. While experiences of workplace discrimination differ based on race/ethnicity, race/ethnicity did not seem to impact the relationship between workplace discrimination and worker well-being, possibly indicating differences in reporting on or experiences of well-being. Results support existing research that workplace discrimination may be an acute stressor for workers that can strain their well-being. Suggestions for future workplace discrimination research and change efforts around equity and inclusion within the CW profession will be discussed.