Methods: All Minnesota licensed social workers were emailed the 20-minute Qualtrics anonymous survey; 2,329 direct-line social workers responded (91% white, women) with 13.8 mean years experience. Managerialism and professional discretion scales and resistance items were developed based on previous literature scoping review, other survey workforce items, professional practice experience, and expert consultation (validation ongoing).
Managerialism: Four scales measured managerialism. Productivity and efficiency: Respondents reported that taking on more clients (70.4%), getting more done in same amount of time (67.5%), and prioritizing paperwork over practice (41.5%) were problematic. Monitoring: 41.4% indicated that monitoring employees’ computer usage was problematic. Incentives and sanctions: Respondents indicated that increased supervision if productivity goals weren’t met (60.9%) and more pay if performance goals were exceeded (28.7%) were problematic. Standardization: Respondents reported that clients’ limited input in treatment goals (54%) and required use of evidence-based practice (30.8%) were problematic.
Professional Discretion: Of the 7-item professional discretion scale, respondents reported that four items were commonly problematic: Addressing client issues at macro level (89.6%), shaping practice based on social, economic, and political history (81.5%), incorporating the ecological framework in assessment (67.8%), and engaging with other agencies to support clients (56.6%).
Resistance: Nine resistance activities were coded into “yes, had done this at least once,” or “no, had not:” 88.9% expressed disagreement with management among co-workers; 86.9% expressed disagreement to management; 52.8% loosely interpreted eligibility guidelines; 49.8% organized with co-workers; 31.5% practiced outside of management-approved interventions. Few had altered performance reports, contacted their professional association or board of social work. Only 15.4% belonged to a union and of the rest, 78.5% said they would join a professional union.
Conclusions: Social workers experienced managerialism, especially productivity and efficiency pressures. Under these conditions, their discretion was substantially compromised, raising the question of how “professional” social workers are allowed to be. When disagreeing with management, social workers resisted in individual, collective, hidden, and public ways, and the great majority would join a professional union.