Methods: The study employed a cross-sectional survey design to measure managerialism, professional discretion, and resistance among Minnesota licensed social workers. The survey was developed based on a scoping literature review, previous workforce study items, theory, research team professional practice experience, and expert consultation. The survey contained 121 multicomponent questions and took 20 minutes to complete. Surveys were distributed between 04/20/2021 to 05/24/2021 using the Minnesota Social Work Board listserv. A sample of 1025 direct-line social workers was included in the study. Most respondents identified as female (92%) and White (91%), with 26 years of social work practice experience on average. Data were analyzed using multinomial logistic regression to compare the differences in managerialism, professional discretion, and resistance among social workers in public, private non-profit, and private for-profit sectors. The study complied with ethical standards for research with human subjects.
Results:The preliminary findings suggested that higher productivity and efficiency scores were associated with a higher likelihood of working in private non-profit sectors (odds = 1.06, p < .001) and private for-profit sectors (odds = 1.05, p <.05). Higher incentive scores were associated with higher likelihood of working in private non-profit sectors (odds = 1.10, p < .001) and private for-profit sectors (odds = 1.12, p <.001). Respondents working in public sectors tended to have a higher level of income compared to respondents working in private non-profit sectors (odds = 0.69, p < .001) and private for-profit sectors (odds = 0.73, p <.001), and they also have lower troubled-conscience scores compared to respondents in private non-profit sectors (odds = 0.91, p <.001) and private for-profit sectors (odds = 0.92, p <.001). Respondents in private non-profit sectors were 80% more likely to have a supervisor with a social work degree compared to public sectors (p <.001).
Conclusions: This is one of a few studies investigating the working conditions among social workers in different sectors under the context of neoliberalism. The results indicated social workers in private for-profit and private non-profit sectors may experience worsened working conditions compared to social workers in public sectors. Neoliberalism principles in human services need to be critically assessed to ensure that social work services promote and uphold social justice missions.