Abstract: Helping in Chaos: Social Service Workers Navigating the Covid-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Helping in Chaos: Social Service Workers Navigating the Covid-19 Pandemic

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun E, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Anna Haley, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University
Background/Purpose: During the Covid-19 pandemic, the US workforce experienced increased unemployment, reduction in work hours, challenges from remote work, new contagion risk in the workplace, and changed job responsibilities. Disruption of family care arrangements have upheaved workers’ work-life juggles. While social service jobs are likely encountering these difficulties, less is known about their nature: this is work overwhelmingly conducted in-person, and in certain contexts regulated by a professional code of ethics placing service above self-interest. This paper investigates pandemic-related changes to social services employment and workplaces, strains from those changes; and individual, job, and organizational correlates of job satisfaction.

Methods: A link to a new, 50-question Qualtrics survey was emailed with a recruitment message to a listserv of 43,000 past registrants of Rutgers School of Social Work continuing education programs, with three reminders sent, from late February to mid-April 2022; 1,469 respondents began and 1,082 finished the survey. Questions asked about respondent demographics, the employing agency, the job, and personal Covid experiences. Analyses included descriptive data examination and regression modeling of two dependent variables: a PCA score of current satisfaction with the job, resources for getting the job done, ability to develop professionally through the job, and supervisor support (linear), and change in job satisfaction during Covid (constructed as binary for decline or not, used with logistic regression).

Results: Sixty-five percent of respondents reported that their organizations required Covid-19 vaccines and 17% that, following the March 2020 shut-down, their agencies eliminated existing services, 62% said services changed, and 45% reported the addition of new services. Fifty-five percent of respondents received training in Covid-related safety protocols; 48% on remote work technology; 63% received tech equipment for remote work; and 72% were supplied PPEs. Workers were expansively personally affected by the pandemic, with 35% reporting getting Covid, 40% facing financial loss, and among parents, 70% with children under 6 and 73% with children 6 to 18 experiencing loss of care/school coverage. Numerous organizational initiatives were significantly positively related to current job satisfaction, including training on Covid safety and remote work, offering remote work technology and PPE, and reimbursing employee purchases of Covid work-related items. Respondents’ (later) career phase, working in larger-staff worksites and with clients one-on-one, extent of changes to agency services, and extent of negative Covid impacts on personal/family life were negatively linked to satisfaction. Predictors of the decline in job satisfaction since the pandemic were similar, though agency tech and PPE provision were not significant, while agency vaccine mandates were positively related.

Conclusions/Implications: The study finds, not surprisingly, that social service workers have been deeply impacted by the pandemic. Further, organizational efforts to support workers’ pandemic challenges helped their job contentment. Additional investigation of whether continuing a semblance of those supports might maintain employee satisfaction may be productive inquiry. Findings also suggest that certain job and workplace aspects, including direct service work and being in a large site, are linked to less or reduced satisfaction. By examining what drives their correlation, agencies could develop more effectively tailored support strategies.