Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Components of Job Satisfaction in Psychiatric Social Workers

Academic journal article Health and Social Work

Components of Job Satisfaction in Psychiatric Social Workers

Article excerpt

Psychiatric social work has been the chosen field of many generations of social workers and a major source of services in mental health facilities. Despite the long tradition of psychiatric social work, Schoenfeld (1975) noted that "considerable confusion about its role and services still exists". A recent Canadian survey by Marriott, Staley, and Sexton (1989) indicated that the majority of social workers' time is spent in client-centered activity. However, they found considerable individual and geographic variation in the emphasis placed on individual or group treatment versus resource consultation, family work, and informal teaching. This article furthers the understanding of the psychiatric social work role by investigating individuals' job satisfaction experience.

Job satisfaction can be defined as the degree of positive affect toward the overall job or its components (Weisman, Alexander, & Chase, 1980). The job satisfaction literature is extensive, and its relevance to health care settings and professions is well worth examining. Staffing costs in health care settings are high, and a considerable proportion of management's time is devoted to personnel issues (Ivancevich, Matheson, & McMahon, 1980). Job satisfaction among social workers in health care settings is especially important given the direct relationship between satisfaction and performance in human services work (Barber, 1986; Stout & Posner, 1984; Tziner & Vardi, 1984). Dissatisfied workers are vulnerable to burnout, "with all its ramifications from personal trauma to deterioration in quality of services" (Ullmann, Goos, Davis, & Mushinski, 1971).

Although few studies have examined social workers' job satisfaction in psychiatric and other mental health facilities (Barber, 1986; Buffum & Konick, 1982; Jayaratne & Chess, 1986; Melichercik, 1980), these settings are of particular importance because they are the primary intersection point of the major mental health disciplines. In psychiatric facilities, the social work profession competes, as well as collaborates, with psychiatry, psychology, psychiatric nursing, occupational therapy, pastoral care, and various paraprofessional staff. Social workers often are forced to define and refine their unique role on the basis of ever-present direct comparisons to other professions. This comparative effect is likely to be particularly strong in large teaching hospitals, which have many well-qualified staff and various professional training programs. A study by Ullman et al. (1971) suggested this comparative effect; hospital-based social workers had more complaints about support from other professionals than did non-hospital-based social workers.


Previous studies of social workers in health care settings have found a reasonably high level of job satisfaction (Jayaratne & Chess, 1986; Ullman et al., 1971). Although such findings are useful and encouraging, they cannot be taken entirely at face value. Desire for approval likely plays a role in the tendency toward a positive response.

More instructive are studies that investigate factors within or related to job satisfaction. Several studies have considered age or experience as a moderator of job satisfaction. Younger, earlier career social workers may perceive more alternatives, which permits a greater sense of satisfaction (Pond & Geyer, 1987). Consistent with this theme, greater job satisfaction has been found in caseworkers under the age of 41 (Jayaratne & Chess, 1986) and with less than nine years of experience (Leiter, 1988). On the other hand, two studies (Melichercik, 1980; Schoenfeld, 1975) noted a pattern of younger employees being less satisfied. These inconsistencies are probably due to age functioning as a third-variable correlate of the ratio of actualized to expected career opportunities.

Other studies have investigated the effects on job satisfaction of access to organizational decision making (Kakabadse, 1986), role ambiguity (Stout & Posner, 1984), stress (Stout & Posner, 1984; Zautura, Reynolds, & Eblen, 1986), work activities (Palmer, Maudsley, Turner, & McLennan, 1984) social involvement with coworkers (Leiter, 1988), and autonomy (Melichercik, 1980). …

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