Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Aligning Perspectives of Subjective Well-Being: Comparing Spouse and Colleague Perceptions of Social Worker Happiness

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Aligning Perspectives of Subjective Well-Being: Comparing Spouse and Colleague Perceptions of Social Worker Happiness

Article excerpt


Occupational stress, burnout, and attrition are well-known phenomena in the social and health services (Bride, Radey, & Figley, 2007; Cink, 2008). Together, these situations can create social-psychological and physical risks for social workers, organizations, and service users (Lee & Ayon, 2004). For instance, occupational stress can lead to stress-related illness, emotional distress, cardiovascular disease, alcoholism, and even suicide among workers (Karasek & Theorell, 1990). Within organizations, occupational stress may manifest itself as absenteeism, staff turnover, and reduced performance (Clarkson & Hodgkinson, 2007)--all factors that affect organization and service user outcomes.

Attrition rates within the human services are a serious occupational situation. During the period of 1992-2001, American social workers were almost two and a half times more likely to leave their profession in a given year than nurses, and nearly two times more likely than teachers (Harris & Adams, 2007). In the United Kingdom, while the expected working life of a physician is 25 years and a nurse 15 years, it is only eight years for a social worker (Curtis, Moriarty, & Netten, 2010). But not much is being done by professional associations, workplaces, and schools of social work to help address the negative occupational outcomes associated with the profession that lead to these high attrition rates; even though numerous studies have shown that happy workers are more productive workers and display other positive work behaviors (Russell, 2008; Wright, Cropanzano, Denney, & Moline, 2002). Instead, the impetus to maintain positive well-being is at the direct practitioner level and through discussions of individual social worker self-care by way of cognitive and behavioural adaptations.

Subjective Well-Being (SWB) is a latent construct within the social sciences that measures individual level happiness. Essentially, it acts as a measure of how people evaluate their lives (Diener, 1984; Diener, Duh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). It is composed of emotional experiences and mental processes and decisions along with overall life satisfaction (Diener, 1984; Larsen & Eid, 2008). We utilize this theoretical framework to understand social worker well-being because it is more comprehensive than single measures of job or life satisfaction. Also, as Graham and Shier (2010a) point out, by building knowledge about those factors and conditions that social workers are evaluating, and which contribute to their overall perceived well-being, this can help identify strengths, which then can be leveraged towards improving working conditions in the field. Furthermore, SWB is a robust concept that involves not just those experiencing it, but also family and others who are important in that person's life (Diener, 2011). How people interpret their emotional experiences and understand their life satisfaction is a result of the varied interpersonal interactions that happen in day to day life.

Any attempts to address issues related to the perceived well-being of social workers should also include finding ways to enhance those interpersonal relationships in a social workers life. One place to begin is through investigation of the congruence between a social workers SWB and that of people in their day to day life. This research provides further and hitherto unexplored insight into SWB amongst social workers from the perspective of those individuals (i.e., spouses and work and professional colleagues) that are closest to the day-today lives of social workers. By maintaining alignment in perspectives between colleagues and spouses, these relationships can act to support social worker perceived well-being. We asked: In what ways is there congruence between the perspectives of social worker perceived well-being held by social workers and their spouses and colleagues?

Literature Review

Well-being is now more accurately understood as something experienced fluidly across life domains, with experiences in one domain impacting experiences in the other (Ilies, Schwind, & Heller, 2007). …

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