Occupational stress, burnout and work engagement of social workers in the Limpopo Province
Ntsoane, Dikeledi Regina
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The rationale for the study was signs of occupational stress that had become noticeable amongst social workers in the Limpopo Province. Social workers were unhappy about time spent on complaints over lack of support from their supervisors, who they said were conscious of personal problems they were experiencing and its possible impact on service delivery. The lack of supportive supervision led to the impression that supervisors did not seem to care about problems experienced by their subordinates. Other complaints levelled against supervisors were that supervision was based on fault-finding instead of following a person-centred approach, with due consideration of the uniqueness of each social worker. Supervisors appeared to be judgmental of their supervisees instead of focusing on their individual needs. Apart from dissatisfaction with supervisors, social workers also complained about high caseloads and meetings that failed to address improvements that could be made to make their tasks easier. They have contemplated leaving the profession and felt that, in spite of their work-related complaints, there were no stress-relief programmes available to them. There were those with positive coping skills that could be surviving, but it was not always possible to notice symptomatic behaviour if colleagues are not alert enough. A lack of upward mobility, incentives and low income further contributed to morale problems amongst social workers with no proper avenues to vent their dissatisfaction and stress. From the complaints of the social workers, a profile of possible burnout emerged with several of its dimensions presenting themselves in their work situations. Their complaints seemed to be responses to stressful work situations. Consequently, the researcher decided to embark on this project to establish the nature and extent of possible burnout amongst social workers in the Limpopo Province. It was originally thought that burnout only occurred amongst professionals doing “people work”; however, research has more recently indicated that it is also a problem amongst other occupational groups. Internationally, several studies have been conducted on burnout amongst social workers, but not much work has been done that focuses on South African social workers working under a very challenging welfare dispensation. The research on burnout amongst social workers in the Limpopo Province included the following aspects: burnout and work engagement as it relates to the socio-demographic characteristics of the social workers in the sample; burnout in relation to the job characteristics of the social workers in the sample; and burnout and the physical and psychological health of the social workers in the sample. This represented a multi-dimensional approach to burnout, providing understanding on various important facets of burnout amongst social workers. Five data-collection instruments were used to collect the data necessary to complete the research. A demographic questionnaire was used to draw up a profile of the social workers in the sample, and the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory was applied to measure exhaustion and disengagement as the two dimensions of burnout. The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale was used to measure the work engagement of social workers in the sample, and the Job Characteristics Scale to establish how respondents experienced the job characteristics of their work. Lastly, a health questionnaire determined the health status of the social workers in the sample. All the instruments were tested for reliability and validity by calculating the Cronbach Alpha values and doing a confirmatory factor analysis on all the scales. All the measuring instruments could thus be used as a basis for similar studies, provided that they are tested and certain adjustments are made. Effect sizes were calculated for the differences between the various socio-demographic characteristics of the social workers: exhaustion and disengagement as the two dimensions of burnout, and vigour, dedication and absorption as dimensions of work engagement. The literature overview confirmed that no consistent relationship between burnout and work engagement, and socio-demographic characteristics could be established through research. Continued research in this regard is thus recommended. Correlation coefficients were used to determine the strengths of the linear relationships between burnout, work engagement and job characteristics and burnout and the health status of social workers in the sample. Positive and negative strengths were identified that could be useful, especially for supervisors of social workers and their superiors. Further research into some issues of burnout amongst social workers is recommended, particularly into the prevention of burnout amongst social workers. Research on burnout interventions lag far behind studies on the problem of burnout, which is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to make recommendations regarding interventions for burnout amongst social workers from a social work perspective.
- Humanities