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    1/21 of Social Work online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/1468017310380486

    2011 11: 402 originally published online 22 November 2010Journal of Social WorkMicheal L Shier and John R Graham

    well-being: Well-being in the workplaceWork-related factors that impact social work practitioners' subjective

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    - Nov 22, 2010OnlineFirst Version of Record

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    Journal of Social Work

    11(4) 402421

    ! The Author(s) 2010

    Reprints and permissions: 10.1177/1468017310380486


    Work-related factors that

    impact social workpractitioners subjectivewell-being: Well-being inthe workplace

    Micheal L ShierUniversity of Calgary, Canada

    John R GrahamUniversity of Calgary, Canada


    Summary: This research is among the first to analyze social work practitionersworkplace subjective well-being (SWB), the social scientific concept of happiness.From an initial survey of 646 social workers, 13 respondents with the highestSWB scores were interviewed: a cohort that can teach us much about creating andsustaining SWB. Findings: The following reports on one aspect of those qualitative findings: thework related factors that impact overall SWB. Researchers found that the respondentsoverall SWB was impacted by characteristics of their work environment (i.e. physical,cultural, and systemic), interrelationships at work (i.e. with clients, colleagues, andsupervisors), and specific aspects of the job (i.e. factors associated with both workloadand type of work). Applications: The findings are discussed in relation to social work administration, and

    future research. There are implications for direct social work practitioners, managers,and educators, and in particular with regard to workplace environments that supportsocial worker SWB.


    environment, job satisfaction, social work, social workers, subjective well-being, work-load, workplace

    Corresponding author:

    Micheal L Shier, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive N.W., Calgary, Alberta,

    Canada T2N 1N4

    Email: [email protected]

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    Subjective well-being (SWB) is a long-standing social scientific concept that cap-

    tures how people evaluate their lives, and includes factors such as life satisfaction,

    lack of depression and anxiety, and positive moods and emotions. SWB is more

    than just satisfaction with one area of a persons life; it is influenced by onesenvironment, perspectives, and daily activities and practices (Cummins, 1995,

    1998; Diener, 2000; Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999). Determinants of SWB

    include age, race, sex, education, income, social relationships, and employment

    (Keyes & Waterman, 2003).

    A number of workplace factors have a positive impact on SWB, including simple

    holiday taking (Gilbert & Abdullah, 2004). Likewise, the perception of support

    (Jayaratne, Himle, & Chess, 1988), exposure to workplace programs and policies

    that involve employee involvement (Mackie, Holahan, & Gottlieb, 2001), and effec-

    tive supervision (Cearley, 2004) have been linked to positive outcomes and feelingsof empowerment. In the helping professions, practitioners benefit psychologically

    from the helping role (Lazar & Guttman, 2003) and from opportunities for con-

    tinuing their education and professional development (Laufer & Sharon, 1985;

    Marriott, Sexton, & Staley, 1994; Roat, 1988).

    The social services sector is a very important part of any economy (Industry

    Canada, 2008). Beyond contributions to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth,

    the social services provide resources, support, and counseling to many, including a

    communitys most vulnerable and disenfranchised populations. A robust literature

    though identifies difficulties in the social service workplace (see for example, Acker& Lawrence, 2009; Carniol, 2003; Graham, Swift, & Delaney, 2009; Jones, 2001;

    Jones & Novak, 1993). Professionals in this sector, in North America and Europe,

    experience employee burnout (Kim & Stoner, 2008; Sowers-Hoag & Thyer, 1987),

    high stress (Coffey, Dugdill, & Tattersall, 2009; Coyle, Edwards, Hannigan,

    Fothergill, & Burnard, 2005; Donovan, 1987), low pay (Carniol, 2003), and

    higher rates of turnover (Evans et al., 2006; Service Canada, 2008; Siebert, 2005).

    SWB supports productivity, life satisfaction, socially desirable behaviors, and

    positive physical and mental health (Keyes & Waterman, 2003). These outcomes

    can have positive influences on employer well-being, workplace productivity,

    absenteeism, and staff attrition (Jones, Fletcher, & Ibbetson, 1991). Particularly

    because of the challenges of the human services, it is surprising that little attention

    has been given to those specific factors in the workplace that might enhance social

    workers own SWB. While a sparse literature has examined SWB in relation to

    specific occupations like teaching (Van Horn, Taras, Schaufeli, & Schreurs, 2004),

    only a small number of articles have been published on SWB in the human services,

    and much of this has been exploratory (Graham, Trew, Schmidt, & Kline, 2007;

    Kline & Graham, 2009). Moreover, no research, to date, considers SWB as a basis

    for the development of exemplary workplace practices for social work.

    Social work theory emphasizes the strengths and capacities of its clients; it is apeculiar omission that little workplace literature deals with such practitioner

    strengths and capacities in the workplace, and that none considers such concepts

    as SWB in relation to work. Understanding these factors could have implications

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    for social workers across social service fields and levels of practice. This research

    provides a window through which we may consider social worker SWB in myriad

    advanced industrialized societies. Canada has been a member of the Group of 8

    since its inception, and a founding member of the Organization for EconomicCooperation and Development (OECD). Furthermore, Canada is a stable democ-

    racy and retains a welfare state, albeit in decreasing scope and comprehensiveness

    (Graham et al., 2009). The first university-based Canadian program in social work

    opened in 1914 and there are approximately 30,000 registered social workers

    nationally. There are 37 schools of social work that belong to the Canadian

    Association for Social Work Education (the accreditation body for the professional

    schools) and there are schools that offer one or more of the BSW, MSW and PhD

    degrees ( In Canada there are national, provincial,

    and territorial associations of social workers, and the social work profession is self-regulated by provincial bodies in several provinces. The profession is also man-

    dated by federal, provincial, and municipal legislation. The present article is based

    on research conducted in Alberta, one of the countrys most prosperous provinces,

    and the centre of the countrys oil industry. It is a western province adjacent to the

    Rocky Mountains, has a population of nearly four million people, and has two

    major urban centers of nearly one million each (


    The province of Alberta has nearly 5500 practicing social workers, who are regis-

    tered with and regulated by the Alberta College of Social Workers (ACSW) under

    legislated areas of practice that are defined by the provinces Health Professions

    Act (1999). In 2006, a large survey on SWB was distributed to a random sampling

    (n 2250) of those members registered with the Alberta College of Social Workers

    (ACSW), with 646 (28.7%) responding. The present research is based on contact

    with a purposive sampling of the 25 highest-scoring respondents on the basis of

    SWB. From that cohort, a total of 13 respondents agreed to provide interviews

    (11 female and two male). The smaller sample size confirms the exploratory nature

    of the study. Of the 13 participants, all held university degrees in social work, the

    majority were over the age of 50, there was a wide range of years of practice,

    respondents worked in government, non-profit and private practice, and all but

    one worked in urban settings. The research was particularly interested in the high

    scoring respondents: the cohort that was happy, providing us therefore a strong

    basis for beginning to conceptualize SWB-related changes to policies, practices,

    and approaches.

    Data collection utilized ethnographic techniques of interviewing (Holstein &

    Gubrium, 1995; Patton, 1990; Seidman, 1991). A member of the research team

    either conducted interviews in person or over the telephone (depending on theavailability of the research participant). A semi-structured interview guide was

    utilized as the research had specific goals and the researcher had some comprehen-

    sion of the community from the insiders perspective (i.e. researchers are also social

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    workers with several years of practice experience), all of which is in line with eth-

    nographic research techniques (see for example, Fetterman, 1998, 2008). Interviews

    lasted approximately two hours in duration.

    Respondents were asked questions that sought to identify aspects of their per-sonal life, work life, and the profession of social work that have an impact on their

    overall SWB. With regard to work-related factors that influence their SWB,

    respondents were specifically asked: what things at work have the greatest

    impact on your SWB; what things do you do at work to ensure that your SWB

    is provided for; and what aspects of your work life result in high levels of SWB and

    what negatively impacts your SWB? Interviews were digitally recorded and then

    transcribed. Our reporting eliminates identifying characteristics such as place, date,

    and sex.

    Utilizing the transcriptions and the researcher notes taken throughout the inter-view process, data were analyzed using qualitative methods of analytic induction

    and constant comparison strategies (see Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Goetz &

    LeCompte, 1984). Specifically, emergent themes (see for example, Charmaz,

    2000; Williams, 2008) and patterns (see for example, Cresswell, 2009; Fetterman,

    2008) were identified within the transcribed interviews in relation to personal,

    work-related, and professional factors described as impacting respondents SWB.

    Specifically, the researchers, individually, read through all the interviews several

    times with the objective of identifying common themes, after which the themes were

    then coded and the data searched for instances of the same/similar phenomenon.Finally, following this process the data was then translated into primary themes

    that were refined until all instances of contradictions, similarities, and differences

    were explained (thus increasing the dependability and consistency of the findings).

    The findings are transferable but not generalizable to all social workers and work-

    place settings. The primary themes from this analysis included: work related factors

    impact my overall SWB; 2) being mindful in my personal and professional life

    impacts my overall SWB (Shier & Graham, in press); 3) aspects or characteristics

    of the profession of social work impacts my SWB (Graham & Shier, 2010);

    and 4) aspects of my personal life affect my overall SWB (Graham & Shier, in

    press). The following article reports on the first primary theme work related

    factors impact my overall SWB. All data related to one of these four primary

    themes. Data were analyzed further, following same processes as described above

    until all findings were categorized. The following section provides some indication

    of the findings supported by some of the participant quotes. These quotes are not

    exhaustive of all participant contributions in each category.

    All members of the research team collaboratively worked on this stage of

    research to maintain the credibility criteria of the study. Themes that emerged

    relating to the workplace that impact the SWB of research participants

    included the work environment, interrelationships at work, and particular aspectsof the job relating to workload and type of work. Following practices associ-

    ated with qualitative data analysis, and in particular emergent themes, the

    findings are presented here empirically (based on the data) and conceptually

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    (linked to the wider analytical context of previous scholarship) (see for example,

    Williams, 2008).

    This research received ethics certification from the University of Calgarys

    Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board (CFREB).


    Work environment

    Physical. The roles and influences of the physical environment on social workpractice have received insufficient attention within social work literature (Weeks,

    2004). Some research has addressed elements of the physical environment that

    promote competency when providing particular social services (Breton, 1984;Gutheil, 1992). Additional studies have dealt with the role of the physical environ-

    ment on large systemic social issues and service provision models (Graham, Walsh,

    & Sandalack, 2008; Shier, Walsh, & Graham, 2007). Absent from this scholarship

    is analysis of the impact of the physical environment on social workers.

    Respondents in this study identified several aspects of the physical environment

    that influence their overall SWB in the workplace. One described the importance of

    personalizing their physical environment:

    Ive surrounded myself in my office, its a good size office and I have trees in it thatgrow up to the ceiling and windows and I look out on a park with lots of trees in it. I

    have little fuzzy toys and little things that people have brought me from all over the

    world. Its a very peaceful place. (001)

    There is more to physical space than personal touches. Participants also com-

    mented on their work settings physical composition. For example, the previous

    respondent stated:

    We all have our own office which is very nice with [French] doors, so its not a cubicle

    setting. Its really nice but we have a sort of middle area where we all yell back and

    forth at each other and meet collectively and stand together and we have a place that

    we can sit down and have coffee. (001)

    For these respondents, the physical environment and design of the workplace

    had an effect on their overall SWB. It influenced both their mental well-being while

    at work and also the interpersonal interactions amongst colleagues throughout the

    office setting. One described:

    It was a circular design, so no matter where you went you saw people from all different

    areas. Here it is kind of the old style of long hallways and everyone kind of in their own

    area and so you dont run into people naturally. Now in this place . . . I find it an isolating

    building. The design of it I dont find is particularly conducive to community. (011)

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    Culture/dynamics. Organizational factors such as workload, inadequate adminis-tration, and a lack of social support within the organization have been shown to

    have an impact on burnout across the helping professions (Levert, Lucas, &

    Ortlepp, 2000; Lozinskaia, 2002). Organizational culture and interpersonal dynam-ics, however, can positively influence the well-being of practitioners. Respondents

    here described cultural factors and dynamics in the workplace that have some

    bearing on their overall SWB. Interestingly, none of these factors were related to

    lesser workloads or inadequate administration. Also, while the findings demon-

    strate a sense of support through interpersonal interactions, the key component in

    relation to organizational cultures is more about connecting with people than being

    supported. For example, one respondent described:

    Ive got a great workplace. Im very satisfied with the people I work with, the systemsthat I work with, my physical place of work . . . I get a lot of respect as a supervisor

    and I get a lot of support from my staff too. Ive just been promoted again doing more

    responsibilities and theyve been very supportive through the whole transition and

    theyre very professional people that I work around; very happy and we take care of

    each other even though weve got that supervisor relationship. We all care for each

    other so thats kind of nice. (002)

    Likewise, another stated:

    Well we get a little silly and dance sometimes. We joke around, we sit around

    and chat over lunch . . . just big senses of humor. One of our colleagues has a, hes

    got a crazy sense of humor and hes always making us laugh. So a lot of

    it is just, its relaxed, but when it needs to be serious and we need to focus we

    sure do. (009)

    Beyond describing these interpersonal dynamics related to the organizational

    culture, respondents provided useful insight into how to create environments of

    this nature at work to maximize SWB. One suggested:

    Id like to think its through respect, respecting others. Working as a team, valuing

    peoples wisdom and peoples experiences and learning from them. I would like to

    think that people are comfortable, you know leaving the door open so people can

    come to me. Letting people know if youve got an issue with something please come to

    me and talk to me about it. (008)

    Similarly, another described:

    We eat lunch together, we go for coffee, we like each other. We celebrate each others

    birthdays and we really try during lunch to not talk about work, but know each others

    kids and whats going on in peoples lives. Realizing that whats going on emphasizes

    and impacts them at their work. (011)

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    Systemic. Extensive literature in different disciplines identifies a correlationbetween the type of work environment and workers health and well-being

    (Cooper & Cartwright, 1994; Gavin & Mason, 2004; Manuele, 1997; Smith,

    Kaminstein, & Makadok, 1995; Warr, 1990). Most of this scholarship describesthe impact of organizational structure on the well-being of workers. The respon-

    dents identified several structural components (hierarchies and organization of

    departments and programs, and organizational size) that impacted their SWB.

    For example, commenting on how structural reorganizing impacts workplace

    well-being, one respondent stated:

    I didnt have a grip on the processes and what was going on and why there was so

    much conflict and so many hot spots and couldnt get a grip on any of it . . . the

    transition was huge; wed just gone through a whole structural reorganization. (001)

    Similarly referring more to organizational hierarchies in interdisciplinary set-

    tings another respondent stated:

    I hated the staff meetings. What I noticed in myself was it was like I had this antenna

    out there. I was so aware of all the interpersonal dynamics of the people in the meeting

    that I couldnt think. I couldnt be very articulate in those meetings because I was so

    aware of this persons feelings, and that persons feelings and all the things going on.


    The environment of the workplace is not entirely internal. Practitioners are

    working with external systems and much of the work they do is made possible

    through external funding. The systemic aspects of the external environment (such

    as the economy, social welfare policies) and the challenges faced when interacting

    with these external elements have an impact on the workplace and the overall SWB

    of practitioners. One respondent explained:

    Oh, just to try and collaborate or to cooperate with the Child Welfare workers that

    was before the days of the Family Enhancement it was just they were their own

    power and control. (002)

    Other respondents described the competitive nature of the external environment,

    making the process of securing funding more challenging, and having a direct

    impact on overall SWB. One stated:

    Part of what I have to learn . . . is watching other people in the community. How

    they maneuver into positions of power and going after funding. Im not saying

    its not supportive but its a new skill Im learning, because my philosophy is, and

    I dont think this is going to work so well when it comes to going after funding,

    you only take as much as you need and it seems like not everybody operates at

    that level. (009)

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    Interpersonal relationship

    Connection with clients. Direct work with clients has been linked to social workerburnout and overall job satisfaction. Some scholarship describes the implications ofbeing over-involved and describes the relationship between work and personal life

    balance (Koeske & Kelly, 1995). Level of job satisfaction for social workers has also

    been linked to perceived quality of service to clients (Packard, 1989). While this lit-

    erature is useful, it provides little insight into the influence of client and social worker

    relationships on other aspects of well-being besides job satisfaction. Connecting with

    clients, and interacting with them in positive ways, was an important indicator of

    overall SWB for some respondents. One respondent described such a situation:

    Yes up at [place name] I said You can have anything you want on the menu he saidanything and his eyes just bulged, popped open and he ordered this Margarita and

    got this huge big Margarita glass. He ordered this steak it was just such a pleasure to

    watch him be indulged. You need to see them happy, you know, and not always down.

    It was good; we were really high that day. (002)

    Interacting with clients was more than just witnessing outcomes or benefiting

    from providing a particular service. Respondents identified how connecting with

    the stories and lives of clients in meaningful ways also impacted their overall SWB.

    As one put it:

    Im always learning and thats one of the reasons I like my work because each client

    brings their unique situation. Theres always more to learn about whatever, and also

    about ways of helping and different methodologies and that kind of thing. (004)

    Another similarly stated:

    I think I get a lot from the job itself or from just being in this field because I find in all

    of the jobs that Ive ever had for the most part that the people I work with are

    rewarding. I work from a strengths perspective and I just find that everyone has a

    story to tell and if I listen carefully I will learn something from those stories. I do,

    I always learn something and get a positive lesson from that. (007)

    For these respondents, and others in this study, understanding and reflecting on

    the stories and lived experiences of their clients significantly effected their overall

    SWB; an individuals SWB is positively impacted by other peoples stories. As one

    respondent noted, the stories and the narratives of clients provide perspective to the

    practitioner about their own lives.

    Its a good reminder to me that as bad as I think I have it theres always someone

    worse off. Especially with the clients that I work with now. Im a lot better off in so

    many different ways and yet theyve had to deal with those issues on a daily basis and

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    they can still get up in the morning and get out and have a really good and positive

    attitude so why cant I. To me that is worth a lot right there. (008)

    Relationships with colleagues. Social capital is a useful organizing framework forthe data. By social capital, we mean the social networks and the norms of reci-

    procity and trustworthiness that are derived by them (Putnam, 2000, p. 19). Social

    capital in the workplace has a clear correlation with workers well-being in general

    (Helliwell & Huang, 2005; Lee & Ashforth, 1996; Pugliesi, 1999; Sousa-Poza &

    Sousa-Poza, 2000). Among the respondents, interactions and relationships at work

    contribute significantly to the social capital of people within their work environ-

    ment, to their SWB, their relationships with colleagues, and their ability to feel

    comfortable at work. With regard to support in particular, one respondent stated:

    I think its peer support; certainly a lot of it has to do with having a nurturing healthy

    work environment. Having fun and then being able if something happens someone

    walks in the door and its a crisis we can all just click into place and do our work.

    But also, to be silly; so its all about that balance again, truly a lot of it is peer support

    and being able to dialogue. I think its very difficult to work in isolation. (009)

    Beyond the support role of colleagues, respondents also described the nature of

    the interaction between colleagues as impacting overall SWB. For many respon-dents this involved several aspects related to both cohesion and support. As one

    pointed out:

    The other thing we do is we support each other, we do case conferences, and we will

    have lunches together once every two or three weeks. We will talk about cases, so we

    case consult and were very open with each other in the sense that if we see some

    problems with each other then were able to confront each other. (006)

    Another similarly described the need to promote cohesion by discussing differing

    views of best practices:

    We have a little bit of division in our team as to what are appropriate best practices

    and that has been a little bit frustrating and there has been sort of a need to come

    together and talk about that and try to work through that in the residents best

    interest. (003)

    Other respondents articulated the importance of feeling comfortable around

    their colleagues. One stated:

    I really need to feel like Im comfortable and on good terms with the people that

    I work with; so spending a lot of time building relationships and celebrating birthdays

    and being thoughtful with each other. (010)

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    Likewise, another expressed the manner in which comfort is achieved:

    There are the informal discussions that happen, which are more so a safe place to get

    something off your chest that you probably wouldnt want to say to someone profes-

    sionally or respectfully but we have a great group of people where we can feel com-

    fortable to do that. (003)

    Interactions with supervisors. When done effectively supervision can be a con-tributing factor to reducing burnout amongst social workers (Ruggles, 2004).

    Quality of supervision is an important factor contributing to overall job satisfac-

    tion (Abu-Bader, 2005), and the present research appears to support the impor-

    tance of supervision. Respondents perceived characteristics of the supervisor/supervisee relationship that result in higher levels of SWB. Unlike most literature,

    which depicts better practices of an effective supervisor (see Ross, 1993), respon-

    dents here provide insight into the importance of the relationship with their super-

    visor. Some described the high impact upon their SWB of supervisors approaching

    them for expertise. As one respondent stated:

    It makes me feel good when Im approached by the other leaders in our organization for

    my assistance or my input on different things . . . Im still considered a front line worker

    so I think thats pretty special that Im thought of in that way to contribute. (003)

    Respondents talked about another aspect of the supervisor/supervisee: being

    heard by supervisors. One described the relationship between them and their direc-

    tor and having their concerns addressed in a particular situation:

    I talked to my Director and she was certainly very understanding and caring and

    wanted to make sure that this was dealt with appropriately. So I felt supported and I

    felt that something was going to be done. Despite it being a frustration I knew that

    something was going to be done about it. (005)

    Other aspects involving the style of leadership undertaken by supervisors also have

    an impact on respondents overall SWB. For example, one respondent described:

    I went back to a unit that Id never worked on before. It was in a very, I would say

    very unhealthy work environment. The supervisor, I think, was unhealthy and was

    kind of into politics. She needed to feel powerful and needed to exert that power. (010)

    Aspects of job

    Workload. Further factors influencing overall SWB are the amount of work, itschanging dynamics, and the extent to which outcomes are achieved. Related to job

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    satisfaction, some literature has found that the way in which people perceive an

    increase or decrease of workload can become an obstacle to achieving expected

    outcomes and could compromise the perception of workers capabilities (Elizur,

    1984; Sparks, Faragher, & Cooper, 2001; Spector, 1986). Workload is usually under-stood in terms of the amount of work that is required of a person in a particular

    position. Many of the respondents talked about the changing dynamics of work,

    how workloads increase and decrease over time, and how that impacts the way that

    people manage work. Several respondents also provide insight into the relationship

    between workload and positive well-being. For example, flexibility within the work-

    load was seen as a significant contributor to SWB. Respondents understood that the

    nature of the work requires workloads that are cumbersome, but aspects of the job

    can limit those negative components. For example, one respondent stated:

    I have a young family at home and its important to me that while Im at, or in the

    workplace, that I can make that a priority when thats necessary. In this particular

    role I have that flexibility to drop things and be where Im needed. In my role at work

    there are certain things that I need to make priority here [at home] too and I think my

    colleagues here respect that as well. (003)

    Similarly, flexibility with workloads can help free up time to improve other

    aspects of life that may be under-resourced. The question of worklife balance is

    closely linked to SWB. As one respondent stated:

    I simply will cut back and take a look at it. Look at my scheduling and cut back on the

    time. I will schedule in more walks or more recreation. Or, what I do is I have two

    colleagues that I work with here and well talk about that and Ill say Ive really been

    feeling stressed and Im going to have to cut back and Im going to do this and Im going

    to do that. We support each other and they are able to do the same with me. (006)

    Achieving meaningful workload outcomes was also significant. For many

    respondents, workloads need to change over time and cannot stay stagnant.

    Many respondents wanted to see some accomplishment in what they were doing

    and how this was articulated varied amongst respondents. For some it was based

    on the progress of clients:

    When they start to discover their own beauty I mean those are my highs profession-

    ally. I mean I just feel happy for them, I feel joyful for them because I believe life can

    be good for them . . . and then they know that they can make it good no matter what.

    Those are my higher moments. (004)

    For others it was a task-based accomplishment:

    Again the resourcing, we had a caterer in place already. Right now thats where my

    problem is, not getting a caterer that was affordable. We had an affordable caterer,

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    I should qualify that. So that was one challenge out of the way, but just getting

    contacts, finding the entertainment for the right price. (002)

    For some, underlying this sense of accomplishment is the appreciation ofhow moment-to-moment experiences influence overall SWB. One respondent


    If its a day where you feel your ten steps behind, it can still be a good day. I mean

    you certainly feel a little bit different about it but you also just learn how to pace

    yourself too. I can see certainly when you do hear that youve secured a certain

    amount of funding for a period of time you feel pretty good but thats just one tiny

    piece of it. If weve had a really good day here and everybodys had a good day and

    weve all just kind of had a certain level of closeness, I feel really great and walk outthe door. (009)

    A final consideration regarding workloads and the impact on SWB is the need to

    understand the limitations of the work and the individuals capacity to carry it out.

    One respondent described some of these limitations and their impact on their SWB

    when failing to recognize the impact:

    Those things were really hard for me at first. I felt so responsible for instance for the

    girls that I was working with. Over responsible really, I took on a lot and I ended up, Imean that was in my first year of marriage too, I remember starting to get migraine

    headaches and I was just exhausted by Friday night, just absolutely exhausted. That

    was certainly not one of my I liked the work and I loved the girls but it wasnt one

    the high points in my career. (004)

    Work related limitations influencing practitioners well-being were also a result

    of funding deficiencies and geographic boundaries of practice. For instance, with

    regard to boundaries, one respondent described frustration in not being able to

    help a particular client because of where they lived:

    The limitations as I said of the boundaries. Because you might think its a big bound-

    ary but then you have someone two blocks out of that boundary and you send them to

    the other direction when you can just as easily help them. (002)

    Also, respondents identified limitations in practice as a result of funding require-

    ments, such as outcome measurements, as having an impact on their SWB in the


    The frustration of working for outcomes with the logic model [a tool used to map

    outcomes], you know, this is what youre supposed to do and if youre not following

    that then your funding can be withdrawn. (012)

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    For many, the limitations imposed on respondents had an impact on their SWB

    because of the inability to conduct the work they thought was necessary and

    required to succeed in the task at hand.

    Type of work. The type of work that practitioners undertake also affected theirSWB. The perception of how people fit into their job as well as the meaning they

    find in what they do influences both job and life satisfaction (Borzaga & Tortia,

    2006; Judge & Watanabe, 1993). For many respondents, valuing the work is a

    significant component contributing to their SWB. Some described this as a per-

    sonal appreciation for the type of work with which they are involved:

    I can understand why it took me a while but once I got into it and realized boy, you

    know, this is easy, this is fun, this is challenging, this is enjoyable and its profession-ally rewarding, then I look back I should have done this earlier. Because you can

    make as much money, do as well, and feel much more positive about your contribu-

    tions and things. I certainly was not feeling this in public work for a number of years.


    A lack of appreciation for work can impact an individuals overall perception of

    their work, and negatively influences their SWB:

    Again, it was you being the liaison between the Child Welfare worker and the client.So you have to do a lot of soothing ruffled feathers on both sides. Ideally it would be

    nice to have a win-win situation where the client is happy and the Child Welfare

    worker is happy, but invariably it was the Child Welfare Worker that had the

    upper hand and so it was, if you want to look at it that way, a lose situation. (002)

    Some respondents also described having their work valued by others, and not

    just valuing the work themselves. Recognition seems to be a common theme. For

    example, one respondent suggested that supervisors who demonstrate they are

    valuing their work indirectly influenced their SWB.

    I feel valued here thats for sure and I think thats demonstrated in the way that more

    executive members of our organization invite me to be part of things and Im honored

    to do those things. (003)

    A related theme involves the personal fit of the work. Research on a variety of

    occupations finds high levels of person-organization fit associated with high job

    satisfaction, high organizational commitment, and low turnover intentions

    (Verquer, Beehr, & Wagner, 2003). This research helps to determine how happy

    social workers experience this fit, and whether there are eminent practices throughwhich it might be enhanced. Some respondents described their happiness in relation

    to the roles they took on in work:

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    Thats why the supervisory positions have never appealed to me; because oh my gosh,

    I can be responsible for what I do hands on but I do not want to be responsible for the

    work of other people out here. I think that comes from having too much responsibility

    as a young child. Its very hard to not get into that place of like youre in over your

    head and you dont know how to handle it. (004)

    Others saw it in terms of what type of practice they did:

    Yeah, Ive always known it would be very stressful for me and also I would never go

    into Child Protection because I would not do well in that. I would be worried about

    those children. I would just not go there for my own well-being. (013)

    Others saw personal fit in terms of the population of people with whom theyworked. One respondent adored working with families:

    That experience, I was able to understand why its so important to this day to work

    for families. I think that showed me how what Im doing, is vital. I love what Im

    doing presently. I feel that Im supporting the families and dont have to hide behind a

    bureaucratic situation where people dont always understand the importance of the

    family, supporting the family, and getting them through the difficulties. (005)

    Others were concerned with specific groups of service users. One distinguishedbetween voluntary and involuntary clients:

    For me it was the clients perception of you, the hostility and you were going to come

    and take their children away. I sort of never, its kind of odd to say Ive just never been

    in that sort of position before. Ive always worked more or less with voluntary clients

    and this was a real difference for me. I just didnt find it was suited for me, my

    personality. (007)

    A final component is perceived meaningfulness of the work. For some respon-

    dents meaningfulness related directly to their overall perceptions of the work being


    Ive often said to people I couldnt imagine being in a job where you are waiting for

    the clock to pass. Thinking; waiting for retirement. I feel like Ive been lucky to be in

    an area where I have made a difference, hopefully, in peoples lives over a number of

    years. (011)

    Others described meaningfulness in relation to perceived outcomes for clients:

    Seeing the positive results of me intervening and helping out, it certainly contrib-

    utes but its not; what can I say; if it doesnt work out its not always Oh now

    what didnt I do. But as far as trying to figure out, ok, how come it didnt work at

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    this place? What happened, what are the factors and always trying to learn from

    that. (005)

    Meaningfulness within the work can be more, though, than individual percep-tions of work and personal capabilities. For some respondents it was also about

    expanding professional knowledge and being in positions that require a level of

    continuous learning:

    I always want to be learning and making that kind of a goal for myself. So whether its

    reading an academic book or accessing the library or taking courses for example, I

    do quite a few presentations internally on high risk youth and on case notes and that

    kind of stuff. So pursuing opportunities that are going to challenge me and doing

    research, to kind of stay interested. (010)

    Likewise, meaningfulness could also mean creativity and longevity of the pro-

    grams being created:

    A new initiative that was proposed was to set up a rural office in the town that I lived

    in at the time. Just because I lived there I got the job kind of thing. So along with

    another worker from employment services for adults we opened up a rural office and

    just working with local employers and getting all of that set up was very rewarding.

    I really enjoyed that period of time and we carried on in running it. Its still there tothis day. (007)


    Each of these thematic categories is not distinct. Many are overlapping, and for the

    respondents, these categories define the complexity (and in some instances the

    fragility) of maintaining high levels of SWB. This research offers an analysis of

    what could occur in the workplace for practitioners to maintain higher levels of

    SWB. These include the work environment (physical, cultural, and systemic

    internal and external environments), the types and characteristics of relationships

    at work (with clients, colleagues, and supervisors), and the nature of the job

    (including factors such as workload flexibility, changes and limitations, and

    types and perceptions of work being done). The research also shows that SWB

    in ones professional life is connected to other aspects of life (i.e. professional and

    personal aspects).

    There are, therefore, implications for direct social work practitioners, managers,

    and educators. For instance, the findings on work environments provide a point of

    reflection for direct practitioners and managers to think about their immediateenvironment and how that affects overall well-being, and to reflect on ways to

    create environments that support improved well-being; those that support positive

    peer, client, and supervisory relationships. Likewise, social work educators as well

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    as workplace supervisors could help workers understand characteristics of social

    work jobs that might impact positive well-being. While many argue that high

    workloads are a leading cause of burnout this is not necessarily the whole picture

    (see for example, Stalker, Mandell, Frensch, Harvey, & Wright, 2007). The datahere provide evidence that there are a number of factors that can contribute to

    negative workplace experiences but these need to be understood as a collective.

    Social workers might have higher caseloads, but the nature of that workload

    (i.e. whether it is flexible, that they have a sense of the limitations of their capa-

    bilities and of resources, and that the workload changes) needs to be analyzed and

    placed in the context of the larger work environment and the many other factors

    contributing to overall well-being.

    While there are a number of implications of this research, much still needs to be

    done. The profession could usefully explore the impact of these environmentalfactors in particular, the relationship between systemic organizational factors

    and the SWB of practicing social workers. This is necessary considering the

    nature of social work and the interdisciplinary capacity of many organizations,

    positions, and roles associated with it. Further research could examine these

    impacts on social worker well-being and overall job satisfaction.

    Relationships we develop as practitioners have a significant impact on our over-

    all SWB. And so there are further questions that need to be considered regarding

    boundaries and finding a balance between work and personal life. Likewise, work-

    place policies need to be made in light of the connection between SWB-related lifeand work experiences. An uninterrupted holiday, as an example, is positive for life-

    based SWB, which in turn has a positive impact on workplace SWB. But further

    research could delve into other workplacelife connections in relation to SWB, and

    prevailing assumptions in the literature, separating workplace and personal life

    well-being, could be abandoned. Moreover, the means by which SWB might be a

    useful counter to workplace burnout, a common social work phenomenon (Sowers-

    Hoag & Thyer, 1987), is hitherto unexplored. For many respondents in this study,

    their clients and the workplace added significantly to their high levels of SWB. How

    do we better incorporate those propensities in our direct and indirect work with

    clients? Also, as a result, what frameworks become more useful in direct client

    work? Finally, and perhaps most importantly: it will be essential to avoid using

    SWB as a further strategy for deskilling, marginalizing, or otherwise rendering

    social workers less powerful in relation to social change and innovative interven-

    tion. Like many useful concepts, SWB could be applied by those in power as a

    means of compliance to norms that the profession and its stakeholders could find

    highly unappealing. These need to be resisted and countered.

    In the end, this research provides groundwork for a fresh, innovative perspective

    on workplace satisfaction for social workers. It also expands our knowledge on the

    characteristics of the workplace that have the greatest impact on the perceived well-being of social work practitioners. But further work needs to occur as demon-

    stration projects, pilots, and full policies incorporating SWB to the workplace,

    and in evaluating the results.

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    This research was generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research

    Council of Canada through a three-year (20062009) Standard Research Grant awarded to

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