Document Type

Finding a Fit: Family Realities and Service Responses Series (2003, 2007)

Publication Date



Faculty of Social Work


Rationale Recent cuts to resources for children and families requiring children’s mental health services coupled with an increase in the number of children needing these services have left staff in many agencies feeling extremely challenged in providing positive service environments for children and families. In this context, agencies are faced with the challenge of providing working environments that attract and retain staff, particularly in children’s residential mental health services. The purpose of this study was to explore sources of job satisfaction and stress, and why employees stay with and leave these organizations, in an effort to understand what contributes to a positive work environment in children’s mental health services.

Research Design A survey was distributed to employees of three children’s mental health services agencies. Completion of the survey was voluntary and all individual responses were kept confidential. Completed surveys were returned directly to researchers.

Survey Results Ninety-eight surveys were completed (for a return rate of 44.3%). Forty-eight percent of employees reported low levels of intention to leave, and 18% reported strong intention to leave their organization. However, strong intention to leave ranged from 13.5% to 35.3% across the three participating children’s mental health agencies.

Over 55% of all employees who responded to the survey indicated high levels of overall job satisfaction. Across the three participating agencies overall job satisfaction ranged from 43.2% to 70.6%. The majority of respondents, however, were only moderately satisfied with salary and benefits, as well as with promotion availability and process.

Twenty-three percent of all employees responding to the survey reported high levels of emotional exhaustion, suggesting that high levels of stress are affecting almost a quarter of survey respondents. However, the majority of respondents reported low to moderate levels of emotional exhaustion. Over 70% of children’s mental health employees who responded to the survey reported high levels of personal accomplishment, or a feeling of competence and successful achievement in their work with people.

Discussion & Implications The majority of employees in all three organizations are only moderately satisfied with the financial rewards and benefits, and in all of the organizations it seems that the front-line staff are the group least satisfied with this aspect. Front-line staff and clinicians are more likely to be high on intention to leave, and less likely to be highly satisfied with their jobs overall. They are less likely to feel that their jobs are highly “doable” and more likely to be unsatisfied with promotional opportunities. Clinicians, along with front-line staff, are also less likely than employees in other positions to be highly satisfied with their pay. Overall job satisfaction, while in the high range for 55% of children’s mental health employees as a whole, varies considerably across the three organizations. Employees with low job satisfaction are 4 more likely to have high levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, to perceive a lack of fit between their personal values and goals and those of the organization (image violation), and to see the employment relationship as inequitable. The scales that are statistically associated with high intention to leave for all three organizations include “perceived inequitable employment relationship” and “image violation”. It may be that those employees who are feeling most strongly about pay levels and limited promotional opportunities perceive that they are giving more than they are receiving from the organization.