Organisational justice and emotion among social workers: an exploration of the lived experience of child and family social workers
Engstrom, Sandra Jane Kelk
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There is still much to learn about what it means to be a child and family social worker. Child and family social workers have a job that often entails making difficult decisions regarding vulnerable children and families in collaboration with other professionals, under stressful conditions in an increasing cost-restrictive climate and with diminishing resources. The lived experience of these social workers has been rarely researched and is poorly understood. Using primarily a deductive qualitative approach, seventeen Scottish social workers were interviewed by employing the framework of ‘organisational justice’. The organisational justice framework is mostly used quantitatively and was converted to a qualitative interview schedule in order to gain further insight as to the experience of the social workers. The advantages of using the organisational justice framework in a qualitative way is that it allows for a deeper analysis of people’s experience within their agency. With regards to the social work profession, analysis of the field data allowed for insight into the organisational elements that are primary influences on a social worker’s working life. Utilising a secondary, more inductive approach, emotions experienced by the respondents also emerged. The results suggest that social workers experience a range of emotions that have been under-explored. The results also offer a deeper understanding of where these emotions stem from because not only are they due to personal experiences, they are also the product of working in a profession that is regarded with ambivalence by the public, unlike other ‘people’ professions that are generally the subject of admiration such as nursing. The research has shown that an organisational justice framework can be used to access qualitative perspectives as well as quantitative ones. Above all, this research concludes that there are aspects of the lived experience of child and family social work practitioners that have hitherto been under-examined and need to be fully understood in order to ensure best practice. Areas of impact for education, practice and policy are discussed at the end.