The articles listed below can be accessed through the corresponding journal website or accessed at a local library or university.
Effective supervision improves worker outcomes: A meta-analysis
Source: Barak, M.E.M., Travis, D.J., Pyun, H., & Xie, B. (2009). The Impact of supervision on worker outcomes: A meta-analysis. Social Service Review, 83(1), 3-32.
Reviewed by: Sydney Duder
Effective supervision is a vital aspect of social service
delivery. There have been many studies of the effect of various
supervisory practices on worker outcomes; this is a report of a
meta-analysis of 27 such studies, published between 1990 and 2007,
representing a combined sample of 10,867 workers--social service
(13 studies), child welfare (7 studies) and mental health (7
studies). Computerized searches were made of 3 data bases
(PsycInfo, Social Work Abstracts, Social Service Abstracts)
supplemented by manual searches of 8 key journals; a list of key
words used in these searches is provided. Authors of all included
articles were also contacted to ask about possible unpublished
“file drawer” studies; some additional manuscripts were identified,
but none met the criteria for inclusion.
This analysis used a theoretical model, based on the literature and social exchange theory, with:
- 3 supervisory dimensions : task assistance, social/emotional support, interpersonal interaction
- 5 detrimental worker outcomes: anxiety, depression, job stress, burnout, employee turnover.
- 5 beneficial worker outcomes: psychological well-being, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, effectiveness, job retention.
Each study was coded to reflect these dimensions. Measures used
in various studies included Caplan’s Social Support Index and
Maslach’s Burnout Scale. Effect sizes reported were 54 correlation
coefficients (r) and 20 standardized regression coefficients
(beta); where a study included several r values for different
measures of the same construct, these were averaged. All effect
sizes were converted to Fisher Z-scores to achieve more nearly
normal distributions. Appropriate tests were performed for
homogeneity of effect sizes across studies, and for possible
Results are reported for 5 combinations of supervisory dimension and worker outcome category; there were no studies testing the effect of task assistance on detrimental worker outcomes. All three supervisory dimensions had significant positive relationships with beneficial worker outcomes, the task assistance dimension having the strongest effect. Social/emotional support and interpersonal interaction were associated with a decrease in detrimental outcomes, such as stress and burnout. All effect sizes were moderate (r = .30 - .40). These findings underscore the importance of effective supervision; the authors suggest that agencies should devote more resources to training supervisors across all supervisory dimensions.
This appears to have been a thorough and well-conducted
meta-analysis, with all the usual statistical precautions taken and
all procedures clearly described. The authors identify the most
important limitations as the small number of studies available with
data relevant to this issue, resulting in a small number of studies
for each worker outcome category. A possible strategy here might
have been to combine the beneficial and detrimental categories, as
some of the outcomes appear to be mirror images (e.g., turnover
& retention). The favorable results in this study suggest some
options for further research. One logical next step might be a
cost-benefit analysis; could extra agency expenditures on
supervisor training lead to savings on staff turnover? Also, one of
the measured beneficial outcomes was worker effectiveness; a
logical hypothesis would be that this might lead to better client
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