Social Care Work And Its Adverse Effects On Staff Motivation


Concern about the nature of social care work and its' adverse effects on staff motivation has caused many managers to look at introducing incentives and rewards as a method of keeping staff members motivated in their work.

Critically debate motivational theories regarding pay and reward systems and analyse the possible positive/negative impact on staff within a social care setting.


The field of social care has expanded considerably in recent years, far outgrowing its origins in residential care and control. The number of educational programs and of students entering the field has exploded. But the nature of social care practice itself remains somewhat elusive and contested. The field remains very much 'open' for definition and debate. This process has started to occur: within the ongoing development of courses of study (eg the EirCan model associated with Athlone IT); in the publication of texts and journals; in the regularisation of work-based programs and placement procedures through the IASCE and in public debate stimulated by the legislative activity.

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This essay is going to look at what social care work is, the changes that have driven the provision of social care to be managed within performance appraisal, the management motivational techniques used to direct performance and the impacts of using rewards and incentives within a social care setting. Within the resources used for this essay the word care is used as an umbrella term that covers a range of care services of which social care is one.

Main Body

Social Care according to Share and McElwee (2005) is a profession that provides services that aim to support the specific needs of particular client groups such as families, children, people with disabilities, homeless, people living with addiction, adolescents and the elderly while encouraging empowerment of the client and within the context of a partnership between the social care worker and the client (Share and McElwee, 2005).

This provision of care and support suggest Share and McElwee (2005) can be challenging both emotionally, physically and mentally for the social care worker in that the nature of social care to try and create positive changes in the lives of vulnerable people can result in the experiences of the client affecting the social care worker personally and also that people are not only likely to be in need of support and care between the hours of 9 to 5 Monday to Friday. These challenges can result in staff burnout and lack of staff retention (Share and McElwee, 2005).

Social policies such as the directives and laws regarding child protection, employment, health and safety as well as codes of practice reports Henderson & Atkinson (2003) continually create changes in social care provision that aim to improve services and it is the role of management to implement these changes.

How these changes are managed and implemented will impact on the motivation of staff to implement these changes according to Henderson & Atkinson (2003). A factor in reducing motivation to implement changes can be that the frequent changes in goals and work practices can increase workloads and work stressors and can diminish opportunities for staff to participate in the planning stages around change implementation which as suggested by Henderson & Atkinson (2003) is necessary for effective management of change.

A primary factor within management is getting the greatest benefit from the resources available. Organisations within care provision have incorporated management practices that traditionally were associated with business in terms of measuring use of services, resource management and competition for funding which impacts on the services and supports provided. Implementation of work practices that offer choice of services to clients can create a consumer type market between the client and the service provider and competition between other service providers for funding and client uptake. For example a social care organisation may have to measure client attendance in order to secure funding which could result in competitive practices by the organisation to get client attendance in order to secure funding (Henderson & Atkinson, 2003).

In reality there may be limits within resources such as available monies, lack of adequately qualified staff to provide the choice of services being driven to be provided by the policies and therefore the competiveness can create tension not just for managers trying to implement changes but also for staff who are aware of the competition from other service providers according to Henderson & Atkinson (2003).

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This measurement of effectiveness and efficiency within care provision has reported Hafford-Letchfield (2006) resulted in Taylor's (1911) Scientific Management Theory being used as a model for management. This model specifies a clear separation between management and staff, communication with staff within a hierarchy and clear description of role boundaries (Hafford-Letchfield, 2006).

But Hafford-Letchfield (2006) disagrees with the use of the Scientific Management Theory as an approach for management within care services as the services are so diversified that it requires a greater need for flexibility of communication between management and staff as well as flexibility of roles.

Braverman (1974) cited in Hafford-Letchfield (2006) argues that Taylor's (1911) model places too much emphasis on measuring efficiency and results in deskilling of staff by management practices that do not encourage the use of skills available or new ideas or practices. Whereas an organisation that encourages further training, creates supports for staff to deal with the ranges of situations that they may encounter, while also creating a sense of being valued within the organisation, will result in better job satisfaction and overall efficiency (Hafford-Letchfield, 2006).

Effective management has a component of leadership suggests Martin & Henderson (2001) in that although management requires planning towards a strategic goal, it also requires leadership to stimulate and inspire motivation towards that goal. In order to do this, management needs to be aware of what directs their staff to perform their roles (Martin & Henderson, 2001).

Motivation within an organisation is viewed as the level of attempt that staff put towards achieving a goal expected by an organisation according to DuBrin (1978) cited in Tiernan, Morley and Foley (2006).

People are motivated by stimulating work, achievement, self-development….appropriate rewards…structure and rules. People lose motivation when work is un-stimulating, poorly paid, has no initiatives for further training, long working days and has very little responsibility according to Bent, Seaman and Ingram (1999) cited in Tiernan et al (2006).

Motivation is a desire that is within the person and that management can only create an environment that encourages chances for motivation and according to (Coens & Jenkins, 2002:181) the key for a motivational environment is to enable employees to find meaning in their work. Although the meaning is different for each employee the key factors for creating a meaning in work is a shared vision, stimulating work that allows for responsibilities and working within a team according to Coens & Jenkins (2002).

There are many types of motivational theories which can be applied to management according to Tiernan et al (2006). Content theories are motivational theories based on that a person's need is the main motivational factor. Maslow's Hierarchy of needs (1943) cited in Tiernan et al (2006) is a way of looking at the driving need behind a person's motivation. Within Maslow's model there are five types of need, the first being the most basic physiological need which in relation to work are according to Tiernan et al (2006) having a job and a salary. The second need is that of safety which would include job stability and a safe working environment. The third need is the social need of belonging and this could include being part of a team. The fourth need of self-worth could be linked to acknowledgment by others. The final need is self-actualisation where the person has built on their own personal achievements. The theory suggests that the more a need is not met the more a person will be motivated to achieve it. This concept has been criticised in that there is considered to be a law of diminishing returns in that if a need is continually not met that it will only motivate for a while and then in the long term will result in de-motivation (Tiernan et al, 2006).

Process motivational theories according to Tiernan et al (2006) suggest that management need to look at other factors that could support or grant the need as part of the motivational opportunity rather than just looking at the need.

Expectancy theory as suggested by Vroom (1964) cited in (Tiernan et al, 2006:287) suggests that an individual's level of effort (motivation) is not simply a function of rewards. That the person has to feel that they have the skills to achieve the piece of work required and that this capability to achieve will influence the level of reward attached to the effort. Key is that the person must view the level of attempt applied directly impacts on the receipt of the reward. This theory has been criticised as being too simplistic in that it does not allow for the diversity of what symbolises as a reward for a person (Tiernan et al, 2006).

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Goal theory suggested by Locke and Latham (1990) cited in DuBrin (2001) is a way to encourage and measure performance, in that the goals act as directives for expected levels of performance within service provision but that in order to measure correctly that staff have to be involved in deciding what is achievable. Key to the effectiveness of this theory is that the goals of management have to be the same as staff in order to motivate towards them, also that like expectancy theory the individual needs to feel they have the capabilities to achieve the goal. Goal theory can be a motivational tool in that giving an individual a particular target can encourage and direct performance more than vague direction that can de-motivate. But goal theory has negative impacts in that if the goal has too high an expectation it can result in the staff or staff member feeling that they will never achieve the goal and therefore will be already de-motivated (DuBrin, 2001).

The use of rewards and incentives within organisations are a way of payment in various ways for performance within a job according to Tiernan et al (2006). Within organisations there are according to (Tiernan et al, 2006:229) two types of rewards or incentives at play intrinsic rewards and extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic rewards could be considered to be embedded within a role such as decision making and having responsibilities whereas extrinsic could be considered to be the more obvious rewards such as salary, working environment. Both types of rewards are organised in level of importance by the particular motivation of a staff member (Tiernan et al, 2006).

Therefore in order for a reward to be an effective motivator the manager needs to understand their staff and their own particular needs according to Tiernan et al (2006). An illustration of Tiernan, Morely and Foleys' (2006) point could be that as social care practices are constantly being changed through policies and legislation, one staff member might perceive training as a reward in order to compete with other service providers whereas another staff member might feel that an adequate reward is acknowledgment of their contribution within the team.

Management use reinforcements that are both positive and negative as rewards according to DuBrin (2001). Negative reinforcements are not punishment but simply a way of using the removal of an element that staff see negatively as a reward to motivate, for example within social care provision, many services are currently experiencing pay freezes which means that the staff are expected to implement changes in work practices without any extra financial reward. By removing a pay freeze this could be seen as a negative reinforcement within the reward system in that the pay freeze was viewed negatively by staff and as a result may have reduced motivation (DuBrin, 2001).

According to Martin (2002) motivation of staff is normally in the form of some type of reward, although within health and social care the reward is more often the personal acknowledgement of having made a change in another person's life.

The use of policies and guidelines could be viewed as a motivator for ensuring quality services and that the use of rewards and sanctions is directly attached to that perceived motivation, in that departments that are viewed to be performing as expected receive rewards such as funding for professional development and funding for amenities while those viewed as performing below par receive sanctions such as reduced funding or staff employment embargos according to Goddard, Davies, Dawson, Mannion and McInnes (2002).

All the motivational theories in application could be viewed to have similar concepts according to DuBrin (2001) in that they are all focused on expected goals, the goals for the organisation, goals of management and goals of the staff, all of which can vary from the other and that the achievement of the goal in itself could be the reward.

An example of this interconnectedness as suggested by DuBrin (2001) could be if a staff member has a need for job security as in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, then this need could be supported by the expectancy of reward of training that provides the staff member with the belief that he or she has skills necessary to fulfil the role and the overall goal expected by the organisation while supporting their job security.

Another example of this interconnectedness of motivation and reward could be with the use of supervision which according to Miller (2006) is a means of evaluation of work practices, opportunities for discussion of alternative practices and a communication forum for both staff member and the manager. From personal placement experience the act of supervision could be viewed as a motivational tool and it could be linked with reward when it occurs as a means of communicating to a staff member that their work has value within the organisation and can be used as a way for management to re-enforce the shared vision or goal of the organisation and the part the staff member has within that goal, all supporting the concept of motivation being linked to work having meaning as per Coens and Jenkins (2002). Supervision could be viewed negatively if the process is viewed as a means of criticism and finding fault without any effort by the management to create a space for communication and re-affirming of the goal of the organisation and the significance of the staff member in it according to Miller (2006).

In relation to the expectancy motivational theory many employers view money as a major incentive and hence the pay related to performance reward scheme according to Coens & Jenkins (2002). Firstly the use of money as a motivator is a complex component in that all employees expect to be paid but that the key is they expect a fair pay for their contribution and that therefore money is not the over-riding motivator in performance within a job (Coens & Jenkins, 2002).

If staff are motivated by their work having meaning according to Coens & Jenkins (2002) then the use of rewards within pay related performance can be seen as a way of acknowledging their contribution. In that if staff were to work long hours over a large stretch of time that the lack of rewards would de-motivate the staff eventually. The key is that the reward is linked to expected return for performance and is therefore a positive way of recognising that staff's contribution whereas if for example a staff member was paid the same amount of money as a colleague less qualified then the same pay for both would act as a de-motivator (Coens & Jenkins, 2002).

Similarly DuBrin (2001) suggests that in order to motivate within expectancy theory that supporting staff to secure further training would ensure their belief that specific targets are within their skill set and therefore will be motivated to attain the task set. Therefore that rewards such as funding for professional development will support motivation and sanctions of removal of such funding would de-motivate (DuBrin, 2001).

Pay related to performance rewards are often directly linked to attainment of goal, but can have an negative impact as a means of measurement according to Goddard, Davies, Dawson, Mannion and McInnes (2002), within care provision as the measurement is subjective to different factors, such as the organisational hierarchy, the level of control of staff in planning whether the targets are achievable, the range of needs of the clients availing of the services, the resources available to the service and therefore the performance should not be measured in the short term.

The use of rewards for motivation within goal theory can negatively impact within a job according to Coens & Jenkins (2002) in that the employees can become so focused on the attainment of a particular goal that they can lose sight of the overall aim of the organisation. An illustration of Coens & Jenkins' (2002) point could be that within social care the competition for funding for services is often associated with the number of clients availing of the service what if in order to achieve funding staff do not allow for the exit of clients from the service for fear of not encouraging any more clients to come on board. A personal placement experience within a large organisation that provides diverse supports to clients required that staff worked in different residential houses spread out within a large town. The organisation had just signed a service level agreement with the Health Service Executive and the directives within the agreement were so detailed that a lot of the manager's time was spent co-ordinating and implementing these directives. The attainment of this agreement resulted in changes of work practices for staff which could be considered to improve the service but the time spent recording and documenting according to the standards set out often resulted in that clients were left waiting for changes in their environment that although not set out within the goals agreed had an implication on the environment that they viewed as their home.

The use of goals as a motivator will only be successful if the shared vision has involved actively seeking input from staff actually at the planning stage before implementation and will encourage them to take a sense of ownership of the overall goal according to Martin (2002). For example as most social care workers are also part of a team this implementation at the planning stage of all team members could enforce the shared vision and the motivation to support the goal. The team will fall down in motivation if there is inconsistency in communication and emphasis on differentiation between staff regarding skills and knowledge, therefore continual opportunities for communication that allows for expertise in different areas and allows for greater diversity in solutions and a sense of all coming together on the same page (Martin, 2002).


As already discussed it is apparent that social care as a practice is constantly having to match and implement standards of care which although improve the overall service brings with it continual changes in work practices which in turn can cause stress for staff to meet these demands and that the management of implementing such changes is a challenge for managers. The use of motivational tools such as rewards and incentives are used to encourage increased performance of which pay for performance is the tool often used. But it may be more important in relation to social care that rewards and incentives are viewed as a means of acknowledgement of staff's contribution and giving meaning to their work rather than performance related pay rewards in that the big outcome of social care is not really measureable within the short term.