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Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

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Children and Youth Services Review


journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/childyouth

Case manager job strain in public child welfare agencies: Job demands
and job control's additive effects, and instrumental feedback's
mediating role
Mark S. Preston
School of Social Work, Columbia University, 1255 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025, United States

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 11 February 2015
Received in revised form 15 April 2015
Accepted 16 April 2015
Available online 28 April 2015
Keywords:
Child welfare
Human services
Instrumental feedback
Job strain
Job demandscontrol

a b s t r a c t
Public child welfare agencies are universally acknowledged as highly stressful work environments. Organizational and occupational health scholars assert that reducing employee strain perceptions in challenging and strenuous workplace settings necessitates control over one's job. Consistent with this idea, the job demandscontrol
(JDC) model's additive hypothesis states that perceived job demands and perceived job control jointly impact
perceptions of job strain. Over three decades of empirical testing, however, has yielded inconsistent ndings.
This study sought to clarify mixed research results using a sample of 349 public child welfare case managers.
Specically, self-report instrumental feedback was introduced as a possible mediator of the association between
perceived job control and perceived job strain. In line with the literatures on indeterminate human service technologies and dynamic complex environments, two types of mediational (structural equation modeling and
bootstrapping) analyses conrmed the construct's role as an intervening variable when job demands were
perceived as challenging. Data are the rst to uncover this mediated relationship within a JDC framework.
More importantly, data call into question the predictive validity and practice utility of the model's seminal
additive hypothesis in public child welfare agencies. Practice implications for public child welfare case managers
and ideas for advancing JDC research are also presented.
2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
Public child welfare agencies are universally acknowledged as highly
stressful occupational environments. In response to this circumstance,
child welfare researchers have focused considerable scientic effort toward uncovering salient individual (e.g., resilience, self-efcacy) and
organizational (e.g., organizational culture and climate) level factors
that reduce the strain perceptions of public child welfare case managers
(Pecora, Whittaker, Maluccio, & Barth, 2012). Interestingly, characteristics of the job, which directly link employees to their larger organizational context, have received far less empirical study (Preston, 2013a,
b). Organizational and occupational health scholars propose a dynamic
and interdependent relationship between an employee's perception of
her or his job characteristics and level of perceived job strain (Karasek
& Theorell, 1990; Luchman & Gonzlez-Morales, 2013). Within this
broad interdisciplinary literature, one particular sub-eld, occupational
health psychology, has sought to uncover job characteristics that mollify
perceptions of job strain under mentally challenging and emotionally

Tel.: +1 212 851 2240.


E-mail address: mp2557@columbia.edu.

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2015.04.010
0190-7409/ 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

demanding workplace conditions similar to those found in the eld of


child welfare (De Lange, Taris, Kompier, Houtman, & Bongers, 2003;
Taris & Kompier, 2005a,b).
Empirical evidence from the occupational health psychology literature possesses, at least, two unifying features. First, Karasek's (1979;
Karasek & Theorell, 1990) job demandscontrol (JDC) model serves
as the literature's dominant theoretical and conceptual framework. Second, extensive cross-sectional, longitudinal, and experimental research
examining perceived job demands and perceived job control's additive
effects on various measures of perceived job strain have yielded inconclusive results (De Lange et al., 2003; Husser, Mojzisch, Niesel, &
Schulz-Hardt, 2010; Van der Doef & Maes, 1999). Inconsistent ndings
have led some organizational and occupational health researchers to
advocate for more scientic studies that explore perceived job control's
indirect effects (Terry & Jimmieson, 1999). Further, because the JDC
model was originally conceived for industrial occupations that used predictable and reliable organizational technologies (Karasek & Theorell,
1990), other researchers (Marshall, Barnett, & Sayer, 1997; Pousette,
Jacobsson, Thylefors, & Hwang, 2003; Sderfeldt et al., 1996) have
questioned the model's predictive validity and practice utility in
human service occupations (e.g., child welfare) that employ indeterminate technologies.

M.S. Preston / Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

In their comprehensive meta-analytic review of feedback interventions, Kluger and DeNisi (1996) argue that feedback is a construct that
cuts across and unites seemingly disparate social science theories. Feedback information, for example, is central to the major theories that underpin Karasek's (Karasek, 1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) JDC
model.1 Osman (2010) further identies goal-related or instrumental
feedback, due to its favorable impact on employee performance in
dynamic and complex environments (e.g., public child welfare agencies), as a contextual factor that affects how individuals interpret the
controllability of their immediate social surroundings. Thus, the aim of
this study is twofold. First, this study introduces self-report instrumental feedback as a potential intervening variable within the theoretical
logic and conceptual framework of Karasek's JDC model. Second, this
study empirically tests the construct's mediating role on the controlstrain association using a sample of public child welfare case managers.

2. Job demandscontrol model


The JDC model (Karasek, 1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) hypothesizes that perceived job demands and perceived job control jointly impact perceptions of job strain through a causal mechanism Karasek
labels active learning (i.e., new knowledge, job skills, and problem solving strategies). Job duties and responsibilities construed as challenging
heighten cognitive arousal that employees invest toward confronting
more demanding performance requirements. If demands of the job
are perceived as too taxing, job performance deteriorates as routine
job skills and problem solving strategies become ineffective (Karasek,
1998; Karasek & Theorell, 1990). The perceived gap between actual
and desired employee performance transforms excess cognitive arousal
into work anxiety. Work anxiety spawns off-task ruminations that obstruct the effective processing of information essential for learning
new knowledge and mastering new job skills (Warr & Downing,
2000), as well as understanding and resolving unfamiliar work-related
problems (Bergman et al., 2012; Daniels, Boocock, Glover, Hartley, &
Holland, 2009). Decrements in these core facets of active learning increase perceived job strain by lowering positive outcome expectations
and feelings of job competence. Hence, when job demands are experienced as onerous, work anxiety inhibits active learning which in turn
raises an employee's strain perceptions (Karasek, 1979; Karasek &
Theorell, 1990).
Control over one's job, however, is predicted to mitigate perceived
job strain when job duties and responsibilities are judged as formidable.
Job control expedites the efcient (re)allocation of surplus cognitive
arousal toward overcoming non-routine and/or reoccurring workrelated problems, and away from off-task ideations that induce
learning-inhibiting work anxiety (Karasek, 1998; Karasek & Theorell,
1990). Job control also facilitates experimenting with novel ideas, and
testing unproven job skills and problem-solving strategies (De Jonge,
Spoor, Sonnentag, Dormann, & van den Tooren, 2012; Taris &
Kompier, 2005a). Consequences of active learning that resolve meaningful work-related obstacles and/or produce value-added performance
outcomes are routinized and incorporated into an employee's existing
repertoire of coping capabilities (Ohly, Sonnentag, & Pluntke, 2006).
An expanded range of coping capabilities strengthen information processing capacity by inhibiting anxiety-inducing ideations (Warr &
Downing, 2000). Feelings of job mastery and favorable performance
results that emerge from more efcacious employee coping minimize
perceptions of job strain (Daniels, Beesley, Wimalasiri, & Cheyne,
2013). Thus, when job demands are judged as burdensome (but not
overwhelming), perceptions of control advance active learning and
1
Action [regulation] theory (Frese & Stewart, 1984), general adaptive syndrome theory
(Selye, 1950), job characteristic model (Hackman & Oldham, 1980), and learned helplessness theory (Seligman, 1975), all explicitly or implicitly incorporate and discuss goalrelated feedback information.

31

decrease work anxiety which in turn attenuates strain perceptions


(Karasek, 1998; Karasek & Theorell, 1990).
Job demandscontrol researchers investigate the hypothesized joint
effects of perceived job demands and perceived job control on
employee-related physical, psychological, and behavioral outcomes by
testing for additive and interactive effects (Husser et al., 2010). The
former predicts the presence of two statistically signicant main effects,
while the latter predicts a statistically signicant demandscontrol interaction (Karasek, 1979). Although the proposed JDC interaction has
received substantially more theoretical and conceptual attention
(Husser et al., 2010; Van der Doef & Maes, 1999), Karasek (1989) insists that the JDC model's seminal insight is perceived job demands
and perceived job control's additive effects on individual-level outcomes. Several comprehensive literature reviews examining additive
model studies have consistently uncovered mixed empirical support.
Only 41% and 36% of the research studies examined by Van der Doef
and Maes (1999), and Husser et al. (2010), for example, fully supported Karasek's additive hypothesis when various measures of psychological well-being were used. Further, De Lange et al. (2003) found full
support for only 47% of high-quality longitudinal additive model studies
that used either physical or psychological indicators of job strain. Similar
inconsistencies have been uncovered in the social work literature.
For instance, in a sample of New York City human service workers,
Rafferty, Friend, and Landsbergis (2001) reported support for
Karasek's (1979) additive model, while Kim and Stoner (2008) documented null ndings based on a sample of California state-registered
social workers.
Explanations for inclusive research results include, but are not limited to, the reliance on cross-sectional research; dimensionality of
Karasek's (1979) job control measure; operationalization of his job demands construct; possible confounding of Karasek's job demands measure with his job control and job strain measures; incongruence
between the type of demand employees encounter and type of control
at their disposal; and omitted control variables, such as socioeconomic
status (De Jonge & Kompier, 1997; Kain & Jex, 2010). While instructive,
these research design, psychometric, and conceptual modications fail to
address the unique occupational environment the JDC model was originally intended to confront. In their ground-breaking book, Healthy Work,
Karasek and Theorell (1990) state that the JDC model's theoretical
orientation was purposefully developed for factory-like work environment[s] where stressors are routinely planned, years in advance and
these stressors occur day in and day out for decades (p. 8586).
Hence, predictable and reliable organizational technologies used in
industrial occupations may constitute the environmental contingency
necessary for fostering perceived job control's strain-reducing
properties. De Jonge and Kompier (1997) and others (Marshall et al.,
1997; Pousette et al., 2003; Sderfeldt et al., 1996) have also identied
and discussed this potential occupational-level boundary condition.
3. Indeterminate organizational technologies
3.1. Industrial occupations
Organizational technologies are purposively designed tools and
techniques that transform an agency's untreated inputs into prescribed
outputs (Hasenfeld, 1983; Sandfort, 2010). Technologies associated
with industrial occupations are scientically-based and adopt procedural knowledge anchored in tangible causeeffect relations (Austin, 2002;
Hasenfeld, 2010). Because these technologies are highly reliable and
predictable, perceived job control minimizes strain perceptions in, at
least, two important ways. First, employees who operate or interface
with industrial technologies can use control over their job to develop
empirically-based procedural knowledge that accurately estimates the
probable results of their behavioral actions (Hasenfeld, 1983). Tangible
actionoutcome relations , in other words, reduce workplace ambiguity
concerning the identication, selection, and execution of requisite

32

M.S. Preston / Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

behavioral actions (Becker, 2004; March & Simon, 1958). Decreased operational uncertainty involving the association between behavioral actions, outcomes, and accompanying consequences limit the information
processing demands placed on an employee's mental resources (Becker
& Knudsen, 2005). Surplus cognitive arousal is channeled toward the routinization and internalization of new knowledge, job skills, and problem
solving strategies (i.e., active learning) designed, in part, to reestablish
coping equilibrium. Additional coping capacity eases work anxiety
which in turn lowers strain (Karasek & Theorell, 1990).
Control over one's job in industrial occupations also mollies perceived job strain by strengthening an employee's belief that preferred organizational technologies will yield quality production results (Becker,
2004; March & Simon, 1958). Technologies used in industrial occupations
typically possess a pre-existing menu of preferred response options that
guide current and future behavioral actions. This narrow list of
empirically-based best practices improves the likelihood that
employees will identify, select, and implement response options that generate performance outcomes with the highest expected utility (i.e., active
learning) (Becker & Knudsen, 2005). Greater operational predictability,
due to positive outcome expectations, alleviates perceived job strain by
instilling the belief that preferred response options are masterable and
predetermined production goals are achievable (Karasek, 1979; Karasek
& Theorell, 1990). Thus, when demands of the job are challenging, organizational technologies employed in industrial workplace settings reduce
perceived job strain by instituting well-structured occupational environments evidence-based best practices to guide procedural knowledge,
specify and clear performance standards that strengthen positive outcome expectations, and transparent and interpretable causeeffect associations that increase feelings of job competence where employees
can use control over their job to engage in effective active learning
(Becker & Knudsen, 2005; Hasenfeld, 1983; Karasek & Theorell, 1990).

managers will, for example, choose client service interventions highest


in expected utility (Rzepnicki & Johnson, 2005). As such, poor client outcome expectations, based on a public child welfare case manager's prior
experience with or (in)formal knowledge of a specic client service intervention or menu of interventions' (in)effectiveness cues off-task ideations that raises her or his level of work anxiety. Work anxiety in turn
escalates perceived job strain by diminishing a public child welfare case
manager's belief that sanctionable performance standards are attainable
or core job requirements are achievable (Preston, 2013a).
3.2.2. Knowledge base
Since unpredictable human beings are the raw material that public
child welfare agencies are legally authorized to transform (Hasenfeld,
2010), organizational technologies used by public child welfare agencies are rarely based on complete scientic understanding (Littell,
2005, 2008). To overcome this occupational-level constraint, public
child welfare agencies develop practice ideologies (Rapoport, 1960;
Smith, 2010). Practice ideologies ll gaps in scientic knowledge with
unexamined, and often unconscious, assumptions that diminish operational uncertainty by providing public child welfare case managers with
cogent rationales for preferred organizational technologies (Hasenfeld,
2010). Practice ideologies, however, make it difcult for:
1. public child welfare agencies to produce a baseline of empirical data
that yield a menu of evidence-based practices from which scientically valid and reliable client service interventions are identied
(Littell, 2008), and
2. public child welfare case managers to accurately forecast causal connections between (un)desirable client outcomes and procedural
knowledge, job skills, and problem solving strategies associated
with specic client service interventions (Gambrill, 2008;
Hasenfeld, 1983).

3.2. Child welfare occupational environments


In comparison to industrial occupations, organizational technologies
that public child welfare agencies use are described as highly indeterminate (Rzepnicki & Johnson, 2005; Smith, 2010). Indeterminate technologies, according to Hasenfeld (1983, 2010), is the distinguishing feature
of all human service occupations. Social work researchers have identied several occupational-level characteristics that account for the
child welfare profession's use of and dependence on indeterminate organizational technologies. This partial list includes raw materials,
knowledge base, and staff-client relations (Austin, 2002; Hasenfeld,
2010). Each of these occupational-level attributes not only contributes
to the indeterminate nature of child welfare technologies (Smith,
2010), but also inuences the level of perceived strain public child
welfare case managers experience (Pecora et al., 2012).
3.2.1. Raw materials
Sderfeldt et al. (1996), posit that job control in industrial occupations primarily refers to an employee's control over her or his agency's
work methods and workow processes, whereas perceived control in
human service occupations, including child welfare, refers to control
over people. Unlike inanimate objects, recipients of public child welfare
services possess personal beliefs and internal motivations that function
within highly interdependent cognitive, behavioral, and social systems
(Bandura, 1997; Hasenfeld, 1983). Moreover, client thoughts and
actions that public child welfare agencies attempt to transform are
quite variable and, at times, unpredictable (Smith, 2010). Thus, the inability to correctly gauge the likely outcome and/or consequences of a particular organizational technology on client attitudes and conduct, relative to
a broad set of similar and often indistinguishable technologies, elevates
the degree of operational uncertainty public child welfare case managers
encounter (Darlington, Feeney, & Rixon, 2004; Gambrill, 2008).
Operational uncertainty resulting from indeterminate child welfare
technologies decreases the probability that public child welfare case

These by-products of taken-for-granted practice ideologies heighten


a public child welfare case manager's strain perceptions by elevating
work anxiety (Preston, 2013b).
3.2.3. Staffclient relations
Since public child welfare agencies are unable to predict with reasonable scientic certainty the unique needs of each family case, their
case managers become the primary tool through which client services
are identied and, at times, delivered (Smith, 2010). This close reciprocal staffclient relationship not only confers public child welfare case
managers with a vast amount of (in)formal authority and decisionmaking discretion (Sosin, 2010), it also exposes them to an abundant
amount of human distress, suffering, and secondary trauma on a frequent and repeated basis (Dane, 2000). Given that public child welfare
case managers practice in occupational milieus laden with emotions
(DePanlis & Zlotnik, 2008), indeterminate child welfare technologies
stimulate more than impersonal cognitive calculations on optimal response options and/or behavioral actions.
Along with agency-reinforced practice ideologies and prior professional experience (Hasenfeld, 2010; Smith, 2010), (un)favorable client
progress and/or results anticipated from client service interventions
trigger powerful emotional reactions that directly impact the affective
well-being of front-line staff (Preston, 2013a,b). Unmet agency performance measures and unfullled case plan goals and objectives, for example, cue off-task musing that increase work anxiety and heighten
the strain perceptions of public child welfare case managers (Kim,
2011; Raghunathan & Pham, 1999). In sum, indeterminate public child
welfare technologies produce operationally-uncertain occupational environments unpredictable child welfare clients, idiosyncratic practice
ideologies, and emotional taxing staffclient relations that increase
the strain perceptions of public child welfare case managers by
obstructing their ability to engage in effective active learning, irrespective of control perceptions.

M.S. Preston / Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

4. Mediating role of instrumental feedback


Hasenfeld (1983, 2010) states that the perceptions front-line staff
hold on their occupational environment are substantially determined
by the technologies their human service agencies employ. Accordingly,
public child welfare case managers, due in large part to indeterminate
technologies, characterize their workplaces as highly uncertain
(Gambrill, 2008; Pecora et al., 2012). Organizational scholars assert
that ongoing exposure to operational uncertainty not only necessitates
sufcient exibility over job duties and responsibilities (Jackson, 1989;
Preston, 2013a), but also requires an increased ow of information
(Aldrich, 2008; Preston, 2013b). Moreover, Galbraith (1973) notes
that the amount of information needed by employees is commensurate
with the level of task uncertainty experienced in their work
environments.
Experimental and simulation research studies reveal that individuals
who encounter difculty organizing strategic action plans, under conditions of high uncertainty, repeatedly monitor their behavioral actions
(see Osman, 2010). Drawing on these data-driven studies, Osman
(2010) argues that the uncertainty-inducing affect of dynamic and complex social environments on purposive human action warrants coupling
personal control with goal-related (i.e., instrumental information) feedback. Earley, Northcraft, Lee, and Lituchy (1990) dene goal-related or
instrumental feedback as information that supports goal attainment. Instrumental feedback is especially critical in occupational settings where
causeeffect relations between behavioral actions, performance outcomes, and their consequences are difcult to establish and evaluate
(e.g., operational uncertainty) (Earley et al., 1990).
Karasek (1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990), as previously noted,
posits that ameliorating employee strain perceptions in demanding occupational environments mandates generating new knowledge and
crafting new or improving current job skills. As such, these facets of active learning represent two causal mechanisms through which selfreport instrumental feedback may mediate perceived job control's association with perceived job strain. Taris and Kompier (2005b) argue that
if employee-related learning is a function of the characteristics of one's
job, then the receipt of feedback information is the essential ingredient.
Further, when social environments are dynamic and complex (e.g., child
welfare), Osman (2010) asserts that the prompt discovery and integration of new knowledge becomes crucial.
Public child welfare case managers who believe that they have sufcient control over their jobs can observe the goal-directed behavior of
and/or seek out instrumental information from supervisors, coworkers, and clients (Wielenga-Meijer, Taris, Kompier, & Wigboldus,
2010). Novel ideas and insights distilled from process and outcome
feedback promotes the identication and development of creative and
innovative problem-solving strategies (De Jonge et al., 2012; Taris &
Kompier, 2005a). Knowledge gains obtained from this facet of active
learning allow public child welfare case managers to anticipate, minimize, or prevent atypical work-related problems concerning the establishment case plan goals, implementation and monitoring of case plan
objectives, and evaluation of client service interventions (Preston,
2013a,b). Heightened performance expectations and feelings of job
mastery, derived from instrumental feedback's uncertainty-reducing effects, in turn mitigate perceived job strain (Karasek & Theorell, 1990).
Thus, when job demands are experienced as challenging, perceptions
of job control provide public child welfare case managers with the opportunity and motivation to learn. Instrumental feedback, on the other
hand, dictates whether or not they do learn.
Skill development is a second causal mechanism through which instrumental feedback may mediate the controlstrain relationship.
Frese et al. (1991) state that difcult and uncertain occupational environments increase the need for employees to update existing skills.
Taris and Kompier (2005b) maintain that it is nearly impossible to expand one's job skills without feedback information that causally links
performance outcomes to behavioral actions. Control over one's job

33

allows public child welfare case managers to test self-initiated hypotheses generated from new ideas and engage in ad hoc experiments on
untested and unfamiliar job skills and/or problem-solving strategies
(Taris & Kompier, 2005a,b). Process and outcome feedback garnered
from these active learning efforts favorably impact job competency beliefs and performance expectations (Preston, 2007).
Outcome feedback claries which client service interventions are (or
have been) the most or least likely to fulll case plan goals and objectives
and yield meaningful changes in client attitudes and behaviors
(i.e., outcome expectations). Process feedback, on the other hand, helps
public child welfare case managers determine which case plan-related
job skills, knowledge gains, and/or problem-solving strategies can be
(or have been) mastered or require more ne-tuning (i.e., competence
beliefs) (Earley et al., 1990). Since competency beliefs and outcome expectations serve as the theoretical foundation for perceptions of control
(Skinner, 1995), perceived job control should impact perceived job
strain via self-report instrumental feedback. Thus, without contextual information in the form of process and/or outcome feedback it is impossible for public child welfare case managers to develop new or improve
current job skills (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996; Taris & Kompier, 2005a,b).
Indirect support for these arguments is found in both the social work
and JDC literatures. In a cross-sectional survey, Pousette et al. (2003)
observed that role ambiguity (i.e., task-level uncertainty) indirectly
effected the level of job satisfaction experienced by human service
workers through feedback sign (i.e., positive and negative feedback).
Further, experimental work by Jimmieson and Terry (1999) revealed
that under conditions of high task complexity (i.e., operational uncertainty), high job demands, and high procedural information
(i.e., process feedback), research subjects reported the highest task satisfaction under the low, as oppose to high, behavioral control condition.
Given the aforementioned theoretical and empirical evidence two hypotheses were put forth:
Hypothesis 1. Perceived job demands and perceived job control will
have statistically signicant additive effects on perceived job strain;
such that perceived job demands' main effect will be positive and perceived job controls main effect will be negative.
Hypothesis 2. Self-report instrumental feedback will fully mediate the
relationship between perceived job control and perceived job strain
within a JDC framework.
5. Method
5.1. Sample characteristics and data collection
This study's sample contained case managers from 11 county-based
public child welfare agencies across the state of New York. To ensure adequate variability, state counties were purposely chosen with respect to
their geographic location (i.e., rural, suburban, and urban). Three hundred and forty-nine out of 419 usable questionnaires were returned
for a nal response rate of 83%. Demographic data indicated that 87%
of survey respondents self-reported as Caucasian and 79% selfreported as female. Fifty-four percent of survey respondents had earned
an undergraduate degree and 51% self-reported as married. Finally, the
mean age and job tenure, for this particular sample of public child welfare case managers, were 41 and 5.3 years, respectively (see Table 1).2
2
The representativeness of the present study's sample can be benchmarked against two
recent national surveys. The NASW (2004) reported the following demographic information for its members practicing in child welfare: median age, 41 years old; mean job tenure, 6 years; respondents self-identied as white, 77%; and respondents self-identied
as female, 84%. Demographic information reported by Barth, Lloyd, Christ, Chapman, and
Dickinson (2008) consists of the following: mean job tenure, 7.3 years; respondents
self-identied as white, 67%; respondents self-identied as female, 81%; respondents
self-identied as possessing an undergraduate degree, 48%; and respondents selfidentied as having obtained a graduate degree, 30%.

34

M.S. Preston / Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

Table 1
Descriptive statistics, correlation matrix, and reliabilitiesa.
Self-report variable

Mean S.D.

1. Job strain
2. Job control
3. Instrumental
feedback
4. Job demands
5. Age (dichotomous)

349
349
349

3.34
2.67
3.19

349
349

4.31
n/a

0.93
(.84)
0.81 .35
1.03 .36
0.60
n/a

3
(.80)
.27

(.87)

.50 .33 .14


.16 .11 .21

(.72)
.03 (n/a)

Note. Two-tailed t-test used.


a
Cronbach's alphas are in parentheses.
p b .05.

Copies of the letter of introduction and survey questionnaire, along with


a self-addressed stamped return envelope, were given to all public child
welfare case managers by each county's staff training and development
director. Included in the letter of introduction were the study's objectives, voluntary nature of the research project, and condentiality safeguards. In order to increase the study's nal response rate, two followup contacts were made (Dillman, 2007).
5.2. Measures
5.2.1. Perceived job strain
Karasek (1979) denes perceived job strain as psychological strain
that arises from the perceived demands of one's job and perceived
scope of control available to meet those demands. The construct is conceptualized as feelings of depression, fatigue, and anxiety (Karasek &
Theorell, 1990). Since emotional states are central to work-related psychological strain (Warr, 1990), perceived job strain was operationalized
as negative work affect. This outcome variable was measured using ve
items from Van Katwyk, Fox, Spector, and Kelloway (2000) 10-item Jobrelated Affective Well-being scale (JAWS) negative work affect subscale.
Likert-type response categories ranged from (1) not at all to (5) a
great deal. Example items included, I felt depressed while doing my
job? and I felt anxious while doing my job? Previous testing of this
measure yielded a Cronbach's alpha of .88 (Preston, 2007).
5.2.2. Perceived job control
Perceived job control is dened by Karasek (1979; Karasek &
Theorell, 1990) as potential control over one's tasks and work conduct
during the day, and is operationalized as a composite of task or decision
making authority and skill discretion. Organizational scholars have
raised numerous psychometric (Terry & Jimmieson, 1999) and conceptual (De Jonge & Kompier, 1997) concerns with respect to the
operationalization and dimensionality of Karasek's (1979) perceived
job control measure. As such, several JDC researchers advocate the
use of a task-specic measure (e.g., Wall, Jackson, Mullarkey, & Parker,
1996). Based on this recommendation, this study used four items from
Wall et al. (1996) ve-item multifaceted task-focused control measure.3
Likert-type response categories for this measure ranged from (1) not at
all to (5) a great deal. How much control do you have over which
work duties to perform in your job? is an example item. A Cronbach's
alpha of .79 was observed in a prior test of this measure (Preston, 2007).
5.2.3. Self-report instrumental feedback
Earley et al. (1990) dene instrumental feedback as information
narrowly-focused on goal-direct action and operationalizes the construct as a composite of outcome (e.g., information on goal attainment)
and process (e.g., information on effort exerted and/or strategy

3
The question How much control do you have over the layout of your specic work area? which addresses environmental control was omitted. The content validity of this item
was viewed as questionable for child welfare case managers and the items low factor loading (below .40) empirical supported this concern.

effectiveness) feedback.4 Likert response categories for this 4-item


measure ranged from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree.
An example item for process feedback is In general, I am made aware
of how effective my strategies are for completing the work duties of
my job. In general, once specic work duties are completed, I am
made aware of the nal results or outcomes. is an example outcome
feedback item. Previous psychometric testing for this measure produced
a Cronbach's alpha of .89 (Preston, 2007).
5.2.4. Perceived job demands
Job demands are dened as environmental stressors that employees
perceive as impacting their ability to carry out assigned job duties and
responsibilities (Karasek, 1979). Quantitative and qualitative research
studies examining the occupational environment of public child welfare
agencies consistently report workload demands as a chronic and primary workplace stressor (Pecora et al., 2012). Perceived job demands,
therefore, was operationalized as perceived workload demands. Four
items for this measure were drawn from Caplan, Cobb, French, Van
Harrison, and Pinneau (1975) seven-item quantitative workload scale
( = .71). Prior tests of this abridged job demands measure produced
a Cronbach's alpha of .73 (Preston, 2007). Likert-type response categories ranged from (1) hardly any to (5) a great deal. How much
work is expected of you in your job? is an example item. The mean
for perceived job demands was 4.3 (scale ranged from 1very little to
5a great deal) which offers empirical evidence that this sample of
public child welfare case managers experienced the demands of their
job as highly challenging.
6. Results
6.1. Descriptive statistics and statistical analyses
Table 1 presents descriptive statistics (number of cases, means, standard deviations), reliabilities, and zero-order bivariate correlations.
Prior to examining the two research hypotheses, tests for violations of
OLS regression were performed and none were observed (Hair, Black,
Babin, Anderson, & Tatham, 2006).5 Less than 2% of the data were missing; nonetheless, regression imputation was used to address missing
values. To assess whether data were missing completely at random, dichotomous coded variables were created for all measures with missing
data (cases with data were coded as 0; cases with missing data were
coded as 1). A bivariate correlational analysis revealed that perceived
job strain was statistically and signicantly related with the dichotomous coded age variable (r = .16; p b .05). This nding suggests that
omitting the age variable from the meditational analyses may bias the
study's nal results. Therefore, per Hair et al. (2006) recommendation,
the dichotomous coded age variable was included as a control.
Data analyses were carried out in the structural equation modeling
(SEM) program AMOS 18.0 and followed Anderson and Gerbing's
(1992) two-step process. Step one consisted of estimating a measurement model based on the factor structure of the study's four variables
of interest. Step two involved estimating four structural models: an additive model, a baseline full mediation model, a partial mediation
model, and a theoretically relevant non-nested alternative mediation
model. To provide a more stringent test of model t, the full mediation
model was compared to the partial mediation and non-nested alternative mediation models (Williams, Vandenberg, & Edwards, 2009).
Akaike's information criterion (AIC, Akaike, 1987) was used to
determine the relative t between the full mediation model and the
4
Instrumental feedback differs from instrumental support (Greenglass, Fiksenbaum, &
Burke, 1996) in that the latter construct encompasses a much broader range of workrelated information (e.g., acknowledgment by supervisor that employee appears stressed)
and behavioral actions (e.g., supportive listening by co-workers).
5
Skewness and kurtosis (normality); center leverage values, Cook's distance statistic
(outliers and nonoutlying inuentials); Tolerance and VIF stats (multicollinearity); and
White's (1980) test (heteroskedasticity).

M.S. Preston / Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

35

Table 2
AMOS t measures for the discriminant validity of predictor and criterion measures.
Model

df

p-Value

CFI

RMSEA

SRMR

1. Four-factor model (JD, JS, JC, IF)


2. Three-factor model (combined JD/JS, JC, IF)
3. Three-factor model (combined JD/JC, JS, IF)
4. Three-factor model (combined JS/JC, JD, IF)
5. Three-factor model (combined JD/IF, JS, JC)
6. Three-factor model (combined IF/JC, JD, JS)
7. Two-factor model (combined JD/JS/JC, IF)
8. Three-factor model (combined JS/IF, JD, JC)
9. Two-factor model (combined JD/JS, combined IF/JC)
10. Two-factor model (combined JD/JS/IF, JC)
11. Two-factor model (combined JD/IF, combined JS/JC)
12. Two-factor model (combined JD/JC, combined JS/IF)
13. Two-factor model (combined JD/IF/JC, JS)
14. Two-factor model (combined JS/IF/JC, JD)
15. One-factor model (combined JD/JS/IF/JC)

202.32
346.99
441.30
511.85
564.79
581.13
637.33
685.24
717.55
845.27
871.34
902.60
906.83
974.42
1120.20

113
116
116
116
116
116
118
116
118
118
118
118
118
118
119

.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001
.001

.959
.894
.851
.818
.794
.786
.762
.739
.725
.666
.654
.640
.638
.607
.540

.049
.077
.092
.101
.108
.110
.115
.122
.124
.136
.139
.142
.142
.148
.159

.051
.068
.085
.087
.135
.117
.096
.103
.122
.116
.153
.119
.149
.124
.132

Note. JD = perceived job demands. JS = perceived job strain. JC = perceived job control. IF = self-report instrumental feedback.

non-nested alternative mediation model (the lowest AIC value denotes


superior model t). Model t for the measurement and comparisons between other structural models was evaluated using the chi-squared statistic (2), comparative t index (CFI; Bentler, 1990), root mean square
error of approximation (RMSEA; Steiger, 1990), and standardized root
mean residual (SRMR; Bentler, 1995).6 For sample sizes of less than
500, Weston and Gore (2006) suggest that values of .90 or above for
the CFI, .10 or less for the RMSEA, and .10 or less for SRMR are representative of acceptable model t.
Finally, a bootstrapping test was performed as a means of corroborating the SEM's analyses' full mediation ndings (Preacher, Rucker, &
Hayes, 2007). Bootstrapping is a re-sampling method that builds parameter estimates based on original sample data. Because the product
of two indirect effects creates a skewed distribution, Hayes (2009) advocates this method for testing mediated models. Bootstrapped condence intervals do not assume normality, and as such, are more
accurate than condence intervals based on Baron and Kenny's (1986)
causal step strategy or Sobel's (1982) test (Hayes, 2009).
6.2. Measurement models
Construct and discriminant validity for this study's measures was
established using conrmatory factor analysis with maximum likelihood estimation in AMOS 18.0. With respect to construct validity, all
items loaded heavily and uniquely onto their individual latent factor
from .53 to .83. Table 2 demonstrates that discriminant validity was
established between this study's four variables of interest. Given that
study data were collected from single source self-report measures, sample correlations may have been articially inated (Podsakoff,
MacKenzie, Lee, & Podsakoff, 2003). To test if common method variance
had contaminated the research ndings, statistical procedures outlined
by Williams, Cote, and Buckley (1989) were undertaken.
Model 1, a baseline 3-factor measurement model [2(62) = 122.33,
p b .001; CFI = .966, RMSEA = .054; SRMR = .048], was compared with
Model 2, the baseline 3-factor measurement model that included a common latent factor [2(49) = 78.92, p b .001; CFI = .983, RMSEA = .043;
SRMR = .035]. Model 2's t with the data was a statistically signicant
improvement over Model 1 (2 (13) = 43.4, p b .05) which denotes the
presence of common method variance. The average amount of variance
accounted for by three measures of interest was 46.7%. The average
amount of variance attributed to the common latent factor was 12.8%,
a nding substantially less than the mean percentage (27%) reported
6
In addition to the chi-square statistic, Mueller and Hancock (2008) recommend that
researchers select a single t index from each class of indices: incremental (i.e., CFI;
Bentler, 1990), parsimonious (i.e., RMSEA; Steiger, 1990), and absolute (i.e., SRMR;
Bentler, 1995).

in Williams et al. (1989) empirical review. Further, the three bivariate


correlations of interest retained their statistical signicance despite
the addition of a common latent factor. These empirical results indicate
that the ndings from this study can be attributed to factors other than
method variance.
6.3. Structural models
In addressing the two research hypotheses, four different structural
models were t.,7,8 First, Karasek's (1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) additive model (Hypothesis 1) was tested by specifying direct paths from
perceived job control to perceived job strain, and from perceived job demands to perceived job strain (Model 1). As shown in Table 3, Model 1
produced an excellent t with the data [2(73) = 145.25, p b .001;
CFI = .952, RMSEA = .055; SRMR = .049]. The direct paths from perceived job control to perceived job strain ( = .16, p b .05) and perceived job demands to perceived job strain ( = .52, p b .05) were
both statistically signicant in the predict direction (see Fig. 1). Thus,
Model 1 offered empirical support for Hypothesis 1.
Next, a baseline full mediation model (Mode1 2) was tested
(Hypothesis 2). Kenny, Kashy, and Bolger (1998) identied at least
two conditions that must be met when establishing a fully mediated
relationship.9 First, the indirect path from the predictor variable to the
mediator variable, and the direct path from the mediator variable to
the criterion variable, must be statistically signicant. Second, after
introducing a direct path from the predictor variable to the criterion
variable into the structural model, the direct path from the mediator
variable to the criterion variable, and the indirect path from the predictor variable to the mediator variable, should remain statistically signicant. The direct path from the predictor variable to the criterion
variable, however, should be statistically nonsignicant.
Following this approach, Model 2 specied an indirect path from
perceived job control to self-report instrumental feedback, and a direct
path from self-report instrumental feedback to perceived job strain. To
7
Each model tested included direct paths from the latent variable perceived job demands and manifest variable age (dichotomous) to the latent variable perceived job strain.
Further, the latent variable perceived job control was correlated with the latent variable
perceived job demands and manifest variable age (dichotomous) in all models.
8
To assess the possible confounding effects of feedback sign child welfare case managers were asked how much positive and negative feedback they have received. The
two-item feedback sign measure possessed a Cronbach's alpha of .51 and each item loaded
onto a single factor at .82. The feedback sign measure did not signicantly alter the results
of the meditational analyses and was omitted from the nal structural model.
9
State-of-the-art thinking on testing for mediated effects no longer advocates establishing a statistically signicant correlation between the predictor and criterion variables.
Kenny et al. (1998) point out that this relationship is implied when there is a statistically
signicant predictormediator association and a statistically signicant mediatorcriterion association.

36

M.S. Preston / Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

7. Discussion

Table 3
AMOS t measures for additive effects and mediational models.
Model

df

p-Value

CFI

RMSEA

SRMR

AIC

1
2
3
4

145.25
232.36
230.93
277.02

73
130
129
130

0.001
0.001
0.001
0.001

.952
.953
.954
.933

.055
.049
.049
.058

.049
.057
.056
.086

237.25
350.36
350.93
395.02

Note: Model 1 is an additive effects model.


Model 2 is a full mediation model.
Model 3 is partial mediation model.
Model 4 is a non-nested alternative mediation model.

properly test Karasek's (1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) additive hypothesis, an additional direct path from perceived job demands to
perceived job strain was also included. Model 2 exhibited excellent
t with the data [2 (130) = 232.36, p b .001; CFI = .953,
RMSEA = .049; SRMR = .057] (see Table 3). Moreover, the indirect
path from perceived job control to self-report instrumental feedback
( = .32, p b .05) and the direct path from self-report instrumental
feedback to perceived job strain ( = .32, p b .05) were statistically signicant; as was the direct path from perceived job demands to
perceived job strain ( = .55, p b .05).
Next, this study compared the baseline full mediation model
(Model 2) with the partial mediation model (Model 3). Model 2
and Model 3 were identical except for the addition of a direct path
from perceived job control to perceived job strain. Like Model 2,
Model 3 also produced an excellent t with the data [ 2(129) =
230.93, p b .001; CFI = .954, RMSEA = .049; SRMR = .056]. Model
3, however, was not a statistically signicant improvement over
Model 2 [2(2) = 1.43, n.s.] and its direct path from perceived job
control to perceived job strain ( = .08, n.s.) failed to achieve statistical signicance (see Fig. 2). The indirect path from perceived job
control to self-report instrumental feedback ( = .32, p b .05), and
the two direct paths from self-report instrumental feedback to perceived job strain ( = .30, p b .05) and perceived job demands to
perceived job strain ( = .51, p b .05) maintained their statistical signicance (see Fig. 2). These research ndings suggest that Model 2 t
the data better than Model 3 and, more importantly, are consistent
with full mediation (Hypothesis 2).
The robustness of this study's full mediation nding was examined against a theoretically relevant non-nested alternative mediation model. Social information processing theory (Salancik &
Pfeffer, 1978) contends that the characteristics of an employee's
job (e.g., perceptions of job control) are constructed from social information (e.g., process and outcome feedback) derived from their
wider occupational environment (e.g., supervisors and coworkers). According to Salancik and Pfeffer, socially-constructed
perceptions of one's job characteristics, as oppose to objective reality, shape employees' affective experiences. For example, public child
welfare case managers who repeatedly hear their colleagues complain that unit caseloads are too high and difcult, are predicted to
construe the demands of their job as overly taxing and strenuous, irrespective of their assigned caseload's actual size or level of
complexity.
To test this theory-based non-nested alternative hypothesis, the
casual ordering for perceived job control and self-report instrumental feedback present in Model 2 was reversed in Model 4. As shown
in Table 3, Model 2 possessed a smaller AIC value (AIC = 350.36)
than Model 4 (AIC = 395.02); thereby offering empirical evidence
that Model 2 t the data best. Lastly, a 5000 sample bootstrapping
test was performed. The bootstrapping test, as with the prior SEM
analyses, also yielded support for self-report instrumental
feedback's role as a mediating variable (95% bias-corrected condence interval = .053, .163). Overall, the patterning of empirical ndings for this particular sample of public child welfare case
managers is consistent with full mediation.

Public child welfare case managers practice in workplace environments universally characterized as extremely stressful. Organizational
and occupational health researchers, across multiple social science
disciplines, assert that attenuating the strain perceptions of employees
in demanding employment settings, like child welfare, requires control
over one's job (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Karasek, 1979). In line with
this idea, the JDC model's additive hypothesizes asserts that perceived
job demands and perceived job control concurrently impact perceptions
of job strain (Karasek & Theorell, 1990). Over three decades of crosssectional, longitudinal, and experimental studies, however, have uncovered mixed research ndings (Husser et al., 2010; Van der Doef &
Maes, 1999). This study sought to clarify inconsistent empirical results
by testing self-report instrumental feedback's intervening role on the
control-strain relationship under perceptions of high job demands.
In exploring this potential mediated relationship, the JDC model's
(Karasek, 1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) basic theoretical rationale
was extended to incorporate the concept of indeterminate human
service technologies (Hasenfeld, 1983, 2010) and prescriptions from
the literature on dynamic complexity (Osman, 2010). Karasek's
(1979) and Karasek & Theorell (1990) additive model proposes that,
in tandem, perceived job demands and perceived job control have a statistically signicant, but opposite, main effect relationship with perceived job strain. Study data uncovered support for this hypothesis
(Hypothesis 1). When self-report instrumental feedback was excluded
from the SEM additive model analysis, the direct paths from perceived
job demands to perceived job strain, and from perceived job control to
perceived job strain, produced statistically signicant main effects in
the expected direction (see Fig. 1).10
In contrast to Karasek (1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990), the human
services literature maintains that indeterminate technologies negate
perceived job control's strain buffering attributes (Hasenfeld, 1983,
2010). Further, the literature on complex and dynamic social environments contends that quality performance outcomes necessitate perceptions of control and ample goal-related information (Osman, 2010). In
accordance with these ideas, data from this study indicated that selfreport instrumental feedback fully mediated the relationship between
perceived job control and perceived job strain (Hypothesis 2; see
Fig. 2).11 When demands of the job are experienced as strenuous, perceived job control's strain inhibiting properties (i.e., facilitating the
learning of new knowledge, testing of new problem solving strategies,
and expansion or renement of existing job skills) appear wholly
reliant on the ability of public child welfare case managers to secure instrumental feedback from their larger occupational surroundings.
Although sparse, comparable scientic ndings can be found in the social work literature. Pousette et al. (2003) reported that the relationship
between perceived role ambiguity's (i.e., job-level uncertainty) and selfreport job satisfaction was mediated by the type of feedback (positive or
negative) human service workers received. Thus, as the rst known
empirical work to reveal a fully mediated controlstrain relationship
within Karasek's conceptual framework, this study's ndings contribute
to both the extant child welfare and JDC literatures.
More importantly, study data challenge a core pillar of the JDC
(Karasek, 1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) model. Karasek argued that
the existence of a multiplicative interaction term is not the primary
issue with respect to his model (1989, p. 143). He, instead, insisted
that the primary interactionin the [JDC model] is that two separate
sets of outcomes are jointly predicted by two different combinations of
job demands and decision latitude (Karasek, 1989, p. 143). JDC literature reviews have uniformly reported mixed empirical evidence for
Karasek's (1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) additive model on various
measures of physical and psychological strain (De Lange et al., 2003;
10
11

Bold beta coefcients are statistically signicant.


Bold beta coefcients are statistically signicant.

M.S. Preston / Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

37

Fig. 1. Additive effects model.

Husser et al., 2010; Van der Doef & Maes, 1999). This uneven body of
scientic evidence, has not prevented some occupational health psychologist from proclaiming that Karasek's (1979; Karasek & Theorell,
1990) additive hypothesis is no longer in doubt and that there is no
further need for cross-sectional examination of main effects (Husser
et al., 2010, p. 33). Empirical evidence from this study suggests that
within public child welfare's challenging occupational milieu, perceived
job control may possess an indirect, as opposed to a main effect, relationship with perceived job strain. Hence, when public child welfare
case managers judge their job as taxing, process and outcome
(i.e., instrumental) feedback, rather than skill discretion or decision
latitude, appear more central to advancing active learning.
This conclusion parallels ndings from social cognitive theory
(Bandura, 1986) and theories of self-regulated learning (Sitzmann &
Ely, 2011). Bandura (1997), for example, notes that learning does not

arise in a vacuum but results from feedback information that emerges


when individuals interact with their immediate social environment.
Study ndings also indirectly corroborate cross-sectional and experimental JDC research reporting contradictory individual-level outcomes
when control was perceived as nominal. For instance, in a crosssectional survey, Preston (2013b) found that when job demands were
perceived as high, public child welfare case managers who reported
lower amounts of job control and higher levels of instrumental feedback,
experienced greater internal work motivation than their colleagues who
reported higher amounts of job control and lower levels of instrumental
feedback.
Moreover, experimental studies by Jimmieson and Terry (1998a,
b;1999) uncovered positive individual-level outcomes under conditions
of low task control and high procedural information. When procedural
information was received prior to engaging in a demanding task

Fig. 2. Partial mediation model.

38

M.S. Preston / Children and Youth Services Review 54 (2015) 3040

activity, subjects assigned to the low task control condition reported


higher levels of task satisfaction than subjects assigned to the high
task control condition (Jimmieson & Terry, 1998b). Based on this and
similar experimental ndings (Jimmieson & Terry, 1998a,b; 1999) concluded that job control's affective effects may be contingent on[having] access to information concerning various features of the work
environment (p. 366). In combination with existing social science theory and JDC research, study data call into question the predictive validity and practice utility of Karasek's (1979) and Karasek & Theorell
(1990) seminal additive model for case managers practicing in public
child welfare agencies.
8. Implications
Given the aforementioned, study data offer implications for both JD
C research and public sector child welfare practice. As previously noted,
Hasenfeld (1983, 2010) argues that indeterminate technologies increase the amount of operational uncertainty public child welfare case
managers experience at work. Osman (2010) states that sustaining
high quality performance in complex and dynamic social settings
requires personal control and goal-related information. These ideas
are congruent with data from this study and, as such, may increase
the predictive validity of not only Karasek's (1979; Karasek & Theorell,
1990) additive model, but also his JDC interaction model. Support for
the latter argument can be found in a cross-sectional survey by
Houkes, Janssen, de Jonge, and Nijhuis (2001). Using a sample of
human service (i.e., teachers) and non-human service (i.e., bank staff)
employees, study data revealed a statistically signicant and positive
demandscontrol interaction on internal work motivation for bank employees (i.e., predictable and reliable industrial-like technologies), and a
null nding for teachers (i.e., indeterminate human service
technologies).
In regard to practice implications, study ndings offer insights for
improving the practice utility of the JDC (Karasek, 1979; Karasek &
Theorell, 1990) model in public child welfare agencies. Since instrumental feedback facilitates perceived job control's strain-reducing properties, public child welfare agencies should institutionalize formal
channels through which their case managers can obtain and learn
from process and outcome feedback (Jimmieson & Terry, 1999;
Preston, 2013a,b). Elected and appointed federal and state overseers
have increasingly stipulated that public child welfare agencies collect
performance outcome data (Poertner, 2009). The federal government,
for example, requires that public child welfare agencies store caselevel data on all children under their legal care or supervision (Pecora
et al., 2012). Disaggregating and analyzing this data at the ofce, district,
region, county, and state level can strengthen public child welfare case
managers' performance expectations by providing them with outcome
feedback on which types of service interventions or menu of interventions will (or have) produced the best client outcomes (Antle,
Christensen, Van Zyl, & Barbee, 2012).
Although outcome data are useful for learning whether or not mandated performance standards can be (or have been) attained, this type
of feedback information does not enlighten public child welfare case
managers with meaningful procedural knowledge on areas of practice
deciency or prociency (Courtney, Needell, & Wulczyn, 2004).
Without this type of process feedback, strengthening perceptions of
job competence is extremely difcult (Earley et al., 1990). Process
(and outcome) feedback is most useful when it is provided in a timely
manner from multiple, creditable, and reliable sources (Ilgen, Fisher, &
Taylor, 1979). Evidence-based practices that can supply public child
welfare case managers with this type of feedback information include
supervisory case stafngs (Barak, Dnika, Pyun, & Bin, 2009; Moyle,
1998); consultations with outside experts; and/or case conferences
that include relevant contracted social and human service providers,
oversight organizations, and family members (Crea & Berzin, 2009;
Pecora et al., 2012). Finally, the more specic the process feedback

received, the easier it is for public child welfare case managers to decipher which job skills, problem solving strategies, and knowledge gains
were (in)effective and why; what contextual factors led to concomitant
performance errors; and what types of corrective action are needed
(Goodman, Wood, & Hendrickx, 2004)
9. Limitations and future research
Limitations include this study's data collection method and the
omission of a core JDC construct. Cross-sectional survey data prevents
one from making denitive statements on the directionality of the
causal relationship between the main variables of interest (Hair et al.,
2006), while the ability to more fully test Karasek's (1979; Karasek &
Theorell, 1990) additive model was impeded by the omission of an active learning variable. Finally, the racial and gender composition of public child welfare case managers, and geographic homogeneity of their
host agencies, cautions against positing national and international
claims with respect to this study ndings. Future research should seek
to replicate these unique empirical results on other employee-related
outcomes of relevance to the eld of child welfare. Job satisfaction, for
example, has been identied as problematic in public child welfare
agencies (Barth et al., 2008). Because perceived control's attitudinal
effects are derived from environmental information (Skinner, 1995),
self-report instrumental feedback should also fully mediate perceived
job control's association with perceived job satisfaction.
10. Conclusion
The extant JDC literature has consistently produced mixed empirical results with respect to Karasek's additive hypothesis (De Lange et al.,
2003; Husser et al., 2010; Taris & Kompier, 2005a,b; Van der Doef &
Maes, 1999). This study addressed this issue by testing self-report
instrumental feedback's mediating role on the association between perceived job control and perceived job strain. In line with Karasek's additive model, perceived job demands produced a statistically signicant
positive main effect and perceived job control produced a statistically
signicant negative main effect on perceived job strain. However,
when self-report instrumental feedback was included as an intervening
variable, the direct path from perceived job control and perceived job
strain was no longer statistically signicant. Consequently, research
ndings advance both the child welfare and JDC literatures in two substantive ways. Data from this study call into question the predictive validity of Karasek's (1979; Karasek & Theorell, 1990) additive model by
demonstrating that self-report instrumental feedback, as opposed to
perceived control over one's job, may function as a more proximal
causal mechanism through which active learning mitigates the strain
perceptions of public child welfare case managers. Further, study data
indirectly suggest that integrating the concept of indeterminate technologies and evidence from the literature on complex and dynamic environments into Karasek's (1979; 1998; Karasek & Theorell, 1990)
theoretical logic may strengthen the additive model's practice utility
in public child welfare agencies.
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