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J Fam Viol

DOI 10.1007/s10896-007-9103-1

Are Shelter Workers Burned Out?: An Examination

of Stress, Social Support, and Coping
Lisa M. Baker & Karen M. OBrien &
Nazish M. Salahuddin

# Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007

Abstract Job stress, perceived social support, coping selfefficacy, and coping strategies were studied as predictors of
emotional exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment among a sample of 123 female shelter workers.
Overall, these workers did not meet the collective criteria
for burnout as defined by Maslach and Jackson (1986) and
perceived social support and coping strategies did not
account for unique variance in the prediction of emotional
exhaustion and reduced personal accomplishment. Rather,
high levels of time pressure and low levels of self-efficacy
for being productive at work were identified as predictors
of emotional exhaustion. Personal accomplishment was
predicted by time pressure and robust levels of self-efficacy
for dealing with stressors at work.
Keywords Job stress . Social support . Coping . Burnout .
Self-efficacy . Shelter workers
Professional burnout is a syndrome that affects employees
in all occupations, but is especially prevalent among human

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 109th annual

convention of the American Psychological Association. This paper is
based on the Masters thesis of Lisa M. Baker and the undergraduate
honors thesis of Nazish Salahuddin, both completed under the
direction of Karen M. OBrien. Gratitude is extended to Christel
Nichols and to the crisis workers who participated in this study.
L. M. Baker (*)
Department of Psychology (116B),
VA New York Harbor Healthcare System,
800 Poly Place,
Brooklyn, NY 11209, USA
K. M. OBrien : N. M. Salahuddin
University of Maryland,
College Park, MD, USA

service workers (Farber 1983; Thornton 1992). An individual suffering from burnout may experience physical
exhaustion, fatigue, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, a negative attitude towards work, life, and other
people, insomnia, alcohol and drug abuse, marital and
family problems, and in the most extreme cases, even
suicide (Maslach and Jackson 1986; Moore and Cary 1996;
Naisberg-Fenning et al. 1991; Yaniv 1995). Organizational
effects include increased absenteeism, turnover, low morale, inefficiency, increased number of sick days taken,
more frequent tardiness, and early retirement (Farber 1983;
Maslach and Jackson 1986; Naisberg-Fennig et al. 1991;
Turnipseed 1988; Yaniv 1995). Because of the potentially
devastating effects of burnout on individuals and organizations, further research on how to predict, prevent, and
alleviate its effects is needed. Thus, the purpose of this
study was to investigate the presence (and potential
predictors) of burnout in a sample rarely studied, ethnically
diverse shelter workers in a large metropolitan area where
resources for clients are severely limited.
Burnout has been conceptualized as a form of psychological distress related to work that is composed of three
factors: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of low personal accomplishment (Maslach and Jackson
1986). Emotional exhaustion is operationalized as feeling
emotionally drained and depleted. Depersonalization refers
to feeling emotionally distant from ones clients, and low
personal accomplishment entails not meeting ones workrelated goals. Burnout often develops in response to chronic
occupational stress (Maslach and Jackson 1986), in particular when efforts at work yield outcomes that are
incongruent with the outcomes expected (Farber 1983).
Stress has been defined as a particular relationship
between the person and the environment that is appraised
by the person as taxing or exceeding his or her resources

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and endangering his or her well-being (Lazarus and

Folkman 1984, p. 19).
Numerous studies have examined burnout in mental
health workers of various fields (see Leiter and Harvie
1996). However, shelter workers and other crisis professionals have been somewhat neglected. Working closely
with women and children in crisis and hearing their stories
of repeated trauma on a daily basis can be stressful for
shelter workers (Baird and Jenkins 2003; McKenna 1986).
Shelter workers also experience stress stemming from a
lack of available resources or lack of support from the
surrounding community (McKenna 1986). Iliffe and Steed
(2000) described the effects of working with survivors to
include vicarious traumatization a term coined by
McCann and Pearman (1990) to reflect changes in the
way in which helpers see the world (e.g., viewing the world
as less safe) and experiencing some similar symptoms to
the victims (e.g., intrusive thoughts, nightmares). In a
recent study, Baird and Jenkins (2003) found trauma
counseling experience to be related to greater emotional
Brown and OBrien (1998) studied stress, social support,
coping, and burnout in battered womens shelter workers.
They found that shelter workers exhibited moderate
amounts of stress and exhibited work-related distress, but
did not meet Maslach and Jacksons (1986) definition of
burnout (i.e., high levels of emotional exhaustion and
depersonalization, and low feelings of personal accomplishment). They identified two important sources of stress
experienced by shelter workers: having too much work to
do and an inadequate amount of time to successfully
complete their work.
Social support has been found to both buffer and directly
relate to stress in predicting burnout levels in the workplace
(Newcomb 1990; Ross et al. 1989). In this study, social
support was defined as perceptions of assistance and
encouragement that are available from others at work.
Among shelter workers and crisis intervention personnel,
perceived social support has been related to the use of
adaptive coping strategies and to lower levels of burnout
(Boscarino et al. 2004; Brown and OBrien 1998; McRaith
and Brown 1991). Among psychologists and psychotherapists, social support was correlated with low levels of
burnout or unhealthy behaviors (Coster and Schwebel
1997; Kramen-Kahn and Hansen 1998; Mahoney 1997).
Similarly, a supportive work environment was related
negatively to burnout in crisis counselors providing mental
health services after the September 11 terrorist attacks
(Boscarino et al. 2004). Furthermore, supervisor and
coworker support are important sources of social support,
relating to lower levels of burnout in the workplace (Kruger
1997; McRaith and Brown 1991; Ross et al. 1989).

In addition to social support, specific coping strategies

have been found to relate to burnout among shelter workers
(Brown and OBrien 1998). Coping is defined as the efforts
an individual uses to manage stress (Lazarus and Folkman
1984). Among therapists treating incest victims, the coping
strategy of seeking instrumental social support (i.e., seeking
out others, especially those with similar experiences, for
assistance) related to enhanced feelings of personal accomplishment (McRaith and Brown 1991). Brown and OBrien
(1998) found that active coping, positive reinterpretation
and growth, and planning were related to low levels of burnout
in shelter workers. Greater or more frequent use of mental
disengagement was related to higher levels of emotional
exhaustion and depersonalization in shelter workers. Similarly,
researchers studying child abuse professionals found that
active coping strategies were positively related to low levels
of depersonalization and high levels of personal accomplishment (Anderson 2000). Those workers who used avoidant
coping strategies were emotionally exhausted and distanced
from their clients and also did not feel positive about their
work accomplishments.
Although coping has been predictive of components of
burnout, much variance remains unexplained. Confidence
in ones ability to cope with work-related stress (i.e., coping
self-efficacy) may contribute to understanding burnout
among shelter workers. Bandura (1992) suggested that
self-efficacy beliefs can motivate people to persist despite
obstacles and exert effort when dealing with stressors in
their environment. Leiter (1992) proposed that diminished
levels of professional self-efficacy would result in occupational burnout, and he called for studies that integrated
these two constructs. Studies also have found support for
relations among various domains of self-efficacy and
burnout (Evers et al. 2001; van den Heuvel et al. 2001).
The present study replicated and extended the previous
research of Brown and OBrien (1998) on stress, coping, and
burnout in a sample of battered womens shelter workers in
the Midwest region of the USA. First, we proposed that selfefficacy related to coping and being productive at work may
add to the prediction of components of burnout (i.e.,
emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, low personal
accomplishment) in shelter workers. Second, this study
examined the experiences of shelter workers in a large
ethnically diverse metropolitan area where resources for
shelter clients are severely limited. Third, the crisis employees of both the battered womens and homeless womens
shelters in this study worked with women experiencing a
range of stressors (i.e., history of trauma and violence,
extreme poverty, homelessness, and alcohol or drug abuse),
whereas Brown and OBrien studied employees who worked
with battered women who typically were not dealing with
this range of stressors. Finally, studies need to be replicated

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with ethnically diverse samples to increase generalizability,

and the present study extended previous research by
investigating the work-related experiences of mostly African
American women.

Materials and Methods

At those organizations where the researchers did not

attend staff meetings, the researchers identified an employee
to act as a liaison between the staff and the researchers. This
person distributed the surveys and collected the data in
sealed envelopes addressed to the researchers. Again, some
participants chose to return completed surveys via mail. All
participants were entered in a drawing for four $50.00 gift

One hundred and seventy-three shelter workers employed
in nine Washington, DC and Baltimore area womens crisis
shelters were invited to participate in this study and 128
completed the survey (a return rate of 74%). Forty-five
percent of the sample worked at the largest of the
participating shelters, while the eight smaller shelters each
contributed between 10 and 3% of the sample. The majority
of the sample was female (94%), with 4% male and 2%
unknown. The male participants were excluded, thus the
data from 123 participants remained in this sample. The
sample was predominantly African American (52%), with
37% Caucasian, 4% Hispanic, 2% Biracial, 3% other, and
2% who did not indicate their ethnicity. The participants
mean age was 36.97 (SD=9.48), and the average number of
months employed in shelters was 71 (SD=56.5).
All participants were workers who had direct contact
with the women and/or the children who seek shelter
services. Eighty-three percent of the participants worked at
shelters specifically addressing the needs of battered
women and their children, while 17% worked at homeless
womens shelters where a high percentage of the women
had experienced violence. Eighty-five percent of the
employees reported working full-time, while 14% indicated
that they were part-time employees (1% did not report their
employment status).
Ten executive directors of organizations working with
women in crisis were contacted to participate in this study,
and nine of the executive directors agreed to participate.
Directors at five of the nine participating shelter organizations, including the largest participating organization,
gave permission to have the researchers introduce the study
and distribute surveys during staff meetings. Seventy-nine
percent of the sample was comprised of participants from
these five organizations. At these meetings, the researchers
either waited while participants completed the questionnaires or returned to the organization to collect the packets
in approximately one week. Some participants from these
shelters chose to send completed questionnaires back via
postal mail.

Occupational Stress To measure occupational stress, several scales from the Job Stress Index (JSI: Smith and
Sandman 1988) were used. The measure consisted of 11
scales and a total of 82 items. Four subscales measuring a
particular type of occupational stress were chosen for this
study because Brown and OBrien (1998) found that they
were positively correlated with emotional exhaustion and
depersonalization among shelter workers.
The Red Tape subscale assessed stress related to
mandatory procedures and strict regulations on the job (e.
g., too many rules and regulations). The Physical
Demands and Danger scale measured stress related to
uncomfortable or harmful working conditions (e.g., dangerous working conditions). The Time Pressure scale was
defined as stress associated with inadequate amounts of
time to finish work or as having too much work to do (e.g.,
too little time to think and plan). The last scale, Lack of
Achievement, referred to stress connected with feeling that
the results of ones work are not seen and ones abilities are
not adequately used at work (e.g., no sense of accomplishment). Smith and Sandman (1988) reported alpha
coefficients of 0.82, 0.79, 0.89, and 0.68 for these
subscales, respectively.
Participants responded to each item by indicating the
degree to which they experienced each form of stress at
work including (N) No, it does not describe my job, (S)
Sometimes describes my job, or (Y) Yes, it describes my
job. In scoring the items, responses were coded N=1, S=2
and Y=3. Because of an error in constructing the survey for
this study, each of the four scales did not include one item
from the original JSI, such that the Red Tape scale
contained 7 instead of 8 items, the Physical Demands and
Danger scale included 8 of the 9 items, the Time Pressure
scale consisted of 12 of the 13 items, and the Lack of
Achievement scale contained 6 of the 7 items. To ensure
that each scale had the same weight and same range of
scores, scale scores were obtained by summing the items on
the scale and then dividing the scale sum by the number of
possible points for that scale and multiplying by 100. High
scores indicated high levels of stress.

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The JSI was used in other studies to measure stress among

crisis workers, contributing to its validity for use in this
study. For example, McRaith and Brown (1991) found that
scores on the JSI were related positively to burnout among
therapists of incest victims and negatively to social support.
Perceived Social Support Perceived social support was
measured using four subscales of the Social Provisions
Scale (SPS; Cutrona and Russell 1987). The instructions for
the survey were modified to ask participants to respond
based on their current relationships with coworkers and
supervisors. Additionally, each item was reworded such that
the word people was replaced with coworkers or
supervisors to ensure that the items inquired only about
work-related support.
The Reliable Alliance scale measured the knowledge
that one can count on others for tangible assistance (e.g., I
can depend on coworkers or supervisors to help me if I
really need it.). The Social Integration scale assessed a
feeling of being part of a group with shared interests (e.g.,
There are coworkers or supervisors who enjoy the same
social activities I do.). The Reassurance of Worth scale
measured a feeling that one is competent and valued (e.g.,
I have relationships with coworkers or supervisors where
my competence and skills are recognized.), and the
Guidance scale assessed the ability to obtain advice from
others (e.g., There is a trustworthy coworker/supervisor I
could turn to for advice if I were having problems).
Participants responded to four items on each subscale
using a scale ranging from (1) strongly disagree to (4)
strongly agree. Several items were reversed scored and then
items on each subscale were summed. Previous studies
reported alphas ranging from 0.65 to 0.76 for the subscales.
Predictive validity has been supported in that scores on
the Social Provisions Scale predicted burnout, well-being,
and/or self-efficacy in nurses, teachers, and counselors
(Constable and Russell 1987; Cutrona and Russell 1987;
Kruger 1997; McRaith and Brown 1991; Ross et al. 1989).
Coping self-efficacy Two instruments were used to measure
coping self-efficacy. The Generalized Self-Efficacy Scale
(Schwarzer and Jerusalem 1995) assessed belief in coping
abilities to deal with a wide range of stressors. Participants
were asked to indicate to what degree the ten items (each
reworded to include the phrase at work) reflected their
ability to cope with stressors or problems in their workplace
on the following scale: (1) not at all true, (2) hardly true, (3)
moderately true, and (4) exactly true. An example item is I
am confident that I could deal efficiently with unexpected
events at work. Scores on each item were summed to
obtain a total scale score, with high scores indicating
confidence in coping with work-related stressors.
Schwarzer (1993) reported an internal consistency reliabil-

ity estimate of 0.90. Previous research demonstrated

positive relations between this measure and psychological
adjustment for immigrants experiencing life transitions
(Jerusalem and Mittag 1995).
The second coping self-efficacy measure used was the
General Self-Efficacy subscale from the Sherer et al. (1982)
Self-Efficacy Scale that assesses general levels of confidence in ones ability to be successful in a variety of
situations. Participants responded to 17 items on a scale
from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree. Each item
was reworded by adding the phrase At work, to the
beginning of the sentence to assess the ability to be
productive in the workplace. An example item reads, At
work, when I have something unpleasant to do, I stick to it
until I finish it. Eleven items were reverse scored, and all
items were summed to obtain a total score. Sherer et al.
reported an internal consistency reliability estimate of 0.86
for this scale and noted this measure correlated in the
expected direction with locus of control and self-esteem.
Coping Strategies Coping strategies were measured using
two subscales of the Brief COPE (Carver 1997). The
Seeking Emotional and Instrumental Support subscale
assessed obtaining support from others (e.g., I get
emotional support from others.) and using resources to
get support or change ones situation (e.g., I get help and
advice from other people.). The Active Coping, Planning,
and Positive Reframing scale defined active coping as
making conscious efforts to deal with a stressful situation
(e.g., I take action to try to make the situation better.),
and planning referred to devising a strategy to cope with a
situation (e.g., I try to come up with a strategy about what
to do.). Finally, positive reframing referred to changing the
way one looks at a situation (e.g., I look for something
good in what is happening.).
Participants responded to each item on the Brief COPE
by indicating how often they usually use that particular
coping strategy. Participants circled (1) not used, (2) used
somewhat, (3) used quite a bit, or (4) used a great deal. Item
responses were summed within each factor to determine
how often the participant used each coping strategy. High
scores indicated frequent use of the particular strategy.
Burnout The three scales of the Maslach Burnout InventoryHuman Service Survey (MBI-HSS; Maslach and Jackson
1986) were used to assess burnout. The Emotional
Exhaustion scale contained nine items pertaining to fatigue
and emotional depletion (e.g., I feel like Im at the end of
my rope.). Maslach and Jackson (1986) reported an alpha
coefficient of 0.90 for this scale. The Depersonalization
scale was composed of five items that measure negative
reactions and distant feelings towards clients (e.g., Ive
become more callous toward people since I took this job.)

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and had an alpha coefficient of 0.79 (Maslach and Jackson

1986). Finally, the Personal Accomplishment scale contained
eight items that determine the degree to which a worker feels
work-related goals are being met (e.g., I have accomplished
many worthwhile things in this job.). Maslach and Jackson
indicated an alpha coefficient of 0.71 and the internal
consistency coefficient for this sample was 0.68.
Participants responded to each item by indicating how
often they experienced each of the 22 items on a 7-point
Likert scale ranging from (0) never to (6) everyday.
Responses on each scale were summed. To assess levels of
burnout, we used the normative scores provided by Maslach
and Jackson (1986) for social service workers: 28 or higher
on emotional exhaustion; 11 or higher on depersonalization;
and 29 or lower on personal accomplishment.
Demographic Survey The demographic questionnaire collected information regarding gender, age, race, employment
status, title/position, number of years working in this
shelter/organization and in similar settings, and average
number of hours interacting with women and/or children in
crisis per week. The final question on the survey asked how
the work environment could be improved to assist workers
in coping with job-related stressors.

Preliminary Analyses
The means, standard deviations, possible ranges, and
internal consistency reliability estimates were obtained for
all variables (see Table 1). The Depersonalization scale
(MBI-HSS; Maslach and Jackson 1986) was used for
descriptive purposes only due to the low reliability estimate
obtained with this sample. Correlations between the
variables are reported in Table 2.
A significance level of p0.01 was chosen for this study.
A multiple analysis of variance (MANOVA) revealed no
significant differences among participants regarding type of
shelter (battered womens vs. homeless womens), testing
procedure (meeting vs. no meeting), and part-time versus
full-time status on the variables. An examination of Pillais V
indicated differences among individuals of different ethnicities [F(56, 408)=1.78, p=0.001]. Post hoc comparisons
revealed small differences on only 4 of 14 variables (social
integration, guidance, time pressure, lack of achievement).
Thus, the sample was collapsed for further analysis.
Description of Sample
Shelter workers in this study reported experiencing stress
related to time pressure and dealing with red tape. Low

Table 1 Scale means, standard deviations, ranges, and internal

consistency estimates of the measured variables (N=123)



Occupational stress
Red tape



Physical demands and

Time pressure





Lack of achievement



Perceived social support

Reliable alliance



Social integration



Reassurance of selfworth















Coping self-efficacy
Generalized selfefficacy
General self-efficacy
Coping strategies
Emotional and
instrumental support
Active coping and
positive reframing
Emotional exhaustion














levels of stress were found regarding encountering uncomfortable or harmful work conditions, and feeling a lack of
achievement at work. Shelter workers had moderate levels
of self-efficacy for dealing with stressors at work. On
average, they received social support in the workplace and
often used active coping, planning, and positive thinking to
cope. They also regularly sought instrumental and
emotional support.
In terms of burnout, overall, this sample of workers was
low to moderately emotionally exhausted, reported low
levels of depersonalization, and exhibited high levels of
personal accomplishment. Using the Maslach and Jackson
(1986) operationalization of burnout for social service
workers, this sample, on average, exhibited lower emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, and higher personal
accomplishment than were required to meet the standards
of even average levels of burnout. However, some

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Table 2 Bivariate correlations for measured variables
Occupational stress
1. Red tape
2. Physical demands and danger
3. Time pressure
4. Lack of achievement
Perceived social support
5. Reliable alliance
6. Social integration
7. Reassurance of self-worth
8. Guidance
Coping self-efficacy
9. Generalized self-efficacy
10. General self-efficacy
Coping strategies
11. Emotional and instrumental
12. Active coping, planning and
positive reframing
Burnout variables
13. Emotional exhaustion
14. Personal accomplishment














































0.30* 0.30*

0.49* 0.29* 0.18

0.12 0.24* 0.15








0.27* 0.35* 0.17

0.34* 0.15 0.17


0.12 1.00
0.20 0.01 1.00


participants were experiencing work-related distress. Twenty percent of the participants suffered from levels of
emotional exhaustion high enough to meet standards of
high burnout, while 12.2% of the sample exhibited levels
of depersonalization severe enough to meet high burnout
requirements. In addition, 12.2% of the participants
experienced lack of personal accomplishment to the degree
low enough to meet the high burnout criteria. Finally, only
0.8% of the sample (i.e., one person), scored high enough
on emotional exhaustion and depersonalization while at the
same time scoring low enough on the personal accomplishment scale to be labeled highly burned out. Four percent
of this sample met the criteria for moderate levels of
burnout and 27.6% could be labeled as experiencing low
levels of burnout. The remainder (67.5%) did not qualify
for the overall label of burnout as defined by Maslach and
Jackson (1989).
Prediction of Emotional Exhaustion and Personal
Two stepwise multiple regression analyses were computed
to assess the proportion of variance accounted for by stress,
social support, coping self-efficacy and coping strategies in
the prediction of emotional exhaustion and personal
accomplishment (see Tables 3 and 4). In each equation,
the stress variables were entered first into in a block to
control for levels of stress experienced by the shelter

workers. Then in stepwise fashion, the social support,

coping self-efficacy, and finally coping strategies variables
were entered.
In the prediction of emotional exhaustion, both the
occupational stress variables, and self-efficacy for accomplishing tasks at work accounted for 36.3% of the variance.
Specifically, the stress variables collectively accounted for
29.2% of the variance. Self-efficacy for being productive at
Table 3 Summary of hierarchical stepwise regression analysis for
variables predicting emotional exhaustion (N=123)
Model 1a
Time pressure
Red tape
Lack of achievement
Physical demands and danger
Model 2b
Time pressure
Red tape
Lack of achievement
Physical demands and danger
General self-efficacy








R2 =0.292, F(4,118)=12.15, p<0.001 for Model 1; R2 =0.071,

F(1,117)=13.04, p<0.001 for Model 2
Variables entered
Variables from Model 1 and variable(s) retained

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Table 4 Summary of hierarchical stepwise regression analysis for
variables predicting personal accomplishment (N=123)
Model 1a
Time pressure
Red tape
Lack of achievement
Physical demands and danger
Model 2b
Time pressure
Red tape
Lack of achievement
Physical demands and danger
Generalized self-efficacy








R 2 = 0.98, F(4,118) = 3.22, p = 0.015 for Model 1; R2 = 0.136,

F(1,117)=20.81, p<0.001 for Model 2
Variables entered
Variables from Model 1 and variable(s) retained

work added an additional 7.1% of the variance over and

above the contributions of the stress variables. An examination of the beta weights indicated that time pressure and
self-efficacy for being productive at work were the two
significant contributors.
In the second equation, the stress variables (9.8%) and
self-efficacy for dealing with stressors at work (13.6%)
collectively accounted for over 23% of the variance in
personal accomplishment. When considering each subscale
independently, only time pressure and self-efficacy for
addressing stressors in the workplace emerged as significant predictors of personal accomplishment.
Suggestions for Occupational Improvements
The researchers analyzed the responses of the qualitative
data regarding suggestions for improving the work environment by independently reviewing all of the data and
devising categories for sorting the data. The researchers met
and decided on a list of categories by consensus. Independently, all three sorted the data into categories and then met
to discuss to consensus the placement of each suggestion.
Items were placed into categories when at least two of the
three researchers agreed on the placement of the item. In
most cases, there was complete consensus for the placement
of the items into categories.
Overall, 12% of the responses indicated that shelter
workers believed that improving the physical environment
and facilities of their workplace would assist them in
addressing the stressors at work. The next categories
receiving the greatest number of endorsements included
receiving additional training (10%), having more say in
policymaking and being given clearer guidelines, and

institutionalizing lunch breaks, break times, flex time and

mental health days (9%). Finally, several workers felt they
would benefit from access to mental health resources and
stress and related workshops (8%).

The results of this study suggested that this sample of
employees who work with women in crisis in the
Washington, DC and Baltimore areas were not burned out
as defined by Maslach and Jackson (1986). On average,
they exhibited moderate levels of emotional exhaustion,
low levels of depersonalization, and moderate levels of
personal accomplishment. These findings were similar to
the results of the study of shelter workers in the Midwestern
USA (Brown and OBrien 1998), in Texas (Baird and
Jenkins 2003), and in Israel (Dekel and Peled 2000).
Shelter workers may consistently fail to meet the criteria for
burnout because of their feelings of personal accomplishment related to their work helping women and children in
crisis. However, they do report some psychological distress
nonetheless. Interventions are needed to assist employees
who cannot be labeled burned out but are demonstrating
high levels of emotional exhaustion coupled with high levels
of depersonalization (even in the presence of strong feelings
of personal accomplishment) as the behaviors associated
with emotional exhaustion and depersonalization could be
problematic to the worker, clients, and organization.
One difference between the findings of the present study
versus the Brown and OBrien (1998) study was that the
workers in the present study displayed very low levels of
depersonalization; they not only experienced their work as
valuable and satisfying, but also felt connected to their
clients. Perhaps the shared struggle for access to limited
resources could create feelings of closeness between the
women in crisis and shelter workers. In addition, the shelter
workers in this study may have had considerable empathy
for the clients given their myriad concerns (e.g., poverty,
chemical addiction, mental illness) whereas most of the
clients in the Brown and OBrien study struggled mainly
with domestic violence and did not experience the poverty
and history of trauma often noted among the clients of the
workers in this sample.
Overall, as a group, the stress variables accounted for
variance in emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment. Specifically, stress associated with inadequate
amounts of time to finish work or as having too much
work to do contributed to the prediction of both emotional
exhaustion and personal accomplishment. Time pressure
may force workers to perform at a very fast pace and not
take breaks, which may cause workers to feel overwhelmed. Time pressure concerns also may be com-

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pounded by women and children whose lives are in danger.

Alternatively, given the correlational nature of the analyses,
workers who feel emotionally depleted may work slowly
and then feel increasing pressure to accomplish tasks in
very little time. Ironically, stress due to time pressure was
positively associated with feelings of personal accomplishment (although the magnitude of the relationship was
small). Perhaps accomplishing ones tasks at work under
much time pressure leads some employees to feel an
enhanced sense of accomplishment.
To help employees cope with time pressure, employers
might provide workshops that focus on time management
skills. Teaching employees how to best use their time might
minimize the stress of time pressure. Additionally, the
organization could promote the use of relaxation techniques
to ease stress and tension. These workshops could help
employees cope with emotional exhaustion as well as other
forms of stress they encounter on the job. Organizations
also might evaluate employees workload to determine if
additional staff members are needed to alleviate the time
pressure. Ideally, decreasing caseloads might assist shelter
workers in feeling less stress due to time pressure
associated with a robust number of clients.
Self-efficacy for being productive at work also was
predictive of emotional exhaustion. Workers with greater
self-efficacy beliefs in their ability to be productive,
including accomplishing difficult tasks at work, had low
levels of emotional exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion
would likely take a toll on workers ability to accomplish
myriad tasks at work. Moreover, emotional exhaustion may
be of concern to shelter workers who experienced vicarious
traumatization or trauma in their lives. Because the
directionality of the relation among these variables is
uncertain due to the correlational nature of the analyses, if
this finding is replicated, shelter workers may want to focus
on both building self-efficacy and reducing emotional
Self-efficacy for dealing with stressors at work (i.e.,
coping self-efficacy) was predictive of personal accomplishment. It is possible that handling stressors effectively
at work could lead to improved self-efficacy beliefs which
then, according to Banduras (1986) theory, might lead to
heightened performance on the job and resultant feelings of
pride and personal accomplishment. Conversely, those
individuals who feel that they are making a difference
through their work might have stronger beliefs in their
ability to address problems in a crisis setting. This finding
was consistent with the work of Evers et al. (2001) who
found that perceived self-efficacy for caring for elderly
patients was predictive of feelings of personal accomplishment in a sample of 551 staff working in homes for the
elderly. It is important to note that overall, our sample of
shelter workers had strong feelings of personal accomplish-

ment which might buffer the development of burnout.

Encouraging feelings of personal accomplishment, especially when dealing with the challenging work in battered
and homeless womens shelters, might be facilitated
through increasing the number of staff and providing
opportunities for staff to experience success in solving
problems and addressing the stressors associated with crisis
Surprisingly, the social support variables were not
predictive of emotional exhaustion and low personal
accomplishment. This finding was consistent with research
by Rafferty et al. (2001) who found that after controlling
for demographic and job characteristics, social support was
not predictive of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or
personal accomplishment with a sample of 164 human
service workers. In addition, Dekel and Peled (2000)
determined that burnout was not related to social support
in their investigation of 44 Israeli staff in battered womens
shelters. In our study, it is possible that restriction in range
in this variable (most workers indicated that they received
social support in the workplace and very little variance was
noted) attenuated the relations among variables. However,
if these findings were replicated, they may indicate that
social support at home (versus in the work setting) may
play a salient role in predicting components of burnout
among shelter workers.
Moreover, the coping strategies variables were not
predictive of emotional exhaustion or personal accomplishment. Methodological limitations (i.e., psychometric properties of the coping measure and shared variance with
coping self-efficacy) could explain the lack of findings. We
only included positive coping strategies in our analyses
which may account for the paucity of findings regarding the
contribution of coping strategies to predicting aspects of
burnout. Future research should include a psychometrically
sound instrument that can assess the entire range of coping
strategies used by shelter workers.
One limitation to this study was that several types of job
stress were not assessed. In working with women in crisis,
it is reasonable to expect that a significant amount of job
stress would result from interaction with the women. For
example, working with abused, poverty-stricken, or chemically addicted women undoubtedly takes a toll on workers
who are concerned about their clients well being. The
types of stress assessed in this study (i.e., red tape, time
pressure, physical demands, and lack of achievement) did
not account for the stressors stemming specifically from
working with women in crisis.
Another limitation of this study was that causality could
not be established because the study was correlational in
design. Thus, although some interesting relations surfaced,
the mechanism by which these variables were related was
not entirely clear. A challenge that future researchers face is

J Fam Viol

the use of structural equation modeling and longitudinal

experimental studies to clarify the direction of these
relations prior to the development of interventions. For
example, future researchers might use longitudinal designs
and structural equation modeling to examine the process by
which emotional exhaustion and self-efficacy relate and to
investigate any mediators and moderators of their relations
(e.g., vicarious traumatization, worker trauma history,
organizational culture, and severity of client trauma).
Moreover, the use of self-report questionnaires could
result in participants answering questions inaccurately or
altering the truth of their answers due to concerns about
social desirability. Although participants were assured that
their responses would be kept confidential, some may have
feared negative repercussions for providing certain answers
or indicating that they were doing their jobs poorly. A final
limitation to this study was that all participants volunteered
to participate in this study. It is possible that only those
employees that felt positive about their work and who were
not suffering from burnout chose to participate in this study.
To conclude, the results of this study indicated that many
of the shelter workers did not meet the criteria for burnout
although they experienced some emotional exhaustion.
Moreover, the workers rarely engaged in the depersonalization of their clients and often felt that they contributed to
others through their work efforts. Thus, certain aspects of
these workers behaviors, as well as certain elements of the
organizations, appear to be inhibiting emotional exhaustion
from escalating to higher levels and providing employees
with feelings of personal accomplishment. Future research
should identify the ways in which individuals and organizations working with women in crisis support healthy
functioning in the workplace. In addition, psychologists
should engage in research to devise realistic and effective
solutions to minimize job stress and develop confidence in
dealing with work-related challenges to maximize successful functioning among employees. Only through continued
research related to healthy functioning among these workers can we ensure that women in crisis receive the quality
of services they deserve and so desperately need.

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