Key factors motivating social workers professionally

A survey in 2009 analysed the key motivational factors for the professional activities of social workers from different types of organisation. The findings revealed that a solid team of fellow workers and good relationships at work are the main professional motivating factors for social workers. Inadequate wages, poor social security, stress at work and lack of opportunities to improve qualifications were identified as the main factors for job dissatisfaction.

About the survey

In 2009, researchers from the Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) in Vilnius carried out a survey (in Lithuanian) which sought to identify the key factors motivating social workers in their professional activities in different types of institutions delivering social services in Lithuania. The survey also examined issues such as opportunities for social workers to improve their qualifications and the impact of the atmosphere in the workplace on professional motivation.

The main method used by the survey was a written standardised questionnaire. Simple random sampling was used to select respondents from several non-governmental organisations (NGOs), public institutions (PIs) (that is, state-controlled institutions) and budgetary institutions (BIs) (that is, state-funded institutions) in Vilnius.

The survey, which was carried out during autumn 2009, covered a total of 96 social workers: 47 from NGOs/PIs and 49 from BIs.

Main findings

Motivational factors

The primary focus of the survey was to identify the key motivating and de-motivating factors influencing the professional activities of social workers. A solid team of fellow workers and good relationships at work were found to be the main motivational factor (Figure 1). This factor was identified as the most important by 70.2% of social workers from NGOs/PIs and by 57.1% of BI workers. A significant proportion of social workers were motivated by the chance to use their skills at work; this factor was mentioned by 63.8% of social workers from NGOs/PIs and by 34.7% of BI workers. Wages and career opportunities were seen as the least motivating factors, both by NGO/PI and BI workers (6.4% and 2.0%; 2.1% and 0% respectively).

Figure 1: Motivating factors for social workers (%)

Figure 1: Motivating factors for social workers (%)

Notes: More than one answer possible

Source: Šinkūnienė and Katkonienė (2010)

NGO/PI social workers were found to be more motivated at work than BI social workers despite the latter receiving higher wages (Table 1).

Table 1: Distribution of respondents, by monthly wage (%)

LTL 500–1,000

LTL 1,001–1,500

LTL 1,501–2,000

LTL 2,001 and more










Note: 1 LTL = €0.289 (as of 16 December 2011)

Relationship with management

The relationship of workers with their managers is one of the key factors in building a positive and productive environment in the workplace. The survey therefore paid particular attention to the behaviour and attitudes of management towards employees.

Non-government employees had a more favourable assessment of management behaviour than those from the budgetary sector. A bigger portion of NGO/PI respondents pointed out that their bosses gave them more responsibilities for job tasks (61.7%), utilised their professional skills (59.6%), kept them informed about management plans (51.1%) and created a pleasant working environment (42.6%) (Figure 2). The share of BI employees who mentioned the same behavioural traits by their bosses was some 2–3 times lower. Likewise, the proportion of respondents mentioning constant supervision by their manager and strict insistance on operational procedures and rules was nearly three times bigger in this group.

Figure 2: Social workers’ assessment of management attitudes to them (%)

The two groups of respondents also had different views of management reaction to proposals from employees about how their activities might be improved. More than 90% of social workers from NGOs/PIs indicated that the management ‘frequently’ (44.7%) or ‘sometimes’ (51.1%) took employees’ proposals into account. However, as few as 14.3% BI employees indicated that the management ‘frequently’ took their proposals into account; 75.5% of the employees said it was ‘sometimes’ and 10.2% answered ‘never’.

Factors reducing motivation

The respondents were also asked to assess factors that might reduce their motivation to work. Low pay was identified as the main cause of job dissatisfaction for both NGO/PI and BI workers, although low wages were mentioned more frequently as a problem by BI workers (44.9%) than by NGO/PI workers (31.9%) even though the average salaries of BI workers are higher. Lack of social security was the second most important concern for NGO/PI workers (17%), while BI workers were more concerned with inadequate bonus schemes (24.5%). This was followed by difficult and stressful work for both groups (14.9% of NGO/PI workers and 20.4% of BI workers) (Figure 3). Poor career opportunities also seem to reduce social workers’ motivation. However, few workers from either group had problems with working conditions and the atmosphere at work.

Figure 3: Factors that reduce social workers’ motivation to work (%)

Figure 3: Factors that reduce social workers’ motivation to work (%)

Note: More than one answer possible

Source: Šinkūnienė and Katkonienė (2010)


Šinkūnienė, J.R. and Katkonienė, A. (2010), Socialinių darbuotojų profesinės veiklos motyvacijos veiksniai [English abstract] [Motivational factors in the professional activity of social workers], Socialinis Darbas, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2010, pp. 64–73.

Rasa Zabarauskaite, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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