Applying Equity Theory to Staff Working with Individuals with Intellectual

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Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, March 2009; 34(1): 55–66

LITERATURE REVIEW

Applying equity theory to staff working with individuals with intellectual disabilities*

PHILIP DISLEY1, CHRIS HATTON1 & DAVE DAGNAN2
1

Lancaster University, UK and 2West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven, Cumbria, UK

Abstract Background This paper provides an overview of the empirical research on equity theory amongst staff working in services for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID). Method Relevant articles were identified by using the PsycINFO computerised database and by conducting manual searches of reference lists. Results Six studies were identified and reviewed. Staff often report that they feel under-benefited in their work-based relationships. Associations were found between staff equity perceptions and staff outcomes such as burnout, absenteeism and intention to leave. Conclusion Previous research findings on staff outcomes are discussed within the context of equity theory. The implications of staff equity perceptions for ID services are discussed and possible directions for future research are forwarded. It is suggested that equity theory may have some utility as a theoretical starting point from which to develop a comprehensive theory to integrate various strands of research on staffing.

Keywords: staff, equity theory, intellectual disabilities

Introduction Staff in intellectual disability services The past two decades have seen an increase in research relating to staff in intellectual disability (ID) services. This can partly be attributed to the central role staff play in the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities, and the emerging view that ‘‘the experience, behaviours and attitudes of staff members are crucial determinants of the social ecology of residential environments and the quality of life of residents’’ (Ford & Honnor, 2000, p. 343). Research in this area has focused upon a variety of staff outcomes – defined as the affective and behavioural effects of the work environment on members of the workforce. Research on staff outcomes has investigated, for example, stress, burnout, job satisfaction, turnover, absenteeism, staff behaviour, and performance. Varying degrees of attention

have been paid to these areas, with staff performance receiving relatively little attention (for possible explanations for the paucity of research on staff performance see Hatton, Rose, & Rose, 2004). Research on staff outcomes in ID services has generally followed three avenues of investigation. Firstly, research has investigated the level of occurrence of specific staff outcomes. Staff, for example, have often been found to report high levels of stress (e.g., Hatton, Rivers, Emerson, et al., 1999), low to moderate levels of burnout (e.g., Alexander & Hegarty, 2000; Mascha, 2007) and moderate to high levels of job satisfaction (e.g., Balcazar, MacKay-Murphy, Keys, Henry, & Bryant, 1998; Hatton & Emerson, 1993). High levels of turnover (e.g., Test, Flowers, Hewitt, & Solow, 2003) and low levels of interaction with service users (e.g., Cullen, Barton, Watts, & Thomas, 1983) have also often been found amongst staff.

*This manuscript was accepted under the Editorship of Roger J. Stancliffe. Correspondence: Philip Disley, Institute for Health Research, Alexandra Square, Lancaster University, Lancashire, LA1 4YT, UK. E-mail: p.disley@lancaster.ac.uk ISSN 1366-8250 print/ISSN 1469-9532 online ª 2009 Australasian Society for the Study of Intellectual Disability Inc. DOI: 10.1080/13668250802684701

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P. Disley et al. had varying degrees of success in explaining specific staff outcomes within ID services. The theories used, however, tend to be applicable to only individual outcomes or a narrow range of outcomes. Little attempt has been made to integrate the various strands of staff outcome research (Hatton et al., 2004). Within the mainstream literature, a number of established theoretical...
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