Summer 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 2 // Feature Articles // 2FEA5

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Job Satisfaction in Extension

This study of agents in the Western region was designed to examine the relationship between coping strategies Extension agents use in their work to deal with stressful work-related situations and job satisfaction. The instrument used for this study obtained responses from agents about job satisfaction, attitudes toward the organization, and coping strategies. This study demonstrated an interdependency among the three segments of job satisfaction identified in the model.

Kathleen Riggs
Extension Home Economist
Utah State University- Nelphi
Email address:

Karen M. Beus
WordPerfect Cooperation
Orem, Utah.

Although much has been written about coping with stress, little is known about what kinds of strategies are most effective in reducing it. Some research has focused on the use of coping strategies in the workplace to help employees deal with the stressors associated with their work.1 Within Cooperative Extension, some attention has been given to the use of coping strategies as a means of reducing or better managing the stresses associated with the profession to reduce low job performance,2 job turnover,3 and job burnout.4 This study of agents in the Western region was designed to examine the relationship between coping strategies Extension agents use in their work to deal with stressful work-related situations and job satisfaction.5

Survey of Agents

A systematic random sample of 301 Extension agents with county assignments were surveyed in the Western region. States represented in the sample were Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Mailed questionnaires were completed and returned by 214 agents (71%). One follow-up request for returning surveys was made.

The questionnaire included eight demographic questions. Responses to these questions indicated that 46% of the agents were male. Seventy-two percent of the agents had a master's degree and 24% a bachelor's degree. More than three-fourths of the agents (78%) were married either for the first time or after having been divorced, 10% were single, never-married agents, and 12% were currently divorcing, widowed, or co-habitating. More than 40% of the respondents reported having no children presently living at home, another 38% had 1-2 children living at home, and 19.5% had 3 or more children at home.

Of the respondents, 34% had one area of Extension program responsibility. Another 32% had two principal areas of responsibility, and 34% had three or more areas. Areas of responsibility were defined as 4-H/youth at risk, home economics, agriculture, community resource development, EFNEP, and other. Thirty percent of the agents had worked for CES for five to 10 years, 36% 11 to 20 years, and 17% for 21 to 30 years. Just 17% had less than five years' experience. The age of the agents ranged from 26-69 years old, with a mean of 43 years.

Measuring Satisfaction and Coping Strategies

The instrument used for this study obtained responses from agents about job satisfaction, attitudes toward the organization, and coping strategies. Throughout the questionnaire, agents were asked to mark responses ranging from 1 to 5 based on how strongly they agreed with sets of statements. A score of 1 indicated "strongly disagree" and 5 "strongly agree." A separate section was used to accumulate personal information about the agents.

Agents rated their satisfaction with the job itself, present salary, fringe benefits, amount of authority to run programs, administrative supervisors, and level of challenge and opportunity for growth provided by the job. "Overall job satisfaction" was the average score of the means for all six components. They also rated their satisfaction with Extension and their colleagues.

Questions relating to five coping strategies identified by McCubbin, Olson, and Larsen were adapted from the F-COPES (Family Crisis Oriented Personal Evaluation Scales) for use in this study.6 The coping strategies were defined as follows:

  • Acquiring social support-actively engaging in acquiring support from relatives, friends, neighbors, and extended family.
  • Reframing-redefinition of stressful events at work to make them more manageable.
  • Seeking spiritual support-the ability to acquire spiritual support from religious or other sources.
  • Mobilizing individual to acquire and accept help-seeking out resources beyond oneself and accepting help from others at work and in the community.
  • Passive appraisal-accepting and minimizing reaction to problematic issues.

Reliability and validity tests for each section of the questionnaire were computed using appropriate statistical methods. The reliability scores ranged from alpha=0.70 to alpha=0.86.

Findings and Results

The questionnaire responses were analyzed statistically to assess job satisfaction, attitudes of agents toward CES colleagues and CES as an organization, and their relationship to demographic factors and coping strategies. Mean scores were calculated for each of the five coping strategies by averaging scores from the corresponding questions on how the individual dealt with difficult situations on the job. Mean scores were similarly computed for overall job satisfaction, agent attitudes toward CES colleagues, and CES as an organization.

Findings indicated agents most often used reframing and passive appraisal to cope with stressful situations. Agents' overall satisfaction with their job, colleagues, and CES was moderately high, but more agents were satisfied with their colleagues and with CES as an organization than with the overall job itself.

Correlations and probability scores were computed to determine the strength of the relationship between the five coping strategies and three job satisfaction indicators: overall job satisfaction, attitude toward CES, and attitude toward CES colleagues. A low, positive relationship was found between certain coping strategies and job satisfaction measures. Reframing was significantly correlated (p<.03) with how satisfied agents were with all three job satisfaction indicators: overall job satisfaction (r=.24), attitudes toward CES (r=.16), and CES colleagues (r=.15). Other correlations indicated that those agents who use colleagues and other resources aside from family and themselves to cope with job-related problems (mobilizing individual) were more satisfied with CES as an organization (r=.15). Accepting stressful situations as part of the job (passive appraisal) was also correlated with satisfaction with colleagues (r=.16).

Agents' overall job satisfaction was moderately correlated with attitudes toward CES as an organization (r=.56) and attitudes toward CES colleagues (r=.47) at the p=.0001 level. A multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was then used to assess the relationships among demographic factors and coping strategies and their effect on overall job satisfaction, attitudes toward CES, and attitudes toward CES colleagues. Demographic factors were used as independent variables (main effects) in the model, the five coping strategies means as covariates, and the three job satisfaction indicator means as response variables.

The multivariate analysis indicated that the interaction between gender and responsibility was a significant factor (p=.0038) in determining job satisfaction. The interaction of responsibility and number of children at home was also significant (p=.0268), as was the covariate reframing (p=.0016). The covariate, mobilizing individual, was marginally significant.

When considering overall job satisfaction alone, as the number of areas of responsibility increased, job satisfaction among female agents increased while the satisfaction among male agents decreased. Also, male job satisfaction was influenced by reframing slightly more than was female job satisfaction. A similar relationship was observed when considering attitudes toward CES colleagues alone. In this case, however, the male agents with more areas of responsibility were more satisfied with their colleagues than were the female agents.

Considering attitudes toward CES as an organization, a relationship was observed between the number of areas of responsibility and the number of children at home. Agents with fewer areas of responsibility and fewer children living at home were more satisfied with CES, although the margin of increased satisfaction was very slight. Figure 1 includes those factors determined to influence job satisfaction of agents.

Figure 1. Most significant factors influencing job satisfaction.

Conclusions and Recommendations

For the agents surveyed in this study, reframing was the most-used strategy for coping with stress and was also significantly related to both their satisfaction with job opportunities and challenges as well as to overall job satisfaction. Evidently, agents are able to enjoy their work more when they exercise their ability to take a look at a stressful situation and reprogram their initial response to the stress as being less than critical.

Agents who are unable to adapt or reframe may find it difficult to work for organizations like CES. This suggests the need to identify agents with low job satisfaction and provide training in reframing and other coping strategies to deal effectively with changes and general stressors associated with their job.

This study demonstrated an interdependency among the three segments of job satisfaction identified in the model. Agents who report having high job satisfaction are satisfied with the six components of overall job satisfaction (job itself, salary, fringe benefits, authority to run programs, supervisors, and opportunity for growth), CES as an organization, and CES colleagues. Agents must realize the important role various factors play in determining their job satisfaction and understand that a weak link in any one can increase stress and reduce job satisfaction.


1. Leonard I. Pearlin and Carmi Schooler, "The Structure of Coping," Journal of Health and Social Behavior, XIX (No. 19, 1978), 2-21 and Susan Folkman and others, "Dynamics of a Stressful Encounter: Cognitive Appraisal, Coping, and Encounter Outcomes," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, L (No. 5, 1986), 992-1003.

2. Darla Botkin, Patty Rai Smith, and Sam Quick, "Toward Peak Performance," Journal of Extension, XXV (Fall 1987), 6-9.

3. Robert J. Fetsch, Robert Flashman, and David Jeffiers, "Up Tight Ain't Right: Easing the Pressure on County Agents," Journal of Extension, XXII (May/June 1984), 23-28.

4. O. Chris Igodan and L. H. Newcomb, "Are You Experiencing Burnout?" Journal of Extension, XXIV (Spring 1986), 4-7.

5. Kathleen Riggs, "Factors Influencing the Job Satisfaction of Cooperative Extension Agents Utilizing Coping Strategies as a Mediating Variable" (Master's thesis, Department of Family Science, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1991).

6. Susan Folkman and Richard S. Lazarus, "An Analysis of Coping in a Middle-Aged Community Sample," Journal of Health and Social Behavior, XXI (December 1980), 219-39 and Hamilton I. McCubbin, David H. Olson, and Andrea S. Larsen, "F-COPES Family Crisis Oriented Personal Evaluation Scales," in Family Assessment Inventories for Research and Practice (Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Family Stress, Coping and Health Project, 1981).

Figure 1. Most significant factors influencing job satisfaction.