Social services staff are stressed-out perfectionists, according
to a survey. It says 70 per cent of social services workers have
“A-type psychological profiles”, meaning they are rushed,
impatient, fast-moving, time-conscious and deadline oriented.
That puts them in the top 10 of careers dominated by A-type
employees, along with community nurses and office equipment
salesmen. Worryingly, A-types are prone to illness, psychological
damage and even heart attacks.
But do A-types choose to work in social services, or does the
pace of work in social services departments turn people who are
relaxed B-types into anxious A-types? The survey, by insurance
company Isle of Man Assurance, is unclear on this front.
Dr Noelle Robertson, a senior lecturer in clinical psychology at
Leicester University, says it would be interesting to compare the
stress levels of those who have been in the profession for 20 years
with those who have recently joined.
She suggests that the changing nature of social services
provision has led to uncertainty among longer-serving employees.
People who were originally attracted to the face-to-face caring
side of the profession now find themselves bogged down by paperwork
as market forces and corporate business models take over social
“Their level of job satisfaction decreases as they are not doing
what they used to do,” Robertson says.
Ben Willmott, employee relations adviser at the Chartered Institute
of Personnel Development, reports an increase in stress-related
absence in all public sector jobs, but especially in social
According to CIPD research, an excessive workload is the most
cited cause for stress at work, but the pace of change – change
that employees have little say over – is another factor. Giving
workers more autonomy and control over their activities reduces
stress and increases job satisfaction, Willmott says.
But do social services have to breed unhealthy A-types? “A lot
of it is down to basic good management,” says Willmott. Robertson
agrees: “Workers must be made to feel valued and their
contributions must be recognised. After all, it does not make
economic sense to have an office full of stressed staff.”
Support mechanisms must be in place to provide counselling and
refer workers to occupational health, who should be taught time
management and relaxation techniques. Management needs to be
trained to recognise symptoms of stress and find out the underlying
The recruitment process should help ensure the right “types” are
employed. Willmott advocates psychologically testing applicants
before they begin a career in social services. “But you will always
have individuals who fall through the net,” he admits.
THE A-TYPE TEST
- A perfectionist?
- Always in a hurry to
- Make sure you’re not late for appointments?
- Always trying to do more than one thing at a time?
- Quick to challenge?
- Highly competitive?
- Interrupt conversations or finish other people’s
- Regularly take work home?
- Have few interests outside work?
- Delay going home?
- Never feel entirely satisfied with work or your home
If you answered “yes” to seven or more of the above questions, you
have an A-type personality.