Last in the satisfaction league, why do social workers stay?

The Rolling Stones could get no satisfaction. If the findings of
a recent survey on job happiness are anything to go by, social
workers feel the same.

The City and Guilds survey found that out of 30 professional
groups, social workers are the least satisfied. But is this a fair
reflection of how social workers view their profession?

None of the social workers of the 1,250 interviewed said they
found the job unfulfilling, or that they lacked autonomy or respect
from their seniors. But, stress, poor pay and feeling undervalued
are the main factors for feeling unhappy.

The professionals happiest in their jobs – hairdressers and care
assistants – enjoy plenty of interaction with clients. According to
Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social
Workers, the amount of time social workers spend with clients is
being squeezed.

“They feel they are not empowered to work creatively with people
and instead of championing rights are asked to be the gatekeepers
and managers of services,” he said.

Jo Moriarty, social work research fellow at King’s College
London, said the perception social workers have of their job is one
where there is increasing pressure from bureaucracy.

“People perceive there is more paperwork than in the past and an
increase in expectation on public servants,” she added. “People
tend to go into social work for the interaction with others, not to
just fill in forms. It is a waste of resources to just be doing
that and employers should reduce it.” But she said social workers
always scored high with job stress due to the nature of some of
their tasks.

She added that social workers’ basic training was not good
enough to help people cope with the demands and pressures. “Saying
it goes with the territory is OK if you’ve learned strategies to
cope, but not if you haven’t been taught them.”

It was also important for social work employers to identify
whether the dissatisfaction was down to the fundamentals of the job
or organisational issues, Moriarty concluded.

Ian Wilson, director of social services at Tower Hamlets
Council, said support from management was a key factor in staff job
happiness, and believed there was a link between that and social
services star ratings.
“I’m sure there are many social workers who don’t get sufficient
support from their organisation and it is not surprising they are

“The extent of good peer support and supervision, training and
promotion opportunities and restricted case loads will all have a
bearing on it,” he added.

Personal development specialist Stephanie Sparrow agreed it was
important for employees to get feedback from managers and have
regular appraisals. But she said it was important for the sector to
try and tackle the issue of too much paperwork. “Those who are
dissatisfied with their job have gone in with an idea of what the
job would be only to find out it is something else – dealing with
paper instead of people is the classic example.
“People get job satisfaction when they can see they are progressing
towards personal goals: if they are helping people they can see
that but if they can’t see that in doing paperwork then they are
not going to get it,” she said.

How do staff feel?

  • 2% are very happy at work.
  • 7% have a good social life at work.
  • 14% say they are adequately financially rewarded.
  • 29% sometimes think about changing careers.
  • 31% believe they have fulfilled their ambition.
  • 31% say they learn new things.
  • 36% feel respected at work.
  • 64% do not want to change their careers.
  • 74% do not regret their choice of career.

Source: City and Guilds

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