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How do employers react to social workers with second jobs?

Social workers looking to make ends meet are being increasingly tempted to take on extra work. How should their main employers react? Louise Tickle reports

Social workers looking to make ends meet are being increasingly tempted to take on extra work. How should their main employers react? Louise Tickle reports

In a survey published by Community Care in partnership with the College of Social Work this week, eight out of 10 social care staff said they had seen their salary either stay the same or fall. A quarter said they had taken on second jobs, and over half of those said they had no choice; the salary from their main employment simply wasn’t enough to cover the bills. One in 12 were moonlighting specifically to build up a buffer against redundancy.

Taking on a second job can have implications for a worker’s health and, by extension, the services they are able to provide. “We don’t want people to be too tired to do their job,” says Marcia Lawrence-Russell, head of the British Association of Social Workers’ advice and representation service. “It potentially increases the risk to clients.”

There is almost always a clause in their contract of employment that obliges social care staff to ask their employer’s permission before taking on paid work outside their main job. Bosses can choose to turn down a social worker’s request to take on another paid role, says Andy O’Beirne, a senior child protection social worker and spokesperson for the College of Social Work, because “there would be a worry, and rightly so, from managers that you’re going to struggle to perform”.

If an employer discovered that a social worker was moonlighting without permission, they would be within their rights not only to sack the employee for gross misconduct but to refer them to a regulator such as the General Social Care Council in England.

The GSCC looks at each case on its merits, and it seems that decisions on whether or not to impose sanctions can vary. Last August, a social worker who took a four-day-a-week job on top of her full-time role without informing either employer was cautioned. The month before, another social worker who had been discovered doing two full-time jobs without permission was judged not to have displayed “blatant dishonesty” and was cleared of misconduct.

In the latter case, the social worker admitted that she should have reported her second job, but said her colleagues had also been working elsewhere and claimed it was not unusual for such arrangements to be dealt with informally. Over three-quarters of social workers who have a second job clear it first with their main employer, according to our survey, but 16% keep their moonlighting secret.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of any individual social worker’s situation, however, O’Beirne says that “government and employers need to recognise that if this trend continues, there will be an impact on the service provided to vulnerable people”. Many social workers feel that having a second job can affect their ability to perform well in their main role: nearly half of the respondents to our survey said they felt it occasionally impacted on their effectiveness, with one in 20 saying this was a regular problem.

However, there can be benefits to taking on a second job, says Sara Rawstron, a consultant in employee well-being who spent six years leading the work-related stress team for a large local authority. “Doing something that’s in sharp contrast to your main job is likely to alleviate stress levels,” she says. “That could be something fun and social like working in a bar or a restaurant, for instance. If it’s less demanding, or differently demanding, that will help.”

Anyone taking on extra paid work on top of a demanding main job should devote some time to developing a personal coping strategy, she adds. When people work long hours in stressful and highly responsible jobs, it’s vital to think not just about time management but also how to manage and maximise energy levels. “That can be about taking a break or going for a walk when you need one rather than waiting till a timetabled lunch break,” Rawstron says.

Eating well and exercise are also crucial, even if you think you don’t have time. “If you put your own health and well-being at the centre of your life, see how that changes how you prioritise things,” she advises. “All this is about building resilience, which is your ability to keep going in adverse circumstances.”

Given that people are clearly under increasing pressure to make the household budget stretch with salaries that are only going down, not up, is there a point at which you simply have to stop? “Stress is a very personal thing,” Rawstron says. “The time to stop is when you’re worrying that you are unable to cope, and that’s unique to each individual. You need to notice the worrying signs; that you’re irritable or easily upset more often, having panic attacks, having difficulty in relaxing, making poor decisions or experiencing changes in weight.

“Everybody needs a stress management plan, and instead what people do is to push on and on and on.”

The rules on second jobs

Social workers will almost always have a contractual duty to ask for permission from their employer before taking on a second job. Though the General Social Care Council’s and similar codes of practice for social workers do not specifically refer to second jobs, there is typically a requirement for social workers to be open and honest, and to declare any conflicts of interest that might mean they could not fulfil their responsibilities to their clients.

‘Money got tight – I had to go to a charity for help’

Marilyn Perring is a full-time social worker with four years’ post-qualifying experience. She works an extra shift in out-of-hours social work. She’s married and has a 10-year-old son

“I do one extra shift a week on average, with the Kent and Medway out-of-hours service. My husband was made redundant just over two years ago, and then due to ill health was unable to work. Recently he’s been working as an agency social care worker to fit in with my son’s school and holidays, which is important because I’m full-time, so I can’t. But it means we never know from week to week how much he’s going to earn. We’ve also had a lot of upheaval during the last four years, and money got so tight at one point I had to apply to a charity for financial help.

“There’s a lot of pressure on me to bring in enough to keep our household going, and though I’m going into my fifth year as a qualified social worker, I don’t earn a lot more than someone who’s newly qualified.

“I do an out- of-hours shift almost every weekend, usually either 5pm-1am on Friday evening, so starting straight after my main job. Or it might be 2pm-10pm on a Saturday, or Sunday 10am-6pm. It does inevitably eat into family time and I do get tired, but the money I earn is essential, not a luxury. If I work till the early hours on a Friday, I may miss most of Saturday morning because I need to sleep. The irony is that I work with children, but because of financial pressures and having to do extra work, finding the time, energy and money to do activities with my own child can sometimes be a bit of a problem.

“When I started doing a second job I did let my line manager know, but I don’t have to let her know every time I do a shift. It is monitored by the out-of-hours team, and while I couldn’t work every night, once or twice a week is seen as acceptable. I anticipate that I’ll have to do extra hours for some time to come. I will soon be changing my job, and I will in all probability be working longer hours, and I think that this will inevitably have an even greater impact on my energy and stress levels, and on our family.”

Community Care 13 October 2011, headline: ‘Don’t blame it on the moonlight’

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