Call for action on work-life balance after survey reveals the pressure social work places on practitioners’ home lives

Unison and Community Care reveal the full results of the Social Work Watch survey, which offers a snapshot of a typical day in the life of social workers

Unison is calling on employers to do more to help social workers cope with the impact the job has on their home life after research conducted by the union and Community Care revealed the toll the job is having on social workers’ personal lives.

The Social Work Watch report provides a snapshot of the life of 1,140 social workers on 29 April this year. The findings suggest a profession overloaded with cases and often finding their home life under pressure from the stress and emotional strain of the work.

The report found that the average social worker had eight more cases than their formal limit and that 54% were unable to take any break during their working day.

Social workers also revealed how the pressures of the job were impacting on their personal lives. “I cried for an hour when I got home because I felt overwhelmed with safeguarding cases,” said one.

Another said: “I feel the need to talk about these things but many of my friends can’t handle the emotional impact and therefore I feel like they can’t handle me.”

Some 42% said they left work with serious concerns about at least one of their cases on 29 April, with a lack of time to finish all the paperwork they had to do being citied by 70% of them as the cause of their concerns.

“I have 79 people on my caseload,” said one social worker. “I am spread too thinly and kept awake at night because I do not have enough time to spend on non-urgent but necessary time-consuming tasks”

In light of the findings Unison said employers need to introduce work-life balance measures to ease the toll that social work places on practitioners’ personal and family life.

The report also found that 61% felt their ability to help service users was being undermined by budget cuts.

Helga Pile, national officer for social workers at Unison, said: “We see a lot of crocodile tears from this government over the plight of children in care, or in need of protection, and over the growing number of elderly needing support.

“Social work staff are crucial to delivering that care and protection. They are often the only people who can stop vulnerable adults and children suffering mental and physical harm, crisis and despair. Yet they are being hampered on a daily basis by cuts from this very same government.”

Social workers also told the survey how they had made a positive difference to the lives of the people they work with on 29 April from helping a student with learning disabilities get residential college funding to rescuing the belongings of a young person, which were put in a pawn shop by a family member.

Other highlights of social workers’ day included:

“Hearing the child tell me how much better his life is compared to four months ago.”

“Calling a young person to sing happy birthday to him [which] showed him that someone cares.”

“Helping someone to be allowed to die at home how they want to.”

Pile said: “We see workers struggling against the odds, but also making an incredible difference to the quality of many people’s lives.”

Alongside calling for employers to do more to help social workers with work-life balance, Unison is urging the government to make it a statutory requirement for employers to have effective workload management systems as only 29% of those surveyed said there were such systems in their workplace.

Unison is also pressing for social work services to regularly publish data on their average caseloads and for the government to do more to promote the value of social work to the wider public.

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4 Responses to Call for action on work-life balance after survey reveals the pressure social work places on practitioners’ home lives

  1. Pam Smith June 17, 2014 at 7:00 am #

    Unison were well aware of Work life Balance for some time, as far back as the Liverpool Social Workers strike ten years ago, They (as most other social workers around the country) were struggling with bullying and heavily overworked, with very little work life balance the strike was biting. However the Labour Party intervened and the regional secretary Frank Hont was ordered to instruct us back to work , therefore putting the Labour Party before the workers. The bullying continued but many social workers resigned some were disposed of by managers! This is not a new phenomen but as more and more Local Authorities are struggling it has again reared it’s head.

  2. Joe Bradford June 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    On top of all the work load demands and unrealistic expectations they want us to give up the little bit of personal time we have to do a portfolio – I can barely make time to attend training let alone take 3 days out from my cases – something’s got to give!

  3. Reah K June 19, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I’m sorry but even the work management scoring system is a farce. You could have 30 cases (30 children) but be on what the employer assesses as being a ‘sustainable’ level if working. Why does an unborn child carry equal, if not more difficult level of working but still be noted to be a small score on the work management scale?! It’s ridiculous. It’s a way of employer making you do the work of 2/3 social workers whilst they pay you for only the job of one social worker.
    It’s like slavery, but we get the occasional pat on the back and a thumbs up to say “what a great job” we’re doing and “what a difference” we are making to others.
    To the employer: Please don’t try to patronise us. Sure we make a difference to a few families but highlighting the few to keep us going is wrong. We have the capacity in us to help a lot of families. Only problem is we are not appropriately supported to help them. Therefore instead of feeling like we have actually achieved something even for the few we manage to help, the overwhelming majority that are left unsupported is what makes us physically and emotionally ill as we desperately struggle to try to give them the same positive outcomes. Sorry for the rant. I suppose I feel like t he system is using us like donkeys, overloading us and then it is us who gets the criticism if things are incomplete and families may have potentially been left vulnerable. It is us who suffer physically and emotionally and then get told ‘WE’ are not coping! No. YOU are not coping with our struggle. YOU are making it difficult to allow us to make a difference. YOU are making us feel sick when we have to do things in our personal time and even when we can’t do things in our personal time.

    It’s great to have these surveys at least we get an idea of what happens and we’re not alone. But then it makes me wonder, do employers use them as a way to make themselves feel better, “we’re not the only ones treating our staff like this, we’re not alone?”

  4. Pat Curran June 27, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    Add in the role of practice educator and its burn out time!