Almost one in 10 social workers forced to brink of quitting as stress takes its toll

The pressure of the job has never been greater, social workers tell Community Care and TMP job-seeking study

stressed woman
Photo: REX/Garo/Phanie

Nearly one out of every 10 social workers is looking for a job outside the profession because of factors including stress and high caseloads, an in-depth study into social worker job-seeking by Community Care and advertising agency TMP has found.

The study surveyed 2,100 social workers and found that 8% were looking to leave the profession. Of those looking to leave social work, 23% said the job was too stressful or affecting their health while 20% cited high caseloads.

Others talked of too much paperwork (17%), not spending enough time with clients (14%) and the impact of budget cuts (12%).

“I love social work but sharing people’s misery is becoming too much,” one local authority social worker told the study.

Another said: “I am sick to death of tokenism, political correctness, risk averse, process-led and incompetent management driven only by the need to appease Ofsted.”

What do social workers look for in a new employer?- see our handy picture guide

More pressure

Even those not intending to leave social work said the stress of the job is taking its toll with 94% saying there is more day to day pressure on social workers than ever before.

“My stress levels are perpetually too high and my mental and physical health suffers as a result,” said one social worker. “Most nights I wake up in the night worrying about work I have not had time to do. I struggle to enjoy life outside work as I’m so exhausted.”

Stressed social workers speak up:

“With high caseloads and a lack of support, I feel unable to do a good job”

“There is a consistent disbelief of workers’ stress levels and difficulties in management of such high caseloads”

“The management structure is top-heavy and the blame culture is still prevalent”

“Before the cuts, I loved my job. Now it is impossible for all of us – not enough staff and unrealistic expectations from managers”

The study also asked social workers what attributes would most tempt them to jump ship to another social work job.

Almost half (49%) said a better work-life balance while 48% cited better pay. Opportunities for new challenges or experiences was mentioned by 44% and 39% said a job that involved less stress.

Just over half of social workers (52%) would consider relocating for a job.

Poor management

In-depth interviews with 20 social workers carried out for the study revealed that poor management is often a reason why they would consider hunting for a new post.

A lack of experienced staff on teams was also cited as a reason to leave.

One social worker said: “There are so many inexperienced staff here I feel that it’s dangerous and I don’t want to be exposed to that.”

For social workers who wanted to remain with their current employer, respectful and supportive management was a common reason as was having opportunities for career development and a good team ethic.

“I work with a great team and a great manager,” said one. “I feel more loyal to them; if the team changed, I’d feel differently.”

Read why six out of 10 social workers would not recommend their employers to another social worker

Staying put

Yet even when offered a new job many social workers turned it down.

Just over a quarter (26%) of social workers surveyed, who had been offered another job in the past three years, decided to stay where they were.

Of those who rejected the chance to change jobs, 28% said they were concerned about starting a new job during a recession while 9% stayed because they were offered a promotion.

Another 6% said they turned down the job offer because of a pay increase.

Find out what’s going wrong in the recruitment process

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3 Responses to Almost one in 10 social workers forced to brink of quitting as stress takes its toll

  1. Davina October 1, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Are you able to breakdown the figures for social workers in adults and childrens services respectively? I wonder if the picture is uniform across the sector?

  2. Jim Greer October 1, 2014 at 3:36 pm #

    It has been more widely reported that people are staying out in jobs because of the recession in public sector job opportunities. The problem with this approach is that assumes that the existing will job will continue to be secure.
    I would suggest that broadening your experience and skill set is an alternative approach to maintaining your employability. You could lose your existing job but your CV is portable and belongs to you.
    Furthermore if most people are being cautious then there are opportunities for people who are prepared to be brave and take a secondment or a temporary job which widens their experience.

  3. Jo October 2, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

    I have worked in both adults and childrens teams , it was once said that children’s social work was much more stressful than adults, this is not the case.
    I worked as an unqualified worker in a social work team for many years before becoming qualified. I loved my job, hence why I did the degree. Following graduation I found myself in the midst of reorganisation, budget cuts, which meant less people on the ground, an unworkable, time consuming record system, tokenistic NQSW training ( not supportive at all) , Figures / Stats more important than working with the people we serve, reducing the time spent with the people that need us and a never ending bureacratic process led system, forcing me to look to changing my career as I didn’t come into this to sit at a desk for the majority of my working week, I wanted to make a difference to people lives, empower them and free them from disadvantage and discrimination.
    There is no wonder retention is a problem , I really wished that big changes could be made, as if they are not Social Work as a profession will loose some very experienced, skilled workers.