Social workers taking time off due to stress could be costing councils well over £45m in agency cover, projections from Community Care’s annual stress survey suggest.
In a survey of 2037 social workers, almost a third (30%) said they had taken time off due to stress in the last year. Over half (59%) of those had taken over a week off and a quarter had taken more than 30 days.
If this is representative of the general social worker population, this could equate to at least 204, 752 days in lost labour due to stress, based just on those absent for more than 30 days.
The biggest social work recruitment agencies were not able to provide Community Care with their average day rate, but we based this projection on a sample rate of £32 an hour for an agency social worker in London. This is assuming agency cover is hired and the workload is not redistributed among remaining staff.
The figures come on top of Community Care’s vacancy survey which showed 1 in ten social work post are unfilled.
On top of almost a third who had already taken time off, another 23% of social workers surveyed described themselves a ‘very close’ to burning out or having to take time off work due to stress, and a further 60% said if things carried on as they were they felt they were in danger of burning out.
But even after taking time off, Sue Kent, British Association of Social Workers professional officer said those returning to work following a period of stress-related sick leave may well be facing further stress as little will have changed.
Unison national officer Helga Pile said: “The human and financial costs of this level of stress are completely unacceptable.”
“Employers have a duty of care towards staff and clear obligations under health and safety legislation.”
Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services believes national recruitment and retention initiatives should be introduced to ease the financial, as well as emotional burden.
“The level of vacancies and temporary staffing arrangements only adds to the pressures our social workers face,” he said.
“In a period of extreme resourcing pressures it is not a surprise to see the results of this survey pointing to raised levels of stress among social work staff.”
Despite almost all social workers responding to the survey saying they were experiencing some degree of stress, the majority had not been given access to counselling or any formal support to deal with it.
Association of Directors of Adults’ Social Services’ Joan Beck, joint chair of the workforce network said: “Key to meeting this challenge is making sure managers have the ability to recognise work pressures and talk about them in supervision, ensure access to good occupational health programmes, and use annual leave and flexible working arrangements effectively.”