Social work managers in NHS report rise in stress and bullying

2015 NHS Staff survey also reveals increase in stress among frontline social workers

Picture credit: Image broker/Rex

More social work managers in the NHS are suffering work-related stress or bullying, an official NHS survey has found.

The annual NHS staff survey revealed 54% of social care managers suffered work-related stress in 2015, up from 45% the year before. The percentage reporting bullying or abuse from staff rose from 25% to 31% over the same period.

Stress among frontline social workers also rose, from 38% to 40% but remained lower than 2013 levels. The percentage experiencing workplace bullying or harassment increased from 17% to 22%.

The 2015 survey received responses from 783 social workers and 172 social care managers working in the NHS. The vast majority worked in NHS mental health trusts or combined community health and mental health trusts.

Source: NHS staff survey 2015

Source: NHS staff survey 2015

NHS mental health services are under intense pressure. Research by Community Care published earlier this year found funding for trusts fell 8% in real-terms over the last parliament, while referral rates had increased.

Recent research has also suggested tensions are increasing around social care provision in NHS trusts, as local authorities review integrated arrangements.

A series of measures included in the NHS staff survey suggest social care managers are feeling the strain.

Their overall ‘staff engagement’ score – a rating calculated from 32 different indicators of wellbeing and job satisfaction – dropped from 3.92 in 2014 to 3.82. Engagement scores for frontline social workers, social care support staff, nurses and occupational therapists all rose over the same period.

Just over a third of social care managers (36%) felt senior management communicated well with staff, down from 43% in 2014 and 58% two years earlier. They also felt less supported by their immediate managers and less likely to recommend their organisation as a place to work or get treatment than in 2014. All of these indicators improved among frontline social workers.

Despite the challenges, the 2015 survey showed 90% of social care managers felt their role made a difference to service users, down 5% on the previous year. The percentage of social workers who felt their role made a difference rose from 89% to 92%.

8 Responses to Social work managers in NHS report rise in stress and bullying

  1. Barbara MacArthur February 24, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    I have to smile when I see today’s social workers’ complaints about ‘large caseloads’ and stress. There used to be an In Tray on my desk and it was always full in the 1960s and 1970s, etc. but there were no Managers or Team Leaders in those days as there were no ‘Teams’ just a few individual social workers. At one time I was given a list of names and addresses of service users, single spacing on 2 full A4 sheets of paper. I was told that I was now responsible for each of these clients as the social worker concerned had resigned. As well as my usual large case-load it took me quite a time to visit each and everyone on the list. It turned out to be ridiculous as I discovered that quite a few of the clients had passed on.

    I was on the carpet once for not keeping records of visits to clients up-to-date in their files. We had no support clerical staff and it was a question of time. I got around this problem by keeping the reports short. Fortunately, the director saw the funny side when I wrote, for instance, that I found a client’s home choc-a-bloc with bric-a-brac. Also, that when a councillor had referred a man as uncouth, unkempt, and dishevelled, I just wrote: ‘Visited. Mr. —who was couth, kempt and shevelled. I had learnt that just because a person works in a caring profession it does not guarantee that they actually care.

    • Rene Hickman, MSW February 24, 2016 at 7:09 pm #

      Barbara, thank you for sharing your story and for your services. As the Director of Social Services for a SNF with over 120 beds. I can attest to the stress, demands and workload that both myself and my assistant experience on a day to day basis. I do not have the support by the nursing staff or NHA to adequately and safely do my job. I take pride in what I do and consider myself a professional and expect to be treated with respect by the NH staff and industry. I do not feel that just because Social Workers in the past (and present day) have carried “large caseloads” that it’s justification for that type of work load now.

      The attitude that Human Service Agencies, NH’s, and many other provider agencies have that Social Workers are not professionals and are the “grunt workers” has to change. And I believe that the attitude can only start to change when we as social workers change our attitude and no longer except being overworked and abused by those we work with and work for.

    • Triumphman February 25, 2016 at 10:01 am #

      I do not smile when i hear about case loads and stress. I wonder why one does and one doesnt ?

    • Calum February 25, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

      Riveting. Thank you for your contribution.

  2. Yvonne Bon if as February 24, 2016 at 10:14 pm #

    Bullying in the NHS? Surely not.

  3. Robin February 25, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    That’s a lovely story Barbara but these days, such subjective and value-based entries into a person’s case notes would probably contravene practice guidance on ‘recording with care’ – we need to use much more objective, evidence-based practice now.

    I entered social work just at the tail-end of a ‘golden era’ for social work – we had a team clerk and wrote assessments by hand.
    Since then, things have become progressively more complicated and difficult.

    Your comment shows a lack of understanding or empathy towards your colleagues which surprises me as social workers are generally very supportive of each other.

  4. Graham February 25, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

    I have to agree with the above comments – social work is much more difficult today than when I started 35 years ago. The Children Act 1989 and the NHS and Community Care Act 1990 introduced a huge extra rafts of bureaucracy and responsibility to the social work role. In adult care it is all about money – putting together and costing out care packages is time consuming and more complex than when all services were provided in house by local authorities. We used to just pop into the next office and talk to the home care team or phone the residential care manager to make referrals and that was it. Now it is a nightmare of forms, calculations and trying to coordinate different agencies all over the place. Budgets rule and clunky, out of date computerised management systems like Care First take up most of a social workers time these day. It is sad really.

  5. Alaine Casey February 26, 2016 at 2:16 am #

    I graduated after 4 thorough undergrad years including 4 internships to enter a profession which was highly regulated and sans computers and mobile phones. On the first day I was given a caseload of 35 which grew daily as intake was distributed. My final caseload was 135 -my ‘specialty was child sexual abuse. Supervision was weekly although dependent on the demands of the SSW’s caseload. Abuse from clients was generally restricted to verbal, negotiating past a snarling dog and there was always at least one SW who had experienced a physical assault. Reports and court documents were handwritten and given to the typist. Then technology came into the office, population and socio/cultural change increased. caseloads grew and abuse started to include threats of stabbing and assault with hiv/hep c infected syringes – in latter years knives and guns were added to the occupational hazards.
    We didn’t use the term ‘evidence based’ we were taught to seperate out fact from opinion in our reports and to clearly state and back up which was which – on the basis of ‘would the report stand up to a court cross-examination’.
    As the population, the caseloads, the assaults on SW’s and the regulations increased, the SW staff did not increase proportionally. The profession was less attractive to undergrads (no surprises there) and experienced SW’s began to leave the profession finding there were less demanding and risky ways to earn the same salary. Deprofessionalisation began to turn the level of skills and knowledge in the field back to pre-1970’s as welfare and certified staff were introduced- not to support, but to take on more and more casework by default.
    Social Work students should have as their first undergrad unit, a dose of reality – it is a profession of the brave. It is not a profession to enter if popularity, high regard, respect and personal safety is important. Social workers are abused by the media and clients, derided and presented as officious idiots in tv shows, bullied by elected representatives and weighed down by punishing caseloads and need to meet high levels of regulation as wedll as professional practice. The burn out rate is high. We enter it for various personal reasons, some seeing it as a vocation. We may take courage from the ‘if I can help just one person’ approach and get support from our peers and hopefully, our line managers but in reality, as a profession it has a long way to go in demanding the respect, salary and work conditions of eg: nurses who have more militant professional associations and unions.
    Having worked over 30 years through major shifts in workload, professional assessment, evaluation, changes in population, cultural demographic and social change I believe that anyone entering the profession now is deserving of the ‘care and protection’ of their fellow social workers, the respect of line Managers, media and other professionals (medical staff, police, law, elected officials) and our professional associations should be not merely educating, but demanding a more accurate depiction of the profession and its challenges in news and entertainment media.

    My background is in health, child protection and justice. After many years and one stalking and assault too many I left the field for the safer area of government policy and legislation. This offered a clear progressive career path at 50% more salary and offered the opportunity to shift from protecting clients to championing the profession.