Tips for coping with stress and burnout in social work

A recent study has put forward tips for social workers, team managers and local authority leaders for coping with stress and burnout in social work

Photo: Markus Mainka/fotolia

A recent study from the Centre for Research on Children and Families identified key messages on coping with stress and burnout for senior managers, team leaders and frontline social workers working with vulnerable children and families.

Here are the most valuable tips for professionals in child protection for avoiding burnout:

For social workers –

  • Use supervision opportunities to reflect on the emotional impact the role has on both yourself and your practice.
  • Aim to raise concerns with supervisors, team leaders about workload or complex cases you may need help with, rather than trying to persevere alone.
  • Use your team as a resource for sympathy, advice and guidance. Be available to do the same for colleagues.
  • Remember that no social worker is invincible or all-knowing. Think about using engaged coping strategies when you feel overwhelmed. Engaged coping strategies include: Planning ahead, reframing the situation, exercise, tackling the problem, seeking social support and modifying mood.
  • Identify what you find emotionally rewarding at work and at home to help you recognise and celebrate when things go well.
  • Identify what your stressors are and develop relevant coping strategies.

For local authority senior managers –

  • Receive training on managing stress at work both for themselves and their teams.
  • Ensure there are clear systems to hear the views of social workers about workload issues and provide feedback on the action taken to address them.
  • Aim to create a positive emotional climate where social workers have opportunities to undertake direct work, receive positive feedback, have influence over their work environment and have opportunities for collaboration and learning.
  • Identify what causes stress in the workplace. There should be commonly known factors, but each workplace is likely to have unique things that can contribute to stress.
  • Establish systems to monitor stress in the workplace and involve their team managers and social workers in finding solutions to workload issues and improving the workplace.
  • Ensure effective links with some form of Employee Assistance Programme.

For team leaders –

  • Receive training on managing stress at work for themselves and their teams.
  • Ensure opportunities for social workers to have reflective supervision.
  • Enable social workers to discuss workload issues using a solution-focused approach by having workload as a standing item on team meeting agendas.
  • Consider how they can be available to other leaders and team members for support and advice.
  • Consider induction activities for new team members to help them feel like they belong.
  • Encourage joint problem solving on complex issues and cases.

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6 Responses to Tips for coping with stress and burnout in social work

  1. Andy Faulkner August 6, 2016 at 8:51 am #

    If social work was taken seriously as a profession in this country then the government would increase funding to local authorities to enable them to half the stress of EVERY social worker; by enabling the LA to hire more social workers and cut everyone’s caseloads in half.

    You shouldn’t have to “develop coping strategies” to deal with your work, your work should be enjoyable, pleasant and MANAGEABLE!

  2. Andrea August 8, 2016 at 11:50 am #

    Absolutely agree Andy.
    The ‘key messages’ are insulting – we already know all that – it completely ignores the overarching demands getting in the way of anyone (including Team Managers trying to support their team) of social work – demands to cut costs and senior managers who kow tow to councillors who are largely ignorant of what social work is, and who are interested only in being voted in by local residents who want ‘something done’.

  3. Sharon Atkins Noade August 8, 2016 at 5:16 pm #

    Do more with less – the Government has and will always expected this. No amount of refocusing, resilience building, support or supervision can alter the fact that smaller case loads allow for better quality social work

  4. Phill wheatley August 10, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    25 years for a doctor, 16 years for a nurse, 10 years in the army and 8 years professional working life for a Frontline social worker. And the solution, modify your thinking and reflect on happy thoughts, absolutely brilliant, that should do it then.

  5. Paula McFadden August 15, 2016 at 11:34 am #

    Really good to see this topic at the center of workforce concerns with practical tips to support staff at all levels. Is there a link to the full report?

  6. Sian August 15, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

    i am currently trying to find out as much as I can about social worker stress, burnout and vicarious trauma and would be grateful if you could suggest any further soucres of information on this topic.