What do social workers really think about their careers?

The main findings from Community Care and TMP's research into what social workers feel about their jobs and employers

New research by Community Care and advertising agency TMP has revealed what social workers look for in a prospective new employer, what makes them start looking for a new job in the first place and how overwhelming stress is forcing many to consider leaving the profession altogether. Here, we present some of the main findings from the groundbreaking survey.

What social workers look for in a new employer

Good management

1. Good management

Social work stress

2. Employer sensitive to levels of stress

Dog guarding desk illustration

3. Job security

The rest

4. Training

5. Recognition

6. Having your own desk

7. Holiday entitlement

8. Free parking

9. Degree of responsibility

10. Lower caseload

What makes social workers start looking for a new job

Work life balance illustration

1. Better work-life balance

Illustration of money falling into purse

2. Better salary

Manager giving worker boots to climb mountain

3. New work challenges

The rest

4. Better career development opportunities

5. A more senior position

6. Lower caseload

7. Better management support

8. To work for an organisation with a good reputation

9. To enhance CV

10. Improved job security

What social workers say about their jobs


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

“The workload is unrealistic and causes anxiety, frustration and lack of job satisfaction as I end up feeling I can’t do my job.”

“My workload has tripled over the last two years and resources are not keeping up with demand. I am becoming disillusioned with the role and my ability to provide the service I think children and families deserve.”

Stress and conditions

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

“Work-life balance is not achievable with the pressures of statutory social work. I don’t feel I can make a positive contribution to families.”

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


“In all the time I’ve been I social work I’ve despised the paperwork and the politics of local authorities. The lack of support in place is a crime.”

“The bureaucratic system has transformed my social work role in paperwork and defensive practice with little regard to our levels of stress or the needs of service users.”

“I currently spend 85% of my time behind a desk and feel like a highly paid admin worker.”

Poor management

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

“I did not feel supported in ASYE, was poorly managed and experienced a rife blame culture.”

“The lack of support and supervision is beginning to make me feel even more resentful of the low pay.”

The system

“My skills and knowledge are undervalued and I am not provided with the time to work in any meaningful way with service users.”

“I’m utterly disillusioned. Social work has become nothing more than conveyor belt processing. Those in need have to reach crisis point as the criteria bar has been set so high. We are failing people.”

“The pressures of social work have gathered momentum over the past couple of years and yet salaries have stayed the same.”


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

“There is limited help you can offer people due to a huge lack of resources an most of the time is spent not with service users but typing at a computer.”

“I do not feel personally challenged by social work and resent being driven by resource-led services. I want to feel job satisfaction after a hard week, not exhausted as result of sitting by a computer.”

More on this story

Almost one in 10 want to quit social work due to excessive stress

Six out of 10 social workers would not recommend their workplace

Dysfunctional HR and corporate jargon: Why nearly 40% of social workers have bad recruitment experiences

Illustrations: James Gibbs

5 Responses to What do social workers really think about their careers?

  1. Milo October 1, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    Well, I am glad this research has been done because some of the harsh realities has been exposed through the comments of social workers. However, it is made ever worse through the change in the regulatory body as they have very limited knowledge of front line social work as well as social workers not being encouraged to more independent.

    I hope we can grow leaders in the field who can encourage a total overhaul and change in the way the job is for a lot of social workers because of course “clients get a better service with happy social workers” as I remember one service manager telling me.

  2. Judy October 1, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    i worked in several social services departments with the elderly and physically disabled. I liked what I did but found the continual change to budgets and procedures difficult as I was not of the computer age. The programme might be updated overnight with no training.
    I was unable to take leave without there being trained cover. As everyone was overworked it was impossible to get cover so I took no leave for 3 years. When I found my husband dead at home I was allowed 3 days off for funeral,inquest,police investigations – no more. It did not only happen to me.
    It was made difficult to claim the reduced expenses we were allowed due to difficult computer programme and lack of time allowed while still dealing with clients demands.
    Eventually my health declined so I was given sick leave by the gp but I was still pressured to return so I resigned and then had a sudden severe stroke but am unable to get any help because I own my house.

  3. Tom Patterson October 2, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    What does the College of Social Work ( College of policymakers, quangos and employers?) say about this?

    Are they really giving themselves Gold Standard awards in the face of this evidence?

    No wonder so many people are driven to become political in order to try to break this hegemony of power and control, and public perception management!

  4. Claire October 3, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    I liken my job to domestic abuse. I know I am likely to be abused by not only clients but management too. Yet I go back day after day. I tell people I love my job, because I do. I just want the constant demands and blame culture to disappear and to be left to get on with my work to the best of my abilities. I know in my heart of hearts this will never happen, yet I still go back day after day.

  5. Stan October 7, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    Case load doubled in three months- I already work 50% over and above my paid hours but now have to do a further 10 plus hours a week just to complete my basic recordings- mostly from home and after a one hour drive home from the office- having been in the office since 7.15am

    Stuff the one per cent pay rise pay me the same but let me only work 3 days a week!