Energising the workplace

Two of our regular panellists offer advice on
coping with stress.

The Challenge

It seems to be a fact of life that the social
care workplace is a very stressful one. Workers are finding it
increasingly difficult to cope, falling victim to a sense of being
overwhelmed or simply feeling drained. This is sometimes heightened
when meeting with more motivated partners. Although there are many
individual ways to counteract personal stress, what strategic
methods do the panel think are available to energise the workplace
and help bring back (or maintain) effective and creative
problem-solving and performance?

Kirk Benjamin is an independent social
care trainer and consultant


Andrew McCulloch
People do survive all sorts of stressful jobs. Social
care is not uniquely stressful and can offer a higher degree of
control over stress than classic high-stress work such as air
traffic control. However, social care is undoubtedly characterised
by a combination of the intensity of demand and the complexity of
individual client need, as well as the sharpness of external

The literature and personal experience of
managers suggest that stress in such jobs must be managed at
several different levels:

– At the individual level, there may be a case
for selecting people for work in this area who are suited to
dealing with the relevant sources of stress, if objective and fair
criteria can be found. More importantly and immediately,
individuals should be trained and supported to identify and, as far
as possible, manage their own stress.

– At team level, team leaders should pay
attention to team burn-out by addressing role clarity, workload
management, team dynamics, training opportunities and access to
external support. Time out from the day-to-day environment is

– At organisational level, senior management
must take a strategic approach to tackling stress in the workplace.
Having a policy to deliver a mentally healthy workplace can do
this. This must address direct stress management – through, say,
access to counsellors – and managerial strategies for containing
stress – for example, involving staff in setting priorities.

– At national level, the government should
assess the impact of social care policy development on staff and
provide local management with tool kits for tackling stress.

Anthony Douglas
The most popular and successful training course I ever
commissioned was a yoga teacher who came in every week to de-stress
my staff team. That was 10 years ago and stress is worse now. The
causes have always been there, but they have intensified: covering
for absent colleagues, which can double a workload; the quite
proper, but nevertheless exhausting, demands of internal and
external regulatory systems; and the trend towards institutional
workaholism, a phenomenon defined as nearly everyone left standing
working longer hours in a vain struggle to keep up. Most other
European countries wouldn’t stand for it. They have more
family-friendly and health-conscious workplaces, but then they
spend a lot more on their welfare states.

Strategically, senior managers and politicians
should back their staff and set a limit to the demands made. This
is easier said than done, because most social care teams are
already only working with high-risk cases, but a climate can be set
that recognises the stresses, values a culture of supervision and
builds in support services, such as mentors and counsellors, for

Time-out policies can also help, whereby staff
are given a break from the front line for short periods, almost as
if they were in a war and needing a recovery zone.

It is a fine balance to strike. If waiting
lists become too large, all efforts have to go into managing them
rather than getting on with reducing them. It is also important to
ensure that sufficient funds are committed to staffing budgets,
when the temptation is to spend what money there is on enhanced
levels of care. Eligibility criteria have to be tightened to
achieve this.


1 Susan Cartwright & Cary L
Cooper, Managing Workplace Stress, Sage, 1997

2 Richard Davies (editor), Stress
in Social Work
, Jessica Kingsley, 1998

3 N Doherty & S Tyson, Mental
Well-being in the Workplace: A Resource Pack for Management
Training and Development
, Health & Safety Executive,

4 Lynette Hughes & Paul Pengelly,
Staff Supervision in a Turbulent Environment, Jessica
Kingsley, 1997

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.