At least 80% of social workers believe stress levels are affecting their ability to do their job, a Community Care survey of more than 2,000 frontline staff and managers has shown.
The survey, which has had the biggest response rate of any undertaken by Community Care, found a third of social workers responding to the survey are using alcohol and 17% are using prescription drugs such as anti-depressants to cope with stress. Almost all respondents (97%) said they were moderately or very stressed, yet only 16% said they had received any training or guidance on how to deal with work-related stress, and less than a third had been offered access to workplace counselling.
Sue Kent, British Association of Social Workers professional officer said this figure was “staggering”.
“Until stress is acknowledged and employers find methods to deal with this, the situation is unlikely to change,” she said.
“Why do we not have automatic opportunities for counselling and support for all social workers, like other professions? And how can we accept that in our people-focused profession it is still taboo to talk about stress within the workplace?”
The most common reason given for stress was heavy and increasingly complex caseloads, followed by a fear that something will go wrong and bullying by colleagues or managers.
One social worker responding to the online survey said: “I am stressed to the point of not sleeping. I experience constant anxiety and I’m fearful about both the situation of very vulnerable service users in the future and my own future if I am unable to continue in a profession I have worked in for well over 20 years.”
A children’s social worker with over 15 years’ experience said not receiving adequate support after a child death had impacted their confidence and ability, to the point that they became physically unwell and had to leave their post.
Everything is a priority
Another social worker added: “ Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by my to do list I feel like crying because everything is a priority and it’s impossible to deal with it all.”
Alan Wood, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said the Department for Education and local authorities were looking together at what support social workers needed, however the results of Community Care’s annual survey have shown little has changed year on year.
Almost 80% of social workers are thinking of leaving their jobs and two thirds are considering leaving the profession altogether because of stress- both figures have increased since last year’s survey.
Wood said: “All local authorities need to heed the message from this survey because social workers deserve support and individual guidance in challenging situations, from managers and the teams they work with.”
Annie Hudson, chief executive of The College of Social Work said employers needed to invest in a range of strategies, including effective supervision and proper time and space for workers to reflect on their practice.
“Too often, people are moving straight from one extremely complex case to another with no time to process their thoughts, and with an ever increasing workload piling up,” Hudson said.
“Such situations are not sustainable.”