Social workers have become ‘too humble’, says Eileen Munro

Munro also reiterates concerns about the impact hotdesking is having on frontline social workers' emotional wellbeing

Eileen Munro
Eileen Munro. Photo: Frontline

The author of a landmark review into child protection practice has said social workers are “too humble” and concerned about sharing their success.

Professor Eileen Munro, author of the 2011 government-commissioned review of child protection, told a room of consultant social workers (CSW) at Frontline’s annual CSW conference “it isn’t arrogance” for social workers to talk about success.

She said she was aware of examples where conferences on good practice had revealed that council cultures had stifled anyone talking about their success and social workers were worried about looking as if they were boasting.

“I don’t think the medical profession have any trouble boasting,” she added.

“I do think there’s a real problem that social workers have somehow become too humble. It isn’t arrogance. It’s honest to talk about your successes, and I think you have to be able to talk about them otherwise what do other people aim for? It’s a crucial part of developing as a confident profession.”

‘Instant supervision’

She said putting information about the details of practice and what breakthroughs have been achieved, out in the public space in everyday language was part of building up confidence in the profession.

Munro also used her speech to reiterate concerns she highlighted last year about the impact of hotdesking on social workers’ emotional wellbeing.

She said team support was crucial and helped social workers get “instant supervision” which in turn helped prevent burnout.

“Nobody should be an individual social worker. In the way it takes a village to raise a child, you need a team to deal with a family, and I think as a profession we should start to assert that more strongly,” Munro said.

“If you want people to be able to do that work with people who are going to feel very hurt, angry, frightened, anxious, you have got to handle all that kind of emotion, and therefore you need an organisation that helps you handle it. You need to be able to go back to a secure place,” Munro said.

“I don’t want hero social workers, I want ordinary people who go home happy and do the job well.”

35 Responses to Social workers have become ‘too humble’, says Eileen Munro

  1. Jules July 12, 2018 at 12:16 pm #

    We can talk about the impact of hot desking on social workers morale and sense of team until we are blue in the face. No-one is listening as it is apparently cheaper not to allocate individual desks.

    • Sophie July 13, 2018 at 8:34 pm #

      Totally agree. I HATE hotdesking. Everyone knows it’s awful and demoralising and unsettling yet nobody listens.

  2. Hilton Dawson July 12, 2018 at 12:51 pm #

    Eileen Munro is, of course, 100% correct

    • Joseph July 12, 2018 at 11:13 pm #

      She is one great woman and someone who will go back and acceot if she’s fit something wrong. We need more of here in the service. We have too much of the blame game still. And other professionals who think it’s all done to social care.

      The feedback emails that get copied to your Maager and snr manger becoming a culture of bulking and oppressive practice becomes the norm

      It’s abusive and real. And it needs to stop. Snr managers need to be with practitioner more and Woking on the front line seeing what’s going on in their service area.

      Too many are too far removed

      • Midge July 13, 2018 at 8:23 am #

        To many SMT full stop. To many middle managers.
        To many managers protecting thier own backs, not their team or workforce. Leading to a bullying culture and very good social workers and people leaving the job.

        • Darcy July 21, 2018 at 11:49 am #

          Hear, hear

  3. Caroline Wood July 12, 2018 at 8:08 pm #

    Very true… but nothing we didn’t already know. It’s also about feeling valued as a professional. We need to speak up for ourselves more within organisations.

  4. Simon July 12, 2018 at 8:11 pm #

    Our place are moving into a lovely brand spanking shiny new building shortly for the whole LA. They are working on a hot desking principal of 10:1.
    On top of that they are trying to encourage everyone not to drive to work as parking is limited and have started a needs based parking survey.

    • Ewelina July 13, 2018 at 8:33 am #

      That is just pure bullying! How do they expect sw to attend their home visits and meetings?!? Public transport takes forever and offices are more often built in less accessible places.
      They’re giving us less tools and expect more miracles….our profession is becoming impossible for an average human being….😣

    • PJ July 18, 2018 at 6:17 pm #

      Hotdesking is a nightmare.

      We were in a communal office that was nice enough I guess, (not sure of the ratio of desk to worker though) but due to parking and the hotdesking it was easier and more effective to work from home – got more done as there were less distractions, and didn’t have to factor in travel time etc – and I could keep all the information I used to have around my desk to hand in case I needed it. I could get to visits as easily from home as I lived fairly centrally. The only drawback of homeworking was that you didn’t have a desk next you with a colleague on it to discuss challenges with/seek advice from, or just chat to for support whilst making a coffee…. But with the advent of internet phones, you could see if a colleague was at their desk, even in another team, so you could have those conversations by phone if you needed them.

      So, I tried to work at home as much as possible – it was win-win as far as I could see. Just go into the office for meetings, or to work a specified day of the week so you could organise things to suit you etc etc…… and what did the managers do? They complained we weren’t in the office enough and started demanding we went in on more days to “improve the team spirit”. So we duly had to go in – to soulless, half empty offices, with rows of empty, bland desks (many of which didn’t have the full complement of the required monitor, docking station, mouse and chair even) to get more and more depressed! You also had to develop the muscles of a superhero to carry all of the required items around – I was like the proverbial snail carrying their home on their back. It was totally soul-destroying.

      I’ve had some lovely offices over the years, that have been ordered and full of information which creates a level playing field from which I could tackle all of the issues that a day in the life of a public sector worker would throw up. Yes, I know you don’t have to have everything on paper these days, as so much is available online. But sometimes it is good to move away from the screen and actually consult a book or a policy/guidance document or something which might be easier to find.

      The lack of specific workspace wasn’t the sole reason I left the job last year, but it definitely contributed to the demoralisation that led to my decision. That’s 25 years of public sector experience lost to the profession – but my employer wasn’t concerned because they needed to cut staffing to save money!

      With regards to the article, I don’t think it’s an issue of humility for social work. It’s more that social workers (the ones of us that are left, that is) are too busy concentrating on getting from one end of a day to another that they don’t have the energy or inclination to brag about achievements. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel as if you have achieved anything anyway. What’s the phrase – not waving, but drowning?

      And this is from someone who has been away from such pressures for over a year now….. Imagine how much fun I was to work with when I was there…. 🙂

      • CC July 26, 2018 at 11:01 am #

        I totally agree with what the person above Is saying. In terms of team spirit and hot desking, my service have brought in huddle meetings every day and we now have to stand for 15 minutes as a team and say what are our daily pledges, performance and success are for the day etc.
        It makes a mockery of complex work with clients and creates a false positivity about things. We seem to spend so much time in meetings , there is little time to actually do any work and yet there is great emphasis on performance.

  5. Carol Duane July 12, 2018 at 8:14 pm #

    Respect to this lady and all the reasons I left a job I loved . It is awful how people are being informed how the shall work and traffic signal codes used to rate their work , advised not to answer e mails or telephone calls , just get the assessment done , just move the person from residential save money . People are leaving due to this way of working but no body is listening.

  6. Sue B July 12, 2018 at 8:30 pm #

    Could not agree more, as someone about to sadly give up my job as a social worker because the passion and drive I had for it is all but gone – not because of the work but because of the enviroment we now work in..

    Team support is disjointed, morale at an all time low, fighting for a desk and somewhere to park before you even begin your day is deflating. Supervsion is a stick to beat you with and a tick box to say it has been done, good work is not acknowledged in any meaningful way at all and reflection is generaly about what went wrong..

    Hard work and long hours is nothing I am scared off, the lack of real and meaningful support is what has ended what was a career I loved, was passionate and cared about, humbled and inspired by.

    So i will be positive about me – Social Worker loses and good social worker…

  7. Karen July 12, 2018 at 9:44 pm #

    We keep saying it over and over again. Nothing changes.

  8. Kathryn July 12, 2018 at 11:15 pm #

    Completely agree ‘re issues of hot desking. The job is hard enough without the security of your own space.

  9. Tracy July 13, 2018 at 12:27 am #

    Hotdesking is awful. You have no sense of belonging. You need to develop relationships with social workers in your team. They are your confidants, your friends, your support and the people you learn to trust and be confident to air your opinions around. Without this grounding and support you become a lone worker who makes decisions without any question as to what you’re doing is right or wrong.
    We need to belong, we need to share experience and support decision making.
    Social workers need to be able to discuss and challenge and you are not going to learn those qualities by being alone.

  10. Shivani Mishra July 13, 2018 at 2:50 am #

    Last statement at the end of the article is internalising. Agree to a great extent. In india the things would be different as here social worker council is not there neither a license hence understanding the essence of professionalism is bit questionable.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  11. Brenda Dring July 13, 2018 at 6:52 am #

    The hot sealing debate is one which will rumble on. The LA that I work for has afforded individual desks to front line social workers however those of us in “specialist” teams ie fostering and kinship care which is my area of work are left with the hotdeskung situation. I would argue that all social work teams need the support of their colleagues and the instant supervision opportunities that Munro recommends. But guess what …. no ones listening. No surprises there !

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  12. Ruby Dougal July 13, 2018 at 7:01 am #

    The best practice I was ever part of; the least children coming into care, the most nuanced, thoughtful and relationship based work happened when I was part of a small team where we all knew each other’s work and had opportunities to support and challenge each other. It was a high point in my career and lasted 2 years before managerialism forced us out of that way of working.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  13. tina cunningham July 13, 2018 at 7:42 am #

    Who is listening to ms munro? At least she is speaking out which is more than practising socisl workers are doing. Organise and protest dont moan ….social workers

    • Sue B July 13, 2018 at 9:24 am #

      How dare you, this makes me so angry, we are speaking out, we always speak out and make our views known at every level of the management chain – Sadly are voices are never heard and sadly it takes someone like Munro for them to listen.. WE on the job should be the ones that are heard and whilst i have full respect for Munro – why does it take this to listen to what we social workers always say..

      • frustrated July 14, 2018 at 11:27 pm #

        Tina when we speak out we are forced out. you can have collagues support you but they do it very discreetly because they are afraid of being next. The SWs that stay in profession are not the best. Very very sad on all fronts.

        Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  14. Jenni Randall July 13, 2018 at 8:01 am #

    Absolutely spot on on both counts. Well said. Shame no one appears to be listening.

  15. MC July 13, 2018 at 10:09 am #

    Social workers hate hot desking, I understand the concerns raised – no sense of belonging etc. But as a care leaver, reflecting on my experience of care – that was also hot-desking.

  16. sw111 July 13, 2018 at 10:20 am #

    Really depressing state of social care, management is incompetent trying to cover their own backs and reflect to the higher management how well they are performing. The instant supervision you try to seek is so meaningless it is not worth seeking – when you need direction straight away, they say that they would raise with the senior management which happens when that is convenient to them. Workers request for further support to tackle difficult clients falls on deaf ears and you are expected to become creative in seeking support – by magic create a resource to support when the management makes no effort to facilitate that. However when the same client raises issues about the worker, the management come down heavy and criticise your practice.
    It is a deplorable state and culture of bullying in rife. Lots of managers have entered this profession for wrong reasons.
    The experience under the first management team was so positive, where all the workers felt valued, even difficult tasks were addressed with such ease. Unfortunately, such managers are in rarity now.

  17. good guy July 13, 2018 at 2:41 pm #

    At last, somebody with common sense and an idea what the frontline challenges are and the fact that the support of peers in social work is crucial for the retainment of staff. Hot desking is an idea conceived by people who have never worked on the social work frontline

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  18. Lisa Smith July 13, 2018 at 6:34 pm #

    Social work, whether with children or adults, is a team activity that you need a solid base to work from to be effective. A team approach makes for better decisions, happier practitioners and ultimately more positive outcomes for families.
    If I wanted to work out of my car I’d have joined a sales team…!

  19. Esther Simpson July 14, 2018 at 7:01 am #

    What an interesting read. As a newly qualified social worker it is important that I read these views and ideas to aid my practice, although I’m looking forward to face some challenges, similarly I’m proud to be a social worker.

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

  20. Anna July 14, 2018 at 11:57 am #

    Hot desking works only if staff are given the tools and trust to work away from an office base part of the time; so a decent laptop/tablet and remote access to the servers and managers that will trust that when their staff are not visible they are working and not sunbathing in the garden or shopping! Social Work has become stifled by all the paperwork and additional hoops to jump through to evidence funding requests without the additional pressures before you get to work of ‘will I get a parking space’ and then if you find one, ‘will I get a desk’!? But also coupled with the sometimes inexperienced and micro-management style managers as well is it any wonder that some of us end up biting the And last word, we are always being asked to case review and its always about critiquing and saying what could have been written differently (I dare say 10 people could assess one person and they would all be written in different ways) so is it any wonder that this culture of looking for things to negatively or unnecessarily criticise has led to Social Workers forgetting the good stuff they do!

  21. Anna July 14, 2018 at 12:00 pm #

    The middle part of my message is missing; it should read biting the bullet and taking a pay cut to leave the profession and do a less oppressive job.

  22. Lisa July 14, 2018 at 12:46 pm #

    Sadly EM has had no impact even when she says the right thing.

  23. SW-TH July 14, 2018 at 1:55 pm #

    Hotdesking- if they just took note of how many hours are lost per week anti-bac’ing desk and setting up equipment which is not fit for purpose they give us permanent desks.
    Best practice/ recognition for good service- if social service used the media like the NHS do and promote how good we truly are then we also would have the respect and positivity our health colleagues get. No-one dwells for long on the mistakes of health establishments/ individuals but boy do we ‘cop it’ when something happens within social work, both from inside and outside the organisation.

  24. EJ July 18, 2018 at 4:57 pm #

    “too humble”

    …well, when people believe they are being squashed underfoot they often pay it forward. This would explain why so many families encounter social workers who are the opposite of humble and who abuse their positions, to the point of breaking the law.

  25. John Ramsey July 19, 2018 at 1:13 pm #

    A couple of points about hot desking from my time as a Union lead rep. Firstly, human beings are territorial animals. We like to personalise our own space because it reduces stress. if we are not allowed to do this, stress increases and with it, sickness levels in the organisation. For a union rep, hot desking is therefore a health and safety issue and should be treated as such.
    Secondly, and I don’t know if this has ever been tried, a potential new form of industrial action is an “everybody comes to work” day. Crowd out the building! doesn’t even need a ballot, I would think.

  26. Liz Nolan July 20, 2018 at 10:41 am #

    Thanks to Prof. Munro for realising the value of Team Support and the value of having a desk! I still have both presently and appreciate them.