Retention bonuses paid by half of children’s services departments, research finds

Community Care Total Reward study reveals average bonus is worth just under £3000

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Half of children’s services departments in England offer retention bonuses to social workers, Community Care research has revealed.

The average amount of the retention bonus was just under £3000, and it was typically paid to social workers after they had worked at the authority for one or two years. Most authorities stipulated some kind of tie-in attached to the bonus, whereby if a worker left before the end of the retention period, they would have to partially pay back any bonus received.

Community Care’s Total Reward survey into social work pay and benefits, carried out between September and December 2019, received responses from 30 children’s services and 11 adults’ services. Forty seven per cent of children’s services departments who responded reporting paying a retention bonus to some or all staff.

What are retention bonuses?

Retention bonuses are typically used by local authorities to retain experienced social workers, who are in short supply across the country. Department for Education figures show that the proportion of social workers (based on FTE) with five or more years’ experience with their authority fell from 51% in 2015 to 39% in 2019.

Local authorities are competing for the limited pool of experienced social workers. While some authorities are developing ‘grow your own’ schemes to invest in newly qualified social workers, this is inherently a long-term endeavour. Retention bonuses are one way to attract and retain experienced staff in the short-term.

In adults’ services, bonuses were much less common; none of the services surveyed offer retention bonuses to staff, perhaps because the recruitment and retention of adult social workers is typically less of a challenge.

Other types of bonuses

‘Golden hello’ bonuses were used slightly less frequently than retention bonuses; 40% of children’s services offered them to some or all staff. These bonuses are used to entice new staff to work for an authority, so are typically used by services which have difficulty recruiting new staff, or for particularly hard-to-fill roles. The average amount of the bonus was very similar to the retention bonus, at £2889.

Again, no adults’ services surveyed offered ‘golden hello’ bonuses to any staff.

Flexible working

As well as bonuses, the survey also covered salaries, benefits and flexible working. Flexible hours emerged as the most common form of flexible working offered by children’s services; 93% of departments offered this, with an average of one-fifth (20%) of staff on the arrangement. In contrast, job shares were offered by nearly three-quarters of children’s services (73%), but only 6% of staff were currently working in a job share. In adult’s services, job shares were offered by all of the authorities surveyed, but still only an average 6% of staff were on this arrangement.

If you’d like to contribute to the next Total Reward survey, and receive a full copy of the results, please contact And if you’re responsible for monitoring or designing your organisation’s Total Reward scheme and are interested in hearing more about the key findings of the report, please also contact the same email to register for a free webinar we’re holding in late April 2020.

If you would like details of how Community Care can work with your organisation to recruit and retain high-quality and experienced social workers, please contact

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