Employers failing to advertise part-time social work roles, finds study

Just one in five job adverts analysed offered option to work part-time, meaning organisations are missing out on "expert and committed staff", warns Social Workers Union

Close up interviewer interview candidate apply for job at meeting room in office
Photo: weedezign/Adobe Stock

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Employers are failing to advertise part-time roles to social workers, shutting many expert practitioners out of the labour force, according to new research.

Of 6,471 UK social work job adverts posted on websites including Community Care on 20 April and 20 May, just 1,212 (19%) offered part-time or flexible hours, found the Social Workers Union study.

At a time of mounting vacancies and turnover across both statutory children’s and adults’ services in England, a drop in the number of adults’ practitioners employed, and the need to recruit more to implement the forthcoming social care funding reforms, the union said the situation risked exacerbating staff shortages.

Carol Reid, the union’s national organiser, said many social workers were unable to work for more than two or three days per week “by necessity rather than choice” due to their other commitments.

Employers ‘need to wake up’

She said employers needed to “wake up”, as they were “missing out on expert and committed staff due to their failure to offer part-time posts”.

Union general secretary John McGowan added: “We often hear about staffing shortages in social work, but part of the solution is staring employers in the face: offer more part-time or flexible roles.”

Most of the adverts (87%) were for roles in England, of which 19% included the offer of part-time or flexible hours. The proportion was even lower (15%) in Wales, which accounted for 9% of the jobs. The union said that some roles will have been repeated across the sites, and the two dates, examined.

One social worker, from north-west England, said she was forced to abandon full-time work at the start of the pandemic to care for a close family member.

She had planned to return part-time but remained out of work “despite devoting much of my spare time and energy searching for a part-time role”.

“Even when roles say ‘full-time preferred, but part-time may be considered’, when I contact the manager responsible the reality is they want someone full-time,” she said.

She added that employers need to “ensure people like me aren’t lost to the profession forever”.

Risk of increasing inequality

The union also highlighted the potentially adverse impact on inequality by the lack of part-time opportunities.

Carys Phillips, a social worker and chair of the Social Workers Union, said: “Social work remains a female majority but male-led profession…The opportunity for career development is often stalled with assumptions that part-time equals career abandonment and oftentimes this means career stagnation. This needs to change to ensure part-time opportunities are encouraged and supported.”

The latest wave of the Department for Education’s longitudinal survey of children’s social workers in local authorities found less than a quarter (23%) of people were on part-time contracts, and that this was more prevalent among women, those with caring responsibilities and older social workers.

Deb Solomon, a social worker from Derbyshire pointed out that neurodivergent staff “can really benefit from part-time working”, adding that the current situation is failing to take “advantage of the skills and creativity the neurodivergent workforce bring”.

ADCS: ‘we need enough social workers’

Responding to the union’s research, Association of Directors of Children’s Services president Steve Crocker said: “We know that many people in the workforce who are unable to work full-time are keen to remain in the profession and it is important we can accommodate for them where possible.”

However, he added “the need for help and support is increasing” in communities and “our focus must also remain on maintaining strong, consistent relationships with our children and families”.

“We know what is needed to secure the very best outcomes for children and families – we need enough high-quality social workers to support children and families who need it and we need enough funding from national government to invest in the workforce,” he said.

The findings come despite Community Care’s latest Total Reward survey finding that three-quarters of councils offered flexible working for all new children’s services social workers. Flexible hours was the most common form of flexible working taken up by staff, with 15 of 36 respondents saying at least a quarter of staff worked in this way, found the survey of local authorities.

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28 Responses to Employers failing to advertise part-time social work roles, finds study

  1. Ian Hopkins June 9, 2022 at 5:34 pm #

    We were one of the 19% that advertised for a part time social work role with flexible hours. We ran the advert for 6 weeks and had one applicant. These facts don’t support the theory that there are hundreds of SW’s looking for part time roles.

  2. Andi June 9, 2022 at 9:40 pm #

    Part time and condensed hours working relies on staff who work 5 days per week and thus is an additional unfair burden on them,(fact) and ……..oh yes, not good for the children- if any one is still interested in that, as opposed to what employment terms they have a ‘right’ to …

    • Neurodivergent social worker June 23, 2022 at 6:46 pm #

      Do neurodivergent and other disabled social workers not have the right to work in social work teams? Some will beable to work full time but many will need accomodations, including more flexible hours eg, reduced hours, condensed. If we are just saying everyone needs to work full time then we are not making our workforce as diverse as the service users we support.

  3. Annie June 10, 2022 at 7:52 am #

    Expecting your employer and the people it serves to bend to your lifestyle choices is perhaps the one reason why you should not be a social worker. In the talk about part time work being an only option for women with care/ parenting responsibilities men or other partners are strangely never mentioned. Why is child care always assumed to be a woman role? That’s not “necessity” but it certainly is a “choice”. Hold men/partners accountable for their share. People who want work to accommodate their lives should start their own business not expect the public and colleagues to carry them. This kind of my entitlement above all and everyone else is why BASW/SWU are the echo chamber of the head nodding pained expressing middle classes. “Non-divergent workforce” is the unsubtle way of telling others to pick up the work not done. It’s not employers who need to wake up by self defined feminists who are happy to abet men in their career choices.

  4. Tony June 10, 2022 at 7:58 am #

    Another CC article says 75% of employers offer flexible working including working from home. That may not be part-time working per se but it certainly sounds like an accommodation of a divergent workforce.

  5. Jo June 10, 2022 at 1:12 pm #

    To those commenting that part time working is a ‘lifestyle choice’ that is not compatible with working with families, it is exactly this sort of nonsense that pushes workers out of the profession for good. The local authority I work in used to be excellent at this. There were a number of job shares, including at management level that enabled people to develop their skills in a way that worked for them. Many of those in these roles stayed in the department for years. More recently, all requests for part time and flexible working are refused due to ‘service needs’; at the same time, staff retention has fallen off a cliff. We have lost so many women returning after mat leave to agency work, where they can work part time hours for better pay. If you start your career at 23, are you really expecting people to commit to not having their own children in order to do full time social work? People’s circumstances change.

    It’s not just about childcare responsibilities, although this is a significant factor for many. The toll that social work takes on our mental health can sometimes be managed through more flexible working.

    I job share and my colleague and I both work 2.5 days. We cross over on our half day, during which we spend the first hour of the morning updating each other on cases and planning out work. There are no issues with our case management and the 35 years of collective social work experience that we have is being used to serve our community. Despite the positive way in which we work, we have to watch excellent colleagues having requests for similar setups rejected. We were fortunate enough to have our set up agreed under previous management.

    Of course we can all name a part-time worker who leaves colleagues to pick up behind them. This is not the fault of being part-time, this is lazy working and should be dealt with through performance management. Often, lazy part-time workers have been lazy full-time workers but it’s never been addressed. Being part-time is no excuse for additional burdens being placed on colleagues. I have also been on the receiving end of this. When I was the only non-parent in a previous team, I had the majority of out of area cases and often worked late to cover crises on other cases. I was exhausted and burnt out and took some time out of social work. In moving to part-time working myself, I would be mortified to leave work in such a way as to impact on my colleagues in this way. A well planned out job share removes much of the risk here but we are also two conscientious professionals. Allowing people to get away with shoddy work because of fear of being accused of discriminatory is weak management. It’s hard but performance policies are there to deal with this situation…use them.

    If job sharing can work at the highest levels of counter-terrorism work, then we can surely manage it in social work.

    • The scouse social worker June 10, 2022 at 4:08 pm #

      An excellent response Jo

      …you have restored my faith in my fellow social workers

      • Norris Green June 10, 2022 at 9:58 pm #

        Faith is a personal choice too though isn’t it my fellow scouser? As a gay man I couldn’t disagree more with Jo actually. But what would I know, I am not a parent. I used to job share with a colleague whose early regular dashing off for nursery pick-ups leaving me to do double the work scar me to this day. Having a partner but always being the one to have your working day dictated by parenting responsibilities is a lifestyle choice however you might want to burnish it. And if I may, abusing a person you presumably don’t know of spouting “nonsense” is at the very least rude and really rather offensive. Is Ian Hopkins talking claptrap too?

    • Ellie June 11, 2022 at 3:48 pm #

      You might want to reconsider branding another opinion as “nonsense” Jo. It’s intemperate and comes across as hectoring actually. I hate saying this as I do not know the contributors here but however off kilter another opinion might be it has as right to be expressed and be listened to. As it happens I am a part time social worker. I have no need to justify my reasons nor am I defensive when assumptions are made about me. But colleagues can expressed those without getting put down by me. Lets respect each other please.

    • Alan June 13, 2022 at 10:40 am #

      Why is making the self evidently true point that it is a lifestyle choice to work the hours which fit our personal circumstances nonsense? We may not want to work part time or full time but our life circumstances dictate which we choose don’t they?

      • Mandy June 20, 2022 at 2:41 pm #

        Yes well said. We choose things and actions all the time, not always because we want to but because we have to.

  6. Helen June 10, 2022 at 10:13 pm #

    Actually the nonsense is in flipping the narrative to be about an argument no one has made. The point being made is about why it’s invariably always social workers with parenting responsibilities who do the childcare while partners are excused. That is a lifestyle choice isn’t it?

  7. Frida K June 11, 2022 at 10:42 am #

    What a shockingly anti-worker, anti-trade union, oppressive response from “Annie”, particularly if this person is indeed a social worker (and not a ‘troll’ as was my first thought). How on earth does advocating for part-time and flexible work opportunities for all staff make trade unionists ‘middle class’ or ‘self defined feminists’? If you had any knowledge of the trade union movement you’d know that unions have fought for many decades to secure better working conditions for all members, regardless of gender or background. I for one am proudly working class and a lifelong union member, and know that the trade union movement sprang from the need to support working people from the oppressive conditions that “Annie” would have us still working within!

  8. Annie June 12, 2022 at 10:55 pm #

    Some facts which may be inconvenient but happen to be true. Whatever claims BASW might make, SWU is not a trade union. The TUC doesn’t recognise it as such so it doesn’t participate in pay negotiations. Excusing men from parenting responsibilities and putting your career second to their full time working is not a feminist position. Expecting men to do what you expect women to do would be. What’s oppressive is accusing someone you disagree with of being a fake social worker. So much for respecting diversity. Not that it matters but I qualified as a social worker from Goldsmith’s in 1984. As I do not treat this forum as some kind of sub-par twitter there is no need for trolling. Seeing as assumptions are the order, I will assume you are named after Frida Kahlo who, as a Communist and true feminist, wasn’t beholden to Diego Rivera to put her art below his by painting only when it suited him. She was also a lover of Leon Trotsky while still married to Rivera. To my mind living your life independent of men and not being defined by your role as a mother is true liberation. Only when there are an equal number of part time men as there are women will I accept that we have escaped from oppressive work conditions. Until than flip flopping about a “right” to work part time is indeed middle class social work coffe morning chitter chatter.

    • Frida K June 13, 2022 at 12:30 pm #

      Regardless of your Utopian idea of parental roles, the reality for many millions of people is quite different, particularly in the working-class reality of my own and many other women’s lives. I note you take offence to having your social worker status questioned, and it is equally offensive to suggest in your earlier comment that needing to work part-time is “the one reason you should not be a social worker”. How completely oppressive and discriminatory! For what it’s worth also, Kahlo and Rivera had an utterly toxic relationship which was far from the liberated ideal you mention.

      • Annie June 13, 2022 at 2:44 pm #

        Shared parental responsibility is utopian now? Spanish may be my first language but I do know the difference between expectation, which was my comment and need which is yours. I would be happy to explain why western conception of toxicity doesn’t travel too well into Latin American culture but I suspect CC aren’t going to encourage a to and fro between us.

    • The scouse social worker June 14, 2022 at 10:24 am #

      For clarification, SWU is indeed a UK Trade Union for, and run by qualified, registered social workers. Only a Trade Union can guarantee representation before an employer, and SWU offers representation by qualified, registered Social Workers that understand the complexities of the profession, and is a member of The General Federation of Trade Unions.

      If you are a registered social worker as you say, then I am saddened and disappointed to hear a sw professional having such a biased, closed attitude towards female sw who “NEED” to work part time.

      I challenge your assumption of “part time working being middle class social work coffee morning chitter chatter”, what utterly offensive rhetoric to spout.

      My proud ‘working class’ roots meant I needed to look for a part time role at the start of the pandemic when a close family member was in poor health. I wasn’t in a privileged position of being able to stop working, as I also needed to provide Care.

      Your focus also seems to be on the role of female social workers wanting to work part time due to childcare issues, with no mention of other reasons sw’s might need to work part time such as Caring for loved ones, or personal health issues, or many other reasons which impact their availability.

      I am very proud to be a social worker, and have much to offer, and will not give up social work as you would like those wanting to work part time to do.

      Life is random and unpredictable, as the last 2 years have proved; it can’t always be planned.

      Maybe one day your life might change without warning and impact you too; you’d have a huge dilemma; give up your job/profession; or find a part time role?

      …but then that’s only for the middle classes isn’t it?

      • Tahin June 14, 2022 at 2:13 pm #

        Meanwhile in the reality of the gig economy………no chance of entitlement.

        • Carinda Comoonitee June 14, 2022 at 11:07 pm #

          Please join a union!

  9. Arbor June 13, 2022 at 8:32 am #

    The question of part time working is important. I have been surprised that LAs don’t encourage part time applicants, particularly if they are short staffed.
    I have worked part time since qualifying 35 years ago and during that time have done a range of jobs and worked much more than my paid hours.
    As I near retirement I may like to reduce my hours in the future and the lack of opportunity for part time work in social work is preventing me being able to return to front line social work which I’d like to do.
    I think I have a lot to contribute but the opportunity isn’t there. Social work employers are behind the times.

    • Alan June 13, 2022 at 10:16 am #

      Not the experience of Ian Hopkins it seems.

  10. Michael June 14, 2022 at 6:39 pm #

    In other news: 78% of children’s services allow flexible working, including some working from home.

    • Carinda Comoonitee June 14, 2022 at 11:04 pm #

      ‘Flexible’ is often just a different way of working your full time hours – it’s not necessarily a part-time option. However if you know of LAs with current and genuine part-time vacancies (not simply ‘flexible’) please share them on here.

      • Ian June 16, 2022 at 1:08 pm #

        I know social workers pride themselves on their ability to multi-task but expecting one to trawl adverts for somone they don’t know?

      • Esther June 16, 2022 at 1:18 pm #

        Our mental health team in East London. Do apply.

  11. Magpie June 16, 2022 at 11:25 am #

    Not being allowed to work part time will seem a fly swat with groundwork now being prepared to introduce “fire and re-hire” contracts with reduced terms and conditions on the pretence of service reorganisations.

  12. Neurodivergent social worker June 23, 2022 at 6:37 pm #

    As a social worker nearly 3 years post qualified and recently discovering im autistic and have adhd im looking at reducing my hours and days. I’ve come to the conclusion after working through a pandemic and burning out on many teams in that time, then finally going on agency, that 5 days a week is just too much for me. Luckily I can make this choice on agency, due to getting paid more, as a permanent worker I wouldnt beable to afford to and I’d have to leave social work. This isn’t an easy decision for me to reduce my hours but it’s now necessary for my health and sanity. I’m just hoping I can find a new contract which suits my needs. We all have different lives, commitments, goals and alot of us disabilities and the support and accomodations from employers need to reflect this. If a service user was working part time we wouldn’t be berating them. Theres so many vacancies in social work, in my opinion it doesn’t really matter if some staff are part time or have condensed hours. As long as there’s enough staff and the works getting done.

  13. Anonymous June 26, 2022 at 6:55 am #

    We’ve advertised 2 part time social worker posts on our team for over a year. No applicants.

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