How much unpaid overtime do social workers do?

As social workers report spending more time on cases than previously, we asked practitioners how much overtime they were working to keep up

Photo by Community Care

Social workers’ strenuous workloads, especially in children’s services, have long been seen as undermining practice.

As of autumn 2022, 63% of council children’s social workers considered their workload too high, found a Department for Education (DfE) survey.

A comparable proportion (61%) said the number of hours they spent on each case had increased over the previous five years.

Practitioners listed the complexity of cases, public service cuts, paperwork and high vacancy rates as the main reasons behind them spending longer on cases, in response to the latest wave of the DfE’s longitudinal survey.

High overtime rates


Naturally, as practitioners race against the clock to complete visits and admin each day, they mostly fail to finish work on time.

From 2019-22, children’s social workers did an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week, according to successive waves of the longitudinal survey.

However, a recent Community Care poll, which amassed 553 votes, found that social workers who responded have been working more unpaid hours than this, on average.

While almost one-third of respondents (32%) said they were working six to ten hours overtime a week, just over half (52%) reported doing 11-15 additional hours (23%) or 16+ hours above their contracted limit (29%). The rest (16%) said they worked an extra one to five hours a week.

‘I have no choice but to work on evenings and weekends’

The comments section of a recent article on the DfE’s launch of a national action group to tackle workloads painted a picture that matched the findings.

Practitioners shared their experiences of being forced to work over evenings and weekends.

For Leanne, a newly qualified social worker on the assessed and supported year in employment, “every hour I spend with a child equates to four hours of admin”.

“I’m also sure my caseload is not currently protected, as I have more cases than the senior social workers on the team. And it’s not like they’re less complex ones. I have no choice but to work on evenings and weekends because I would never meet deadlines. I’ve started making a note of my excess hours to try and attempt to take it back as time off in lieu (TOIL), but that seems futile because if I take time off, that just generates more work.”

However, fellow reader Jimmy said that recording hours was a good idea, urging: “Social workers need to log their hours, keep their calendars fully up to date and tell their managers they will be taking the time back.

“Then in supervision tell your supervisor there is just no capacity to take on more. The more social workers keep doing this overtime for free, the more councils will continue to up the caseloads.”

Call for paid overtime

Another practitioner, Ryan Simonet, who works an average of 10-15 hours more than he is contracted to each week, called for paid overtime.

“Were we to be paid overtime, watch how quickly caseloads and bureaucracy would be reined in.”

However, Clara warned that there were cultural issues that militated against safer workloads.

“I have met workers who will overwork themselves to the point of harming their health,” she added. “Workers who push back and want TOIL and boundaried workloads can get labelled as ‘difficult’. Whereas those who respond to requests to take on more are praised as ‘super-troupers’.”

How do you manage your workload? Tell us in the comments below.

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9 Responses to How much unpaid overtime do social workers do?

  1. David September 14, 2023 at 10:28 pm #

    The reality is that caseloads have become impossible to manage. Sadly there has developed a now long standing culture within Children’s Services whereby Social Workers are expected to be martyrs to the job, extending to working excessive hours and over and above agreed contracted hours. This has been promoted by managers. Clearly this impacts upon a SW’s physical and mental health, and consequently upon his/her work and life outside of the workplace. Should SW’s not buy into this culture then they are not “favoured”, and to the extent of being engineered out of the workplace through the use of capability procedures. TOIL is an absolute joke, and my experience is that it has been denied

  2. Phil Sanderson September 14, 2023 at 10:54 pm #

    I used to calculate my extra hours over the year and it was around six weeks of additional unpaid time. Unions should be balloting staff to ban overtime so that people can have protection from the long hours culture so loved by senior management and Ofsted

  3. Roryboy September 15, 2023 at 5:09 pm #

    As an experienced children and families social work practitioner who returned to front line child protection practice in 2013 ( agency). I am preparing to conduct research at PhD level and my burning question to colleagues is “ why do we do it?”. I qualified in the mid nineties and have participated in the working of excessive hours to ensure my professional responsibilities are some way to being completed, but I continue to ask myself “ why” I ensure that I practice using relationship principles it’s the paper work which seems to be the priority… this has been my experience. Any insight from colleagues would be helpful to my understanding, of “ why we continue to do it”.

    It’s time ‘ we stood together and supported each other’ to change this toxic culture we work in.

  4. Lou Wright September 16, 2023 at 1:32 pm #

    I calculated 23 additional hours last week and that’s the norm for me as a Team Manager.

    Senior Management don’t give two hoots that I work every evening, as long as their stats are where they want it. I asked a senior manager to allow me 3 days to close cases before reallocating and I got told no. The day a meeting agreed case closure, I was allocating more. I try to protect my team but to no avail. 2 ASYEs and 3 agency staff in my Child Protection Team. 105 children and counting. At least 40% of the children are in PLO or Court. Crippling

    Burn out is real

    • Tom September 22, 2023 at 6:52 pm #

      Lou you are being exploited by your employer. All those working hours for nothing..

      There is little more to say than this. You need to leave and go and work elsewhere in my opinion.

      Best of luck..

  5. Katherine September 16, 2023 at 5:11 pm #

    Working hours have become silly. if we are not going to strike is it about time we (with support from our unions) work to rule. Let managers and SLT dictate our time to keep on top of the work needed every week. record a lack of time in case notes when timescales are out for protection and talk about the workload in supervisions?
    Something has to give somewhere.

    • David September 18, 2023 at 10:11 am #

      Could not agree more

  6. Mark W September 18, 2023 at 7:50 am #

    Social workers will continue to be exploited by employers and Government as long we let them. People power is needed – urgently.

  7. Roryboy September 18, 2023 at 12:01 pm #

    Hi Katherine,

    I have watched the political arena over a course of many years. Unfortunately I have seen the demise of the power of unions since 1979. I was active during the mines strike, the colleague working in unions want the best for their members. However they are powerless against the systems which dictate our practice.

    We are Street Level Bureaucrats. (Lipsky) he discusses the dilemmas of the individual n Public Services.

    I grew up in a city where politics were an every day matter. The individuals in the city I grew up in are perceived as trouble makers, because the are Radical. As social workers our values and philosophy should be to empower the disempowered… unfortunately the individual power working for the L. A is limited, I think it started in 1997 the NL government introduced measures to stop what they called drift. I am not saying any model is perfect, however I have heard the concept of the deconstruction of S. Work, during my career. I wish I could find the answer to shift the power balance from state to S. worker, other professionals are not dictated to by policy and procedures. I have worked with many committed individuals I had it once said to me “ thank you for keeping the faith” each time I have challenged, my opportunities have reduced.

    I m proud to call myself a social worker and I have worked with many vulnerable individuals during my time. I would suggest society needs to change, and help us to put the SOCIAL back in social work.