Almost half of social workers in Wales likely to quit profession over next five years, finds survey

Over three-quarters of practitioners say they are stressed by having too much to do, while almost a quarter do not feel safe at work, according to Social Care Wales-commissioned research

Picture with a postit note that reads 'I quit!'
Picture: photoprodra/fotolia

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Almost half of social workers in Wales say they are likely to quit the profession over the next five years, a survey has found.

Over three-quarters said that they felt stressed due to workload, while almost a quarter did not feel safe at work, according to the research carried out for Social Care Wales by Opinion Research Services (ORS).

Overall, social workers expressed more dissatisfaction and lower morale than care staff and social care managers, who were also polled for the study, the first comprehensive survey of the registered workforce in Wales.

“This dissatisfaction is clearly a cause for concern, and further exploration is required to understand how far this is correlated with the likelihood of leaving the profession,” said the study report.

ORS polled 451 social workers – equivalent to 7.3% of the registered population (6,157) – in an online survey, which ran from March to May 2023.

Likelihood of leaving profession

One in five (21%) social workers said they were very or quite likely to leave the social care sector within the next year, with 46% saying they were likely to leave within the next five years.

While the intention to leave within five years was highest among practitioners aged 55 and over (73%), 41% of those aged 35-54 felt the same.

And though ORS said practitioners may be “over-claiming” in relation to their likelihood to leave, it added that there was “clear cause for concern regarding retention and a real challenge to recruit suitably experienced replacement staff”.

Stress caused by overwork

Overwork was, by far, the biggest contributory factor behind retention risk, with 64% of those who said they were likely to leave within the next five years citing it as a reason.

This was reflected in the finding that 77% of social workers said that having too much to do and not enough time to do it in was a cause of stress, well ahead of the equivalent rates for social care managers (62%) and care workers (39%).

And just a third (34%) of social workers said they believed the right staff were in place to deliver services always or most of the time, compared with 72% of social care managers and 57% of care workers.

Relatively low job satisfaction

Social workers were also less satisfied at work than the other two groups, with 38% saying they were completely, mostly or somewhat dissatisfied, compared with 32% of care workers and 23% of social care managers.

And while three-quarters of managers and two-thirds of care workers said their job always or mostly gave them a feeling of work well done, this was true of less than half (44%) of social workers.

Morale was also lower among social workers, with 52% saying it was good either all or most of the time, as against 65% for the whole sample.

Perceived lack of value

Social workers felt much less valued by the public, with just 20% reporting this, compared with 48% of care workers and social care managers.

“This perception, whether real or imagined, is likely to have a negative impact on those working in the sector,” said the report.

Though almost two-thirds of social workers (64%) felt valued by the people they supported, this was below the 78% recorded for care workers and 83% of social care managers.

Social workers were also more likely to report negative experiences than other groups, with 33% saying they had been bullied, compared with 28% of the whole sample.

Not feeling safe

Almost one in four (23%) said they did not feel safe at work, well above the rates for care workers (15%) and social care managers (9%).

More positively, 86% of social workers felt supported by their colleagues all or most of the time, while 69% felt the same about their manager.

However, just 48% would recommend their organisation as a place to work, just below the rate for care workers (52%) and well below that for social care managers (80%).

ORS said it found a “narrative throughout much of the data that the social worker profession is under particular stress”.

“Nearly half of social workers expect to leave the profession in the next five years,” it added. “This highlights some real challenges in maintaining an experienced and qualified workforce.”

Lower vacancy rate than in England

The findings come despite the social worker vacancy rate in Welsh local authorities and council-commissioned services having fallen, from 10.8% to 7.9%, in the year to summer 2022.

This is in contrast to the trend in England, where the rate rose from 16.7% to 20% in children’s services, and from 9.5% to 11.6% in adults’ services, over the same period.

However, Wales is currently struggling to train enough social workers to meet its needs, with Social Care Wales reporting that, of the 326 social workers the country needed to enter the workforce each year, only 202 were qualifying through Welsh courses annually.

And despite the workforce pressures revealed by the ORS report, the Welsh Government has rejected calls from Senedd members to legislate to limit children’s social worker caseloads, on the grounds that it may be counterproductive.

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3 Responses to Almost half of social workers in Wales likely to quit profession over next five years, finds survey

  1. Pete October 9, 2023 at 2:41 pm #

    No wonder, there is an expectation to work over normal hours unpaid, and trying to take time off in lieu basically impossible.

  2. Chris Sterry October 9, 2023 at 3:26 pm #

    This should come as no surprise and will be much similar in other areas of the UK because workloads have been excessive for years and with the current state of social care lack of funding will only worsen.

    The current Tory government is not even considering social care and has followed the practice for many years in the past and more than likely in the future. There was no mention in the recent party conferences, even though Labour is apparently putting some measures forward for the NHS, but even there it is much more work, even with increased pay, but doing nothing to alleviate workloads in the NHS, just increasing them.

    Here it is just mentioning Social workers in Wales and not even the full extent of social care which is also suffering from extensive underfunding. In its present state social care will eventually disappear and then while social workers will be needed even more there will be no social care in the community to refer to.

    This will create many more pressures both in social care needs and then into the NHS, as health conditions will increase in severity and occurrences.

    Those in need of care and their families will suffer even more all due to no government actions to solve the problems purely down to governments not being prepared to own any of the problems.

    Looks as fart as the government is concerned there are no problems, but they need to listen and see, by opening their ears and eyes and not being cocooned in their own sense of being.

    The government is and should be there for all of us, not just themselves. They can’t change the past, but they can the current and certainly the future, but don’t count on it.

  3. Tonderai Muhwat October 25, 2023 at 2:00 am #

    The views raised above are very true they need action. Social workers feel undervalued. They are not protected from abusive service users. Not even a public notice to state what action will be taken if they abuse workers. If public members raise a concern this is taken as verbatim and accurate leading to drastic action with serious concequences on innocent and undervalued workers. Reports of concerns are power based with the Regulator Social Work England taking practice concerns straight away without picking that this can be abused for personal gains.The Reference system is an open check fir abuse as it can be used to reward friends and punishing non friends. The reference is for a particular wirker and transparence , the worker must be given a copy for transparence, fairness and enable the worker to challenge inaccurate references. Social Work England must protect all, Worker and Manager by stating very clear consequences of the reference system as some managers are abusing it and writing references which are personal, abuse power, unfair, unchallenged and have an impact of a social workers Right To Work based on personal, unfair, racist and subjective references. There is no evidence the the Regulator is taking action an protecting all from abuse and power is evidently being abused. There is evidence over the years that the reference system while a noble idea , is an open cheque fir abuse, gross, untold suffering, not transparent and has affected workers rights, Right to work indeed like a death sentence which against this country. It is open for abuse and beind abused lwft right centre and there is no evidence that this is an issue for the Rugular .
    I can do a class 1 Doctorate on this matter asI have been observing this being grosslt abused over the years wuth no action taken at all. This sensitive working relations matter should be regulated as a priority for a balance, fairness so that false, practice concerns with hiden agendas are nit sent to the Regulator. Social workers are regulated and all areas of concerns should be regulated and consequences made clear. Actually, the within the law anyone is innocent until proven guilty but for unprotected social workers its the opposite- guilty until proven innocent. References should be based on matters recorded , agreed and signed by supervisor and supervisee during supervion.Anything outside this should dismissed with costs and clear consequences as it breaches fairness, leads to false , misleading and un reliable records by those bent on abusing power. This has an impact of tempering with fairness, right to work , finances, mental health as those unfairly treated are left in a situation they can meet their financial responsibilities including feeding their familes. This can be the outcome of false records created those with power whose actions has the effect of removing their victims right to work and indeed the right to live as well. This is just a tip of the iceberg. This experience was obtained as worker and a manager as well.