Skip to main content

Employers' duty to protect social workers from burnout

Employers need to do more to protect social workers from emotional burnout, BASW warned in the wake of a report highlighting ‘life expectancy’ in the profession is just eight years.

The new study found social workers who wear their hearts on their sleeves reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression.

However, those who failed to engage emotionally with their clients risked alienating them, according to the study by the University of Bedfordshire.

Academics from the university have developed a toolkit for trainee social workers designed to help them manage their emotions.

But Joe Godden, professional officer at BASW, stressed employers also had a part to play in protecting staff from suffering burnout.

“The emphasis on this study is on the individual and what they can do and what universities can do to develop their emotional resilience.

“But it isn’t just about individuals. It is also about what the employer should do.

“Yes, the individual needs to take responsibility for developing their emotional resilience, but employers need to give good supervision. They need to understand it is a demanding job. A lot of the demands are not only the emotional impact of working with people who are in pain and suffering, but it is also all the bureaucracy that goes with it.”

Mr Godden added negative public perception of social workers perpetuated by some sections of the media was also impacting on wellbeing.

“If you are working really hard doing extra hours and at the end of the day you pick up the papers and they say what you are doing is rubbish, that is going to have an affect on your emotional resilience.”

Bedford University’s findings were presented today at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology.

Professor Gail Kinman, who co-led the research with Louise Grant, said: “The ‘life expectancy’ of a qualified social worker is a meagre eight years. As a group they are more prone to burnout and experience above average levels of sickness absence. Emotional exhaustion is highly distressing and potentially life changing for the sufferer but it is also likely to have a negative impact on service users.

“We need emotionally resilient social workers who are able to relate empathically and appropriately with their service users in order to maintain service standards and continuity of care.”

Prof Kinman and Ms Grant have designed an ‘emotional curriculum’ for teaching alongside the academic curriculum at universities to enhance the emotional resilience of social workers. It is currently being evaluated.