Monday, 5 November 2018

Working Conditions

There is a lot of evidence that stressed employees do not deliver good products and services. A recent article in the Guardian makes the point that British people work longer hours than many of their counterparts in Europe and that they are less productive, as a result. It is reported that now some British companies are reducing the working week to four days in an attempt to improve the health and happiness of employees and to increase efficiency and productivity.

That news coincides with the publication of the latest UK Social Workers Working Conditions Report prepared by researchers at Bath Spa University and funded by the British Association of Social Workers and the Social Workers Union. 

Being an update on a similar publication in 2017, this report makes for even grimmer reading. It was found that social workers, including children’s social workers, experienced working conditions contributing to stress and ill-health that are worse than nearly all other UK employees in both public and private sectors, . Social workers work an average of eleven hours per week in excess of their contracted hours and sixty percent were found to be considering leaving their current jobs (compared to 52% in 2017). Nearly 40% of respondents were looking to leave the profession entirely. The main factors contributing to stress were found to be high case and administrative loads and lack of resources. Over 40% of social workers had been exposed to aggressive or physically abusive behaviours at least once a month from service users.

There is nothing new in any of this research. It just confirms a well-established and deteriorating situation. For many years children’s social workers in Britain have not been well treated well and in recent years they have had to endure hotdesking, poor office accommodation and sub-standard IT support. 

None of that bodes well for the quality of services. Overworked and over stressed people cannot provide top quality services. It is just not possible to respond to the complex human needs of a family under stress or a distressed maltreated child if you yourself are over-stretched and over-stressed.

Good child protection practice requires social workers who can work sensitively and reflectively to bring about the best possible outcomes for the children they serve. They will not be able to do that if their employers continue to subject them to poor working conditions.

If private companies believe that they can get more from their employees by treating them well - and introducing a four day week - then maybe the public sector should consider doing that for their employees too. If child protection social workers can be given less stressful working conditions - and more time and space to reflect on what is happening to a child or a family - then most likely  the right decisions would be made more often. Getting things right in the first place - working more productively - means less rework and less waste of scarce resources. So paradoxically less work can actually equal greater output. 

Local authority employers need to wake up. The current climate of stress and overwork and fear results in worse and less efficient services. Urgent change is required.