8 Apr 2021

NQSW supervision resource 7 - Wellbeing and resilience needs

NQSW supervision resource 7 - Wellbeing and resilience needs

What does research on resilience tell us?

Key findings from recent BASW research advocates that social workers need:

  • positive working conditions to provide good services
  • professional development time for reflective supervision
  • manageable caseloads and a consistent approach to allocation
  • support to reduce stress and improve wellbeing

Much helpful guidance including the IRISS Insight on Achieving Effective Supervision (Kettle, 2015) identifies that good supervision happens when part of a broader learning culture with the following features: 

  • regular reviews of problems provide learning opportunities 
  • an organisational commitment to continuing professional learning
  • space is made for professional autonomy and discretion
  • the emotional impact of social work practice is recognised 

There is increased awareness of the impact of secondary trauma from supporting people who use our services and the impact that this has on workers.

Supervision and resilience

Approaches need to ensure that supervision covers the spectrum of worker needs whether in the individual relationship or a mixture of approaches including mentoring and structured peer groups. In balance with this ‘compassion satisfaction’ (Alkema et al, 2008), is a complementary concept to that of compassion fatigue, which energises us in our role by seeing positive changes for people who use services.

The transition from university into practice may be empowering or challenging as you adjust to the additional workload. Managing this transition with feelings of growing capacity and competence requires building a good relationship with a supervisor and also being aware of wider relationships and resources you can access before any work stress inhibits managing your role.

Resilience resources

The IRISS website has a helpful set of resilience resources for social work and social care workers collected by IRISS, Social Work Scotland and SSSC with examples from practice.

Adamson et al (2014) argue that coping behaviours and work-life balance are essential parts of maintaining wellbeing in a profession where the use of self is our core resource.

Researchers identified several burnout factors in social workers including vicarious traumatisation and compassion fatigue (Alkema et al., 2008). However, the study supports the view that, despite working in adverse conditions, social workers also experience high levels of job satisfaction a phenomenon they term as ‘compassion satisfaction’.

To reduce the risk of burnout we need to have self-knowledge and be willing to challenge assumptions we have around having to cope and fearing that a supervisor may judge us when we are overwhelmed. Supervisors are unlikely to judge, as they will most probably have experienced times when they were less able to cope so it is useful to be honest about difficulties so a supervisor has a chance to respond to any support needs.

Knowing about local resources for workers including employee assistance schemes and access to de-briefing support, telephone and face to face counselling options can also be useful, ask your supervisor about this. Making sure you are ok and taking up offers of support is a strength, not a weakness.

Wider resilience resources include things like mindfulness practice which has become more accessible in recent years and can be a useful practice to support wellbeing. Many workers, even if familiar, may benefit from a reminder and links to free resources below given that apps are often subscription-based.

Following a few years of research, BASW has also produced a good practice toolkit for wellbeing and working conditions. This helpfully separates responsibilities for:

  • Social workers in direct practice
  • Social work supervisors and practice leaders
  • Teams, team leaders and managers
  • Senior managers and organisational leaders
  • Professional organisations & Trade unions

Information and links

Shared by other NQSWs

Reflective questions

  • Think about a time in previous roles, during study or SW placement when you were feeling overwhelmed and note down what internal and external resources you accessed to help manage
  • What else might have helped you?
  • Do you have a clear wellbeing plan of what you do to support yourself both inside and outside of work?
  • What are the indicators that you would need to ask for further support?
  • Given that we often struggle to think clearly in times of crisis, you might want to note things down to be aware of what would help you if you need it.

Go to NQSW supervision resource 8 – Making best use of supervision

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