What social workers need
Key findings from recent 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
You can read about this recent research from BASW here BASW Social Worker wellbeing and working conditions
You will also find specific links to national resources on wellbeing and resilience at the bottom of this page.
Other helpful guidance including the IRISS Insight on Achieiving 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
- 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 can have.
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.
Wellbeing and resilience
The transition from university into practice may be empowering for some but others may experience challenges in adjusting to new responsibilities and increased workload. Supporting NQSW’s to manage this transition with feelings of growing capacity and competence is an important task for supervisors.
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. This could lead to high worker turnover which negatively impacts the whole workplace and perpetuates a cycle of adversity, (Alkema et al 2008).
The research 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.
As in practice we do have to put in boundaries from time to time when something exceeds either our mandate, our skills or an aspect of the relationship makes offering extended support a less than ideal fit.
This may include knowing about local resources for workers including Employee Assistance Schemes and access to de-briefing support, telephone and face to face counselling options. In the case of anonymous referral options to employee support services, it would be useful to include this in any contract at the outset of a supervision relationship. If assistance options are contained in the organisational policy, you might provide a copy ensuring the support information is accessible and clear.
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
- There is also a National Wellbeing Hub for all frontline social services workers and some current work is under development for specific social work resources being included there.
- National Wellbeing Hub National Wellbeing Hub for people working in health and care
- Adamson, C., Beddoe, L., & Davys, A. (2014). Building Resilient Practitioners: Definitions and Practitioner Understandings, British Journal of Social Work, 44 (3), 522-541
- Alkema, K., Linton, J.M. & Davies, R. (2008). Self-Care, Compassion Satisfaction, Compassion Fatigue, and Burnout Among Hospice Professionals. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life & Palliative Care, Vol. 4(2) 2008
- BASW Social worker wellbeing and working conditions
- BASW Social Worker Wellbeing – Good practice toolkit
- IRISS – Resilience Hub
- Kettle, M. (2015). Achieving effective supervision. Insight 30: IRISS.
Shared by other NQSWs
Reflective questions for you as a supervisor
- Think about a time in your professional development journey where you may have felt extremely stressed or struggled to cope with demands.
- Write down what protective factors helped you to recover from that.
- Consider how you might encourage supervisees to create their own list of what supports they could benefit from to prevent acute stress or burnout.