1.4 Organisational and socio-political factors
Concerns about workforce retention have prompted a considerable body of research exploring the organisational and socio-political factors of social worker stress. Reviewing this literature, Beddoe et al. (2013) note the following areas of concern:
- There are issues concerning the wellbeing of newly graduated social workers, where the focus is on knowledge and tasks rather than developing professionally as a person.
- Discussions note the potential for adverse experiences in social work in child protection, and to some extent in health settings.
- Being exposed to very challenging circumstances experienced by some service users – such as abuse, neglect, acute grief, severe illness and trauma – can contribute to ‘compassion fatigue’ and emotional exhaustion for social workers.
- Workplace adversities also stem from high caseloads, changes in funding and organisational arrangements, and limited resources.
These concerns are well-supported by research. For example, Neil’s (2014) study of 12 child protection social workers in Scotlandillustrates very powerfully the research findings of Beddoe et al.
Experiences of adversity can also arise as a result of racism, homophobia and other kinds of discrimination in the workplace and in wider society (CommunityCare, 2012; McNicoll, 2013a). In fact, this is one reason that Garrett (2015) takes a critical stance to the concept of resilience itself, drawing attention to the way in which seeing resilience as an individual responsibility tends to minimise the impact of the societal and political context.
While individual resilience develops from overcoming difficult circumstances, including both personal and external sources of stress, it cannot, of course, resolve wider organisational and structural sources of stress. The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and trade unions run campaigns to address workplace stress and other social issues. Employers have a ‘duty of care’ to their staff. In England the Local Government Association (LGA) has published standards for employers to reduce social worker stress, although Webber (2015) suggests they are not widely adopted. In Scotland and Wales, there are care council codes of practice for social service employers. You may wish to consult the relevant documents to find out what you can expect from your agency in relation to staff support.