Social Worker Stress Symptom of Organisational Problems

Alex Chard writes on CommunityCare.co.uk that “when staff in Social Care get significantly stressed the issue is often individualised- it’s seen that they are not coping when what organisations should be doing is looking systematically at the stressors causing the stress.”  Chard asserts here that looking at stress without considering the systemic causes won’t effectively address the issue long term.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

From a legal perspective, it is becoming increasingly beneficial for employers to think of the stress levels of a Social Worker Employee in objective terms, rather than subjectively. In this sense they would be thinking about the health of the employee and their stress levels from the viewpoint of what might be considered reasonable in terms of workload/ experiences at work. This is as opposed to the culture of questioning why that individual specifically is suffering from stress.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

This may be difficult and contrary to their instinct as Managers trying to maximise productivity, but in the long term this policy outlook may help limit legal liability for workplace stress.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

Reasonable steps[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

The nature of the role of Social Workers means some often carry a heavy emotional load due to the continual burden of looking after the needs of vulnerable people. The emotional and physical impact of working in this occupation on a daily basis will inevitably take its toll on the average person. In some cases this will result in time off work and therefore injury, loss and damage suffered, be it physical fatigue or psychiatric damage through stress related illnesses such as depression and anxiety.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

It is argued that the greater the emotional load carried, the more observant the management should be in order to discharge the duty of care to the employee. Identifying this load may be the most difficult objective here for management, especially if the employee appears to be coping fine with their duties.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

However an effective distribution of cases based on risk assessment might create a protective barrier for employees who aren’t continually dealing with highly stressful cases that in turn damages their health. Failure of management to take proactive steps either through one on one management or implementing procedure creates a formula for increased stress. This consequently provides an open door for Claimants for Stress at Work actions in the County Court.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

Culture[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

Under the heading “Good leaders and the duty of care” Alex Chard asserts that “a fundamental of any learning organisation is ensuring that senior leaders understand and respond to what is happening at the front- line. This is contrasted with an individually located, problem focused approach (whereby the employee is merely seen as not coping with their role.)[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

A progressive approach for Managers will be the ability to think objectively in order to negate liability for stress at work claims. Accurate risk assessments by culture and practice together with effective one on one management monthly could be examples whereby “good leadership” is implemented in practical terms.[dt_gap height=”10″ /]

Management/ Employers should ask themselves- is this social workers workload/ field reasonably likely to cause them stress? Applying this question to a scenario may be difficult at times, but evidence of this change in attitude and culture towards stress at work will go some way towards a healthier and more productive workforce long term.

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