This in turn influences their work, stress levels and resultant staffing problems. Johnson and Sarenson (78) recognized individual differences in reaction to ‘stress’ and identified a higher rate of stress related symptoms amongst those who were controlled by external forces. Within the organisation, Social Workers often feel obligated to relieve the pressures associated with ‘long’ waiting lists of people awaiting an assessment and often bear large caseloads without the protection of a ‘predictable’ timetable.
These features can increase the natural tendency towards stress and depression.A briefing note prepared for a Scottish Parliamentary debate on 13th. January 2000, carried out by the NISW Workforce Study group, indicated that 62% of Social Work staff in England had suffered work related stress in 1998. Figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland were 50% and 31% respectively. While caution should be exercised when using statistics such as these as ‘evidence to the cause’ one could argue that the statistics could be much higher than stated.
Many Social Workers may be loath to admit they are suffering from stress in the fear that they will then be considered as ‘not up to the job’.In the light of such statistics alongside an out-of-court settlement of i?? 175. 000 to an area manager for a Northumberland Social Services, who is said to have suffered two mental breakdowns forcing him into early retirement due to stress, initiatives are being implemented to manage stress in the workplace. The development of effective interventions will be challenging.
With this in mind, one could expect that the needs of all who work in the realm of Social services, regardless of status, alongside all the theories relating to the causes of stress, be taken into account before initiating mechanisms to manage it.At the time of writing however, an initiative has been implemented in Buckinghamshire, intended to make Social Workers feel more valued, which appears not to have taken into account either of the above. An increase in salary alongside an elevated position within the grading system for qualified Social Workers, has caused much anxiety to those who are not qualified, such as Social Work Assistants, Care Workers and Student Social Workers, who, as such, have ‘fell short’ of ‘recognition’.
The authority appear to have totally disregarded their contribution to the organisation as a whole, many who have additional pressures from other sources, and, as a result, have been left feeling professionally deflated and undervalued, a primary source of stress. It has been said that ‘immediate’ reactions to stress are fairly similar in type across a broad spectrum of people, but that long-term effects can vary considerably, dependant on biological, psychosocial and/or economic factors.This is pertinent to the diverse variety of Social Workers and suggests that certain workers are more likely to experience risks of diseases as a result of characteristics such as age, race, genetic susceptibility, disability, language, literacy, culture and income. Whilst there is no ‘hard’ evidence that stress can cause conditions such as heart failure, the British Heart Foundation recognises that work pressures were ‘.
..forcing people to take shorter lunch breaks, to eat pre-prepared, unhealthy food and indulge in other unhealthy behaviour’, all of which are said to add to the risk of developing cardiac related problems. Lunch breaks, if taken at all in Social Work, are often chances to ‘catch up’ on a backlog of paperwork, input data onto the computer or to read and respond to emails. With this in mind, one could consider whether it is actually possible to incorporate a ‘global’ strategy for managing stress in the Social Workers? Should strategies for dealing with stress be tailored to different ‘populations’ within the organisation?What training and other prevention strategies are most effective for Social Workers for whom English in not a native language or who have limited physical abilities, or for Social Workers of different races, ages, cultures and socio-economic circumstances? The development of effective intervention prevention strategies will, undoubtedly require innovative approaches.References: BANYARD, Phillip (1999) in Skills Development Handbook. BCUC.
BRAYE, Suzy and PRESTON-SHOOT, Michael (1999), Empowering Practice in Social Care. Open University Press, Buckingham, Philadelphia.DALRYMPLE, Jane and BURKE, Beverley (2000), Anti-oppressive Practice. Social Care and the Law.
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