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Last Updated: Oct 11, 2012 - 10:22:56 PM
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Poor job satisfaction and burnout among mental health social workers in UK

Jan 23, 2006 - 5:22:00 PM , Reviewed by: Ankush Vidyarthi
A significant number of people were sufficiently dissatisfied to want to leave their jobs. 21% had made specific plans to leave and 28% had a strong desire to leave.

[RxPG] Excessive job demands, limited scope for decision-making and unhappiness about the place of the mental health social worker (MHSW) in modern services contribute to poor job satisfaction, stress and burnout, the first national study of this professional group has found.

Published in the January 2006 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry, the researchers set out to examine the prevalence of stress, burnout and job satisfaction among MHSWs, and the factors responsible.

As many as 81% of local authorities report problems recruiting and retaining social workers, and staffing is more problematic in social work than in any other professional group.

High vacancy (5% - 16%) and turnover rates (7% - 30%) contribute to staff shortages, excessive workloads and reliance on temporary staff. Work pressures can lead to burnout - a combination of emotional exhaustion, 'depersonalisation' (a sense of being unreal, or feeling that your mind is separated from your body), and low personal accomplishment.

A postal survey was sent to 610 MSHWs in England and Wales. It included the General Health Questionnaire which assesses psychological problems (and measures stress); the Maslach Burnout Inventory; and job content questionnaires; and a job satisfaction measure.

237 returned questionnaires were eligible for inclusion in the analysis. 61% of respondents were female and most of the sample was aged under 50. Only 10% were from minority ethnic or other cultural groups.

83% of the sample worked full-time, and respondents worked an average of 43 hours per week, roughly six hours more than they were contracted for. 39% of the working week was spent in face-to-face contact with service users and 29% on administration (partly owing to limited support).

The most striking findings of the survey were the high levels of stress and emotional exhaustion, and low levels of job satisfaction. 47% of the sample showed significant signs of psychological problems and distress, which is twice the level reported by similar surveys of psychiatrists.

The factors which contributed to poor job satisfaction and most aspects of burnout were high job demand and not feeling valued for the work that they do. Those MHSWs who had approved social worker status had greater job dissatisfaction.

A significant number of people were sufficiently dissatisfied to want to leave their jobs. 21% had made specific plans to leave and 28% had a strong desire to leave.

Other factors, such as number of hours worked, scope for decision-making and feelings about how social work is perceived within mental health services, are also important determinants of stress and features of burnout.

The authors of the study comment that although MHSWs make a significant contribution to community mental health teams, they are a scarce and declining resource. This is in stark contrast to other countries, notably the USA, where social workers are the major professional group in mental health services.

In Northern Ireland the rates of approved social workers in mental health services are three times those in England and Wales.

Employers must recognise the demands placed upon MHSWs, and value their contribution to mental health services. Further research is needed into ways to decrease stress and improve job satisfaction among MHSWs, with the aim of improving recruitment and retention.

Publication: Evans S, Huxley P, Gately C, Webber M, Mears A, Pajak S, Medina J, Kendall T and Katona C (2006) Mental Health, burnout and job satisfaction among mental health social workers in England and Wales. British Journal of Psychiatry, 188, 75-80.
On the web: bjp.rcpsych.org 

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