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SOCIAL WORKER WELLBEING RESEARCHERS AWARDED  Female social worker holding clipboard and wearing dark rimmed glasses and hijab

17 May 2021

An interdisciplinary study by researchers from Queen’s, Ulster University and King’s College London, into social workers’ wellbeing and attitudes towards their profession, was earlier this month (04 May 2021) awarded the European Social Work Research Association’s (ESWRA) Award for an Outstanding Publication in European Research.  

The study ‘Growing older in social work: Perspective on systems of support to extend working lives – Findings from a UK survey’, reports on a survey of over 1,300 social workers across the UK showed high demand for increased work flexibility and suggests that the coming years may see many retire early from the profession if more supports are not put in place.

Dr John Moriarty, from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, and CESI, and Dr Heike Schroder from Queen’s Management School, designed and co-authored the study which was published in the British Journal of Social Work, along with colleagues from Ulster University and King’s College London.

Speaking about the professional demands faced by social workers, Dr Moriarty said:

“We found that the leading reason for social workers to consider early retirement, or a change of profession, was the level of demand and stress experienced in work.

“This could impact both the demand for social services among those impacted by long-term work stress, as well as the ability to meet those demands and retain the skills and knowhow of our most experienced social workers.”

Addressing the wellbeing needs of social workers Dr Schroder said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the wellbeing of frontline workers, but our study demonstrates that the high demands on social workers predate lockdown and the current pressures created by rising domestic violence.

“It is crucial during Mental Health Awareness Week that we think about whether our organisational systems are supporting frontline workers’ wellbeing, and how to actively promote policies which provide much-needed flexibility and role transition opportunities to workers who need these accommodations.”

Ulster University research team was led by Dr Paula McFadden and co-authored by Dr John Mallett and Dr Patricia Gillen.

Reflecting on the shifting demographics in the workforce Dr McFadden said:

“Our continued engagement with the social care sectors as well as the NI business community pointed us to a real need to better understand the phenomenon of growing old in high-demand high-stress professions.

“What we produced is an example of low cost, high impact research using those very networks to access individuals in a range of service contexts. The paper is directly feeding into the ongoing Social Work Workforce Review by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, and we hope this review will be a model for the other UK nations to plan for shifting demographics in the workforce and the population at large.”

Professor Jill Manthorpe, from Kings College London commented:

“An examination of workforce ageing is critical for the social work profession. Other disciplines are proactive at looking at age demographics and we need more research in this area to inform our workforce planning and strategic direction in the short, medium and longer term.”

On presentation of its Outstanding Publication Award to Dr McFadden, ESWRA Chair Professor Judith Metz said:

“The Awards panel received a total of 24 nominations for this award, and unanimously agreed that the publication is an excellent article, which constitutes a relevant piece of research in social work, focusing on a very interesting topic for social work practitioners, educators, researchers and policy makers.

“I would like to congratulate Dr McFadden and co-authors on this outstanding work.”

The Award recognises papers which:

  • Are carried out in a demonstrably new area of research;
  • Demonstrate methodological innovation;
  • Make a significant or conceptual contribution to the field;
  • Has potential for impact with policy-makers, practitioners and other research users.

The British Journal of Social Work is much sought after by leading social work academics for its prestigious rankings and international reach on a global scale.

Dr McFadden accepted the award on behalf of the research team at the Opening Ceremony of the ESWRA (online) Conference, hosted by the University of Bucharest, Romania on 4 May 2021.

Media enquiries to Queen's Communications Office on telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 3091.

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