The Independent reports that the average social worker in the UK takes almost 60% more sick leave in any given year than the ‘average employee’.

The figures were put together by MP Annette Brooke and they show that

Social workers’ annual absence rate was 11.8 days a year – 60 per cent higher than the national average of 7.4 days for all employees.

While not necessarily surprised, I would expect that rather than a lot of employees, taking a lot of days off, it is more likely (just through my own very limited experience) that it is more due to the amount of people who are on long-term sick leave that the average is so high.

image ellectric @ flickr

Compared to other public sector workers, the difference isn’t necessary so notable although there is still a differential.

The sickness rate is more than two days higher than the national average in the public sector of 9.7 days, including 11 in the National Health Service, 10.2 in the police and 7.5 in education. The average in the private sector is 6.4 days’ absence.

While links are obviously being drawn between stress and overwork, lack of support and lack of staffing – it is hard to understand how this might be tackled on a short term basis – save that by pushing out the recruitment campaigns. I wonder too, if the stress levels in other professions within the National Health Service and the police are really that much less.

Of course, it might be possible to guess that social workers are just less healthy people but I don’t really consider that – although it leads me to some rather comical mental images!

Personally, I think that there is a question of more people filling vacancies. I went to visit a friend of mine, a social worker in a child protection team in one of the more pleasant home counties. She told me they had barely any full-time employees and most of the team was made up with agency workers travelling from London – of course, posts need to be filled.  Although my own team and the previous team I worked in where all fully staffed by permanent employees, that is more of a rarity.

I also think though that  management needs to be more effective as well. People who are experienced and competent should be trained to be managers, not just appointed to management positions because they’ve been around in the team for so long. Management is a skill and can be taught and mastered.

I have had both good and bad managers. I have had many days where I’ve felt sick just as I’ve turned to the door of my office because I’ve felt that I couldn’t bear another day of the constant levels of stress – but the difference between walking through the door and not, is the support of a manager.

The Guardian reports on a scheme to train new social work/social care managers. The demand for managers in the sector, is, apparently, growing. I am more surprised that this scheme isn’t focussing on those who have a few years experience in the sector rather than new graduates – but it seems to be a scheme the government likes to support – seeing young graduates in management and fast-tracking ‘the right’ people although grumpy old me thinks it’s a bit of a sheep in sheep’s clothing approach.

Perhaps the cynicism will make me sick.

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