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Social workers' burnout, job control and demand


This secondary analysis of survey responses utilises unique and rich data on job characteristics of social workers in England. Data were obtained through two national evaluations focusing on the experience of adult and children social workers and is used with permission from the funders. Social work is characterized by high levels of emotional involvement and is considered one of the ‘emotionally taxing’ professions.


2015 – 2017

Research team

Shereen Hussein (SCWRU). Data originally collected by teams including Jess Harris, Jill Manthorpe (SCWRU); Nicky Stanley, Julie Ridley (UCLAN); Helen Austerberry (University College London)


Department of Health, Policy Research Programme (and using data acquired from Department for Education funded research)


This project uses secondary data analysis techniques combined with a policy review. It is based on findings related to 2050 social work practitioners who participated in the evaluation of social work practice pilots with children and another set of 2978 social work practitioners who participated in the evaluation of social work practice pilots with adults. They completed the standardised measures of burnout (Maslach Burnout Inventory) and demand and control model through the Karasek Job Content Survey.


Initial findings show that social workers are mainly located within the high job strain and active job quadrants, according to the Karasek demand-control model, and that burnout measures and psychological job demand are sensitive to the ‘burden’ of media coverage and high profile cases. Organizational structure and dynamics have impact in elevating or heightening feelings of stress and psychological job demand.

Outputs and Impact

Initial findings were reported at the Joint University Council Social Work Education Conference in 2016 and in a workshop at Goldsmiths University where three focus group discussions took place in relation to findings. Manuscripts are being prepared for submission in international peer-review journals. The project will provide evidence on specific contributing factors to stress and burnout in social work, paving the way for effective workforce support strategies and interventions.


Hussein, S. (2018) 'Work Engagement, Burnout and Personal Accomplishments Among Social Workers: A Comparison Between Those Working in Children and Adults’ Services in England', Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research. doi:10.1007/s10488-018-0872-z April 26.

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