Realistic workloads are key to reducing stress in the workplace

Emotional intelligence training got positive feedback from social workers, but the impact on burnout was unclear

Emotional support and realistic workloads are key to reducing stress in the workplace, according to research on social workers by the University of East Anglia.

The study, produced by the Centre for Research on Children and Families (CRCF), examined the relationship between “emotional intelligence” – or the ability to identify and manage emotions in oneself and others – and stress, burnout and social work practice.

It also assessed whether or not emotional intelligence training for social workers would reduce their burnout rates over time. While emotional intelligence training is offered by some local authorities, there is little consistent evidence to show the benefits of such interventions on practice, the study highlighted.

This study involved 209 child and family social workers across eight local authorities in England.

The researchers found emotional intelligence training received overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants, yet it did not show any statistically significant effect on stress and burnout after the training.

One possible reason for this was that few participants used the training tools in practice, it argued. Therefore, the researchers suggested that embedding training and follow-ups into supervision systems was likely to improve the transfer of training into practice.

Key stress triggers were: work demands, resource provision, training provision, and leader and peer support. So if social workers were to be most effective, it was essential their workloads were managed so as to be realistic, and that good administrative support be put in place, including proper resources to record cases and manage regulation.

Lead author Dr Laura Biggart, a lecturer in social science research and psychology, said: “The study confirmed that social work is an emotionally demanding profession, suggesting that particular attention should be given by social work employers to the workplace environment and social worker support.”

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