Correlates of Stress and Job Satisfaction: A Quantitative Study of Social Workers in the UK


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Background and purpose: Social workers deal with service users in complex life situations and the stress experienced at work has adverse impacts on their mental health and wellbeing. Studies from different countries [e.g., Norway (Nilsen et al., 2023); USA (Rine, 2023); Australia and New Zealand (Alston et al., 2021; India (Stanley & Sebastine, 2023)] suggest high levels of burnout and poor quality of life in social workers. The situation in the UK is much the same. Thematic analysis of interviews in a study of the working conditions and well-being of UK social workers found that workload demands, relationships with peers, management, and service users, and how change was communicated to them were the main difficulties cited about their work environment (Ravalier et al., 2020). Staff shortages and increased work demands owing to the pandemic and its legacy continue (Gillen et al., 2022) and a more recent study by Ravalier et al., (2023), reports a decline in the mental well-being and work-related quality of life in UK based social workers.
Methods: Against this background, we conducted an online survey of 98 social workers in the Nort-East region of England to understand the relationship between stress levels and select work correlates as perceived by the respondents. The study was framed with the following three objectives:
1.To identify levels of stress manifested in social workers and the extent to which they experienced job satisfaction.
2.To determine role ambiguity and role conflict in their work life.
3.To determine the nature of the relationship between our four variables of interest (stress, role ambiguity, role conflict and job satisfaction).
4.To identify those variables that predicted the manifestation of both stress levels and job satisfaction.
The instruments administered were (a) 7 items to assess stress from the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (b) The Short Index of Job Satisfaction (Sinval & Marôco, 2020) (c) The Role Conflict and Ambiguity Scale (Rizzo et al., 1970) and (d) The Perceived Organisational Scale (Apodaca (2010).
This quantitative study used a cross-sectional design. Data was analysed using the SPSS package (ver. 24) and findings were generated through statistical procedures (t-tests, Pearson's correlations, and multiple linear regression analysis).
Findings: We found high levels of stress and low levels of job satisfaction in the majority of respondents. Stress scores correlated positively with both role conflict and role ambiguity. Significant negative correlations were also obtained for the stress scores in relation to job satisfaction and organisational support. Both stress and role conflict contributed to the experience of job satisfaction while both role ambiguity and job satisfaction explained the experience of stress in the respondents.
Conclusions and implications: The post-COVID work scenario for social workers in the UK remains bleak in relation to high stress levels and low job satisfaction. Policies and procedures need to be put in place to ensure that adequate organisational support provisions are put in place and that work roles are presented with greater role clarity and to minimise role conflict.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2024
Event13th European Conference for Social Work Research - Vilnius, Lithuania
Duration: 17 Apr 202419 Apr 2024


Conference13th European Conference for Social Work Research


  • social workers
  • stress
  • job satisfaction
  • organisational support
  • role conflict


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