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The impact of ‘statutory duties’ on mental health social workers in the UK

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In the UK, applications for involuntary admission to psychiatric units are made mainly by specially trained approved social workers (ASWs). Proposed changes in the legislation will permit other professionals to undertake these statutory duties. This study aimed to examine how ASW status impacts upon work pattern and workload stresses by comparing ASWs with other mental health social workers who did not carry statutory responsibilities. A multimethod design was adopted that included a cross-sectional national survey of mental health social workers (n = 237, including 162 ASWs), and a telephone survey of mental health service managers (n = 60). Data were collected using a semistructured questionnaire and diary, the content of which was derived from focus-group work and standard measures. Features of job content, working patterns and conditions were described and their association with stress, burnout and job satisfaction examined. ASWs were older and had been qualified longer than non-ASWs. The working patterns and conditions of the two groups did not differ, although ASWs did more hours on duty. ASWs received less support at work, particularly from supervisors and their role afforded less decision latitude than that of non-ASWs. ASW status was related to an elevated GHQ score, particularly among males. Emotional exhaustion was very high (over two-thirds in both groups) but ASWs and non-ASWs did not differ in this or any other feature of burnout, only 8% of the sample were actually ‘burnt-out’, being more common among ASWs. ASWs were more dissatisfied and were more likely than non-ASWs to want to leave their job. Given that ASW status increased stress and job dissatisfaction, especially for men, and was related to a desire to leave one's current job, it seems likely that extending statutory duties to other professionals will increase levels of stress, burnout and dissatisfaction in these groups also. In turn, this might have consequences for staff recruitment and retention.
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Keywords: approved social work; burnout; job satisfaction; mental health social work; stress

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: lnstitute of Psychiatry and Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King's College, London, 2: Kent Institute of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Kent 3: National Primary Care R & D Centre, University of Manchester, 4: Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Research Unit,

Publication date: 01 March 2005

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