Pia Tham, reader in social work at the University of Gävle, has together with her research team, doctoral students Karin Stieve and Amanda Norrgård, conducted three surveys in which social workers in Stockholm county have responded to questionnaires about their working conditions and their well-being. The first survey was conducted in 2003, the second one in 2014 and the last one in 2018.
“This is an occupational group who has had tough working conditions for a long time, but finally things seem to have taken a turn for the better, at least in the municipalities in our survey, and that is very pleasing,” Pia Tham says.
Lower work demands reduce stress
“Our studies show that there has been an improvement; there is less stress and demands are not as high anymore. It is rewarding to observe that government efforts, for instance, and efforts by the City of Stockholm, where an action plan to improve working conditions for social workers has been developed, seem to have led to real improvements.”
However, Pia emphasises that results are preliminary and that the research team will now study the material further and carry out in-depth analyses.
“We will, for example, compare different areas to establish if there are differences,” Pia says.
The management more accessible
The study shows that the management has become more accessible and that urgent work tasks are no longer as frequent as before. Moreover, work tasks have become more specialised and clearly defined.
Today, fewer social workers claim that they often need to reschedule their workday, work overtime or struggle to keep up. In addition, fewer social workers state that work negatively affects their home and family life.
“We have studied what it is that differentiates working groups characterised by well-being from others, and we note that a work situation with fewer urgent tasks and where you do not have to reschedule your workday as often because of being understaffed or because of emergencies in client work leads to well-being.”
It is still tough
Although working conditions have improved, it still tough and there is still a lot to do, Pia Tham states. One example is that it is important to keep experienced staff. Today, many social workers who investigate children and youth tend to be young and with less experience. However, the situation may vary between different regions and different units in the social services.
“It is important to clarify that we need to carry out more detailed analyses. Could the working conditions for some social workers have improved whereas others have experienced no improvement at all? We will carry out more analyses here to identify the factors that are conducive to well-being at your workplace,” Pia Tham concludes.
The research project is funded by AFA Försäkring and will be completed by September 2020. Pia Tham has two doctoral students in this study. Amanda Norrgård will study preconditions for a health-promoting leadership and Karin Stieve will carry out in-depth studies of the characteristics of healthy working groups.
For more information, please contact:
Pia Tham, reader in social work at the University of Gävle
Tel: 070-363 18 75
Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Photo: Stina Loman