Social workers express dissatisfaction with job safety and wages

A 2008 survey in Lithuania aimed to analyse the working conditions of people doing social work, to assess the professional risks involved and to identify opportunities for improving their working conditions. The results showed that most of the social workers felt that their relations with colleagues and superiors were good, as were the opportunities for improving their qualifications. However, most respondents were not satisfied with their wages and the safety of the job.

About the survey

The Institute for Social Research (Socialinių tyrimų institutas, STI) conducted a survey of working conditions in the economic activity of social work in Lithuania in 2008, at the request of the Ministry of Social Security and Labour (Socialinės apsaugos ir darbo ministerija, SADM). The survey involved sociological interviews with social workers and aimed to analyse the working conditions of people doing social work, to assess the professional risks involved and to gauge the social workers’ opinions regarding the opportunities for improving their working conditions.

An electronic survey method was used to email survey questionnaires to the selected social service agencies; the survey included 698 respondents involved in social work in various organisations. About one fifth of the respondents were employed as social workers in social service centres (20.4%), state institutions for disabled persons (19.9%) and Lithuanian local authorities or wards (17.3%). Almost one tenth of respondents were working in municipal social assistance departments (8.7%) and state children’s homes (8.3%). The remaining proportion of those surveyed (25.4%) represented other agencies providing or organising social services.

Job satisfaction

During the survey, respondents were asked to express their opinion about various aspects of their working conditions. They expressed the highest levels of satisfaction in terms of relations with colleagues, superiors and customers, as well as regarding the opportunities for training and improving their qualifications (see figure). The lowest satisfaction levels concerned the amount of wages, the adjustment of workplaces to facilitate disabled social workers, job safety – in terms of threats from customers – and the duration of holiday leave.

Level of satisfaction with various aspects of working conditions (%)

Level of satisfaction with various aspects of working conditions (%)

Source: STI, 2008

Level of satisfaction with various aspects of working conditions (%)

Stress at work

During the survey, the respondents were asked how often they experienced stress at work. The survey findings showed that 29.1% of social workers experienced stress at work every day, while 36.2% felt stressed once a week and 22.7% had this problem once a month at most. Some 12% of the respondents did not indicate the exact frequency of experiencing stress but reported that they often felt stressed, in various frequencies, depending on the situation. A comparison of stress incidence among the different groups of respondents, categorised by their type of customer, revealed that social workers working with psychotropic substance abusers or persons with mental illness more often experienced stress at work.

Threats from customers

According to the survey, social workers also often experience threats from customers or their relatives. Every fifth respondent (21.3%) faces such threats almost every day and about a quarter of the respondents experience threats once a week or month (22.8% and 27.7%, respectively). Some 20.7% of social workers reported facing these threats once every six or 12 months, while 7.5% of the respondents stated that they had not faced threats from customers or their relatives.

Improving working conditions

Finally, the survey respondents were asked what measures they thought would be likely to improve the working conditions of people involved in social work (see table).

Measures to improve working conditions of social workers (%)
Measure %
Regular training on avoiding risk threats at work 71.9
Reduction of workload 59.3
Assessment and analysis of professional risk situations 55.4
Provision of transport facilities for customers 41.7
Proper equipment at working premises 41.1
Increased employer responsibility for safety at work 40.8
Instructions on all likely professional risk factors when starting work 35.2
Dissemination of information on policies to combat bullying 30.7
Provision of personal alarm systems 30.0
Appointment of a worker safety representative 23.6

Note: Respondents were free to choose more than one answer.

According to the survey findings, the respondents most often mentioned regular training on how to avoid risk threats at work, reduced workloads and the assessment and analysis of professional risk situations as likely measures to improve their working conditions; these answers were chosen by more than half of the respondents. In addition, many social workers emphasised that better provision of transport facilities, proper equipment at the working premises and increased employer responsibility for safety at work could also contribute to better working conditions.

Rasa Zabarauskaite, Institute of Labour and Social Research

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