Flagship research programme aims for happier, healthier professionals

04 March 2019

The What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care is inviting local authorities in England to collaborate with us in one of our flagship projects for 2019 that aims to help support social workers and their managers to be happier and healthier at work.

The call follows feedback from over 25 partners who we have worked with over the last two months in designing the programme of research, which involved shortlisting research interventions informed directly by discussions with current local authority partners.

With these partners and in collaboration with Harvard Business School and University College London, we have designed a series of light touch, low cost or free interventions based on behavioural science. This includes interventions that help boost the motivation of workers, as well as to increase the strength and relationships within children’s social work teams, and to provide social capital and support.

The programme will focus on employee wellbeing (e.g. happiness, stress); sickness and absence; and retention and the overall themes of the interventions we will be researching with the successful partners are:

  • Increasing access to training and development opportunities
  • Increasing resilience
  • Reducing feelings of time pressure
  • Increasing capacity for work-life balance
  • Making social workers feel valued and recognised for their work.

Researcher Shibeal O’Flaherty said: “We have had a very enthusiastic response to our first-round call for expressions of interest, and have been grateful to have had valuable insights directly from local authorities to inform our research design.”

She added: “At this stage we have designed a variety of of behavioural interventions which we are excited to launch in collaboration with partners during this next phase.”

“Over the course of the next six months we will be working to conduct a series of randomised controlled trials with local authorities. These will provide us with the best possible information about what works when it comes to increasing the health and happiness of social worker professionals which will ultimately allow them to succeed in their work, and have positive outcomes for those around them.”

Michael Sanders, Executive Director of the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care, said: “Social Workers have intensely challenging jobs, bearing a great deal of responsibility, often with little societal recognition of the benefits of their work.

“In 2017, turnover rate amongst social care workers was 15% and more than 220,000 days were lost to sickness and absence. Social workers spend their professional lives working with the complex and traumatic lived experiences of families, which impacts on social worker wellbeing, which is exacerbated by a challenging climate for local government more generally. In this context, social workers often struggle to take care of themselves alongside working to improve the lives of the children and families they work with. This creates a vicious circle, with workloads increasing for those social workers that remain, leading to higher stress and increasing dependency in some authorities on agency workers.

“The What Works Centre is therefore pleased that our programme to help support social worker and their managers to be happier and healthier is one of our flagship projects in 2019.”

Interested authorities are invited to submit their applications by Monday 18 March with a view to launching the intervention research projects in April or May this year lasting for approximately six months.

Partners new to this research programme, can complete the application form here.

We will be in contact with partners involved in the co-design phase with information on how to take part in this next research phase separately.

All research projects will be published on the What Works Centre’s website and the Centre will work to spread best practice to a wide audience. The research will be overseen by the ethics committees of University College London and Harvard Business School.


Notes to editors

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Guy Goodwin, Head of Communications
07583 146982 / 02073612631

What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care

The What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care is a new initiative that seeks better outcomes for children, young people and families by bringing the best available evidence to practitioners and other decision makers across the children’s social care sector. Our mission is to foster a culture of evidence-informed practice. We will generate evidence where it is found to be lacking, improve its accessibility and relevance to the practice community, and support practice leaders (e.g. principal social workers, heads of service, assistant directors and directors) to create the conditions for more evidence-informed practice in their organisations.