Revisiting the causes of stress in social work: sources of job demands, control and support in personalised adult social care

Mark Robson Wilberforce, Sally Jacobs, David Challis, Jill Manthorpe, Martin Stevens, Rowan Jasper, Jose-Luis Fernandez, Caroline Glendinning, Karen Jones, Martin Knapp, Nicola Elizabeth Moran, Ann Netten, Rowan Elaine Jasper

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Social workers in adult social care are at particular risk of job-related stress, although the contribution of different organisational and policy changes to this phenomenon is subject to debate. This paper explores a theoretical framework from the occupational psychology literature (the Job Demand/Control Model) to identify the characteristics of those most at risk of stress, in a sample of 249 social workers and other care managers working in English adult social services from the Individual Budget (IB) pilots. It finds that it is the particular combination of high work pressures, with a lack of control over decision making and resources needed to do the work, that are detrimental to job satisfaction. The study also finds that staff involved in delivering IBs were over twice as likely to be at risk of stress compared to those without any IB holders on their caseload. In-depth interviews with forty-eight care managers identified widespread complaints of additional pressures relating to IBs, but also the possibility that these may lessen as the policy evolves. The paper concludes that the Job Demand/Control Model is a helpful framework for evaluating the job-related impact of social work changes, particularly when part of a multi-methods approach.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)812-830
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number4
Early online date31 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • social work
  • social workers
  • adult social care
  • job satisfaction
  • work-related stress

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