Understanding and developing resilience: an organisational opportunity

18 November 2019

Claire WilliamsClaire Williams

The social work profession is recognised as being both challenging and demanding for practitioners. ‘Resilience’ is often cited as a key feature that individual social workers require to protect their wellbeing and emotional health. What is problematic is the extent to which the development and maintenance of resilience is understood to lie with individual workers.

Over recent years the policy of austerity has led to reduced funding for services, meaning that social workers are increasingly expected to ‘do more with less’. Evidence suggests that working hours have increased, further impacting on workers’ personal lives and work/life balance (Social Work Watch, 2014). 

If we consider this alongside the Health and Safety Executive (2018) data, which shows that social care workers are at greater risk of work-related stress, depression and anxiety than most other professional groups, then we can reasonably argue that there is an organisational duty of care to ensure that the conditions and support structures are in place to enable staff to develop resilience.

Kinman and Grant believe it is crucial that organisations provide social workers with this support. They are active in the debate around resilience and are leading the way in the ideological shift from individual to organisational responsibility. Their combination of expertise makes them the ideal team to tackle this issue. Dr Louise Grant, the Executive Dean for the School of Applied Social Sciences, spent the first 20 years of her career as a social worker and team manager in children and families social work. Gail Kinman is Professor of Occupational Health Psychology and has focused on the psychosocial working conditions of those who do emotionally demanding work and how this affects their wellbeing, work-life balance and job performance.

They are both passionate about improving the conditions for social workers and are equipped with ten years of research into the wellbeing of social workers at an individual, team and organisational level. They have published extensively in this area.

Together they have designed the Social Work Organisational Resilience Diagnostic (SWORD), a tool to assess the extent to which organisational factors and conditions support the wellbeing of their staff and promote optimum social work practice. SWORD was co-produced in several workshops across 2017-18 with partners from across the Research in Practice children’s social care network.

SWORD includes a diagnostic survey that will provide feedback to organisations and an associated workbook designed for Principal Social Workers, leaders and managers that includes targeted tasks and strategies to support organisational improvements and to promote best social work practice. The tool will have its own open access website, which will allow participation in the survey, provide targeted feedback and access to the workbook tasks and materials.

SWORD will launch with an event at University of Bedfordshire on the 5 December 2019. We are inviting Principal Social Workers, Heads of Service, managers and leaders from across the sector to join us at the University of Bedfordshire Postgraduate Centre. The session will also be of interest to individuals working in practice development and those with supervision responsibilities. Academics and students will also be in attendance.

During the session you will hear how the workbook was developed, how it can be used to address some of the key challenges you may be facing in the sector and how it can support building systemic resilience within your own organisation.

In the course of this work we have identified an exciting opportunity for a second phase to this project, in collaboration with What Works for Children’s Social Care, who have been scoping a redevelopment of the social work health check.

We are pooling our expertise and the threads of two strands of work, with a view to producing one online diagnostic survey and workbook for use across the whole social work profession, enabling organisations to access one simple tool to assess organisational health from 2020. Look out for further information about this work.

About the author

Claire Williams is Research and Development Officer for Research in Practice working to support partners across Adults and Children’s Services. Claire is project managing the Change Project on Improving Organisational Resilience in Child and Family Social Work working with Professor Gail Kinman and Dr Louise Grant from the University of Bedfordshire.

Related Research in Practice resources

Building emotional resilience in the children and families workforce – an evidence-informed approach: Strategic Briefing

Supporting emotional resilience within social workers: Practice Tool


Research in Practice. The Social Work Organisational Resilience Diagnostic (SWORD) (forthcoming 2019) Dartington: Research in Practice.

Health and Safety Executive (2018, 8 November). Work-related Stress, Depression or Anxiety Statistics in Great Britain. Retrieved from www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf

Social Work Watch (2014). Call for action on work-life balance after survey reveals the pressure social work places on practitioners’ home lives. Retrieved from https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2014/06/15/call-action-work-life-balance-survey-reveals-pressure-social-work-places-practitioners-home-lives/

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