Social workers help to set out stepping stones to better working conditions

Social Workers Union (SWU) Campaign Fund

A group of practising social workers – who are all in the process of overcoming adversity in the workplace – explored the commonalities between their issues in a recent webinar organised by the SWU Campaign Fund.

Social worker, Lisa Fitzpatrick, explained what sparked the idea for the webinar: “I’m very conscious that we have members who are currently at home. People who may have short term or long-term sickness, people who are saying to us they feel isolated, alone, anxious, and they just don’t know which way to turn.

“So this idea came about just to bring people together and explore how there are some employers out there who will listen, who do take active steps to respond, and who will create positive solutions.”

The webinar explored key topics such as part-time work, tackling racial discriminaton, neurodiversity, tackling burnout and supporting people during the menopause.

For Parveen, the first step in tackling racial and disability discrimination was contacting the Social Workers Union in December 2021. Parveen found the initial contact friendly and in the film explains what happened next: “I was swiftly called back to discuss the issues in more depth and someone was promptly allocated to my case. To be honest, I wondered why I’d waited so long to get in touch with them.”

After being given advice that what Parveen was experiencing was actually serious, the rep advised on how to take action and met with her before meetings – giving advice on how to communicate her feelings in a calm and productive way.

While Parveen ended up leaving that role, she now uses her personal experience to empathise with others, advocate for other people going through similar things, put in place strategies / training workshops to combat discrimination and create a better workplace culture.

Deb Solomon is a neurodivergent social worker and, after finding that life trying to ‘fit in’ was leading to exhaustion, burnout and mental health issues, decided to take action. The first step in her campaign was to share her story.

Since then, Deb’s employer has become more aware of the issue and she believes that “it feels like my voice is being listened to now. 

“The piece of advice I would give to others in my situation is to understand that it isn’t you and you have strengths that you bring, you deserve to be respected and you deserve to have your story heard.”

Chrissie Beatty spoke about the impact of menopause on work: “Everybody’s experience of it is different. Some people breeze through no problem, other people are really debilitated by this. The major side effects I had were insomnia, the hot flushes, and brain fog as well as recurrent UTIs as well! 

“So when you’re at work and you’re trying to do a capacity assessment with somebody, and you can’t actually remember their name, and you’re sweating and you feel like you are losing your sense of being a good professional and I really felt I was losing my identity.”

Chrissie has been working with her employer to try and introduce more menopause friendly policies such as being able to take breaks and have simple things like fans and drinking water readily available.

Sharon Nightingale also discussed her experiences of facing the menopause in the workplace and advises people in her position to “take yourself seriously, because if you don’t take yourself seriously nobody else will. 

“I have to keep reminding myself of that and to look at how the situation is really affecting you and put your welfare as a priority,” Sharon adds.

Calum Gallacher added that in his experience of tackling burnout in the workplace, the best thing to do is to ask for help and not just plod on, ignoring the severe impact work is having on mental health. While Calum found the Klip programme to help him, he also advises social workers facing challenges to reach out to professional bodies and recognise that it is not personal resilience that is failing, but those with duty of care for staff.

Carol Reid, National Organiser for the Social Workers Union and Tina Peterson of the SWU Executive, spoke about the Part Time Working Campaign and the importance of employers considering the diverse needs and commitments of staff; and being open to different ways of working rather than rigidly full-time hours.

Carol also advised delegates that while “the challenges social workers face in the workplace may sometimes seem overwhelming, even the smallest actions can start to change the course.

Lisa Fitzpatrick concluded that while individual action is important, “being part of a trade union can make a huge difference to our working conditions. Working together we can take small steps to secure the changes we need to see.”

The event was chaired by British Association of Social Workers CEO Ruth Allen who advised attendees that if they need employment advice and issues at work – they can make an appointment to speak to a duty worker from the Advice and Representation team to begin with, by contacting or calling 0121 622 8413.

Watch the “Stepping stones towards decent working conditions” webinar

This live webinar was recorded on 2 November 2022

All campaigns supported by the SWU Campaign Fund are conceived of and run by social workers – much like SWU itself, which is the only UK union for, and run by, qualified and registered social workers. We are proud to be able to support our activist members in this new and innovative way.

Any SWU member who would like to run their own campaign is encouraged to submit ideas for funding by filling out the SWU Campaign Fund Application Form and returning it via email. More details along with the application form can be found on the SWU Campaign Fund webpage.