Serving as a social worker is not easy. While social workers are the glue that holds much of the healthcare provider network together in the U.S, rising workload and stress-related issues have been the norm in the past few decades. Retention levels are dropping with the national turnover rate among social workers estimated about 30 percent. The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating long-standing workplace dissatisfiers for social workers. However, emerging new SaaS data platforms help take some of the administrative burden off social workers to create better on-the-job satisfaction.
The State of Social Work
Social worker turnover harms the people they serve. One study cited at the Governing.com website found in a given year that one social worker helping a child achieves a 74 percent success rate in placing that child in a permanent and safe living situation. However, if that social works leaves and is replaced by a second social worker, favorable placement for the child drops to 17 percent.
“Turnover is devastating,” said Scott McCown, a former judge and now director of the Children’s Rights Center at the University of Texas Law School. “If you’re a caseworker, you develop a relationship with the parent and child. That’s what helps you help them. But every time there’s turnover, you start from scratch.”
Turnover undermines the value proposition that social workers bring to the table in lowering costs and improving outcomes. Many states are struggling with this reality. For example, in the recent past, Kansas and Ohio experienced a 25 percent annual turnover rate among social workers. At the same time, Texas documented that a 25 percent turnover rate was the highest among any category of state workers. In Kentucky, the state saw a third of its social workers leave in ten months.
Causes of Social Worker Turnover
High turnover is linked to several factors. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Social Work cited several reasons:
1: Workload, Stress, and Critical Incidents – Most staff report that their level of work is “unmanageable” or “overwhelming.” The root cause of this issue in most organizations is not having the necessary human resources function. Often these duties get displaced onto front line staff, adding to their workload and taking away from their ability to dedicate time to their clients. The authors found that 81% of human services workers strongly agree it is easy to burn out in the work that they do, while 70% reported always having too much work to do.
2: Insufficient Resources – Because of outdated technology in the organizations, files are often paper-based and are prone to tampering. This safety problem and outdated technology caused staff to feel frustrated with and discouraged by the organizations for which they work.
3: Too Much Administrative Work – Social workers feel as though they are just glorified data-entry machines – constantly pushing paper but seeing little to no result out of their work. This copious amount of paperwork, coupled with the lack of monetary incentives or flexible hours, only works to increase employee unhappiness.
Data-based Software as a Service (SaaS) Platforms is Part of the Solution
One of the critical solutions to reduce social worker turnover is to use data and technology to spend less time doing the tasks they don’t like and more time doing the things they do like. No profession enjoys paperwork, pulling information from paper systems, or spending time to track down resources and other providers to help their clients. Data platforms can help social workers see patterns, trends, signal problems, and identify the best resources to help their clients. Such evidence-based practices help customize effective solutions for clients based on their culture, interests, and circumstances.
Integrated data collection platforms and reporting tools – such as Eccovia’s ClientTrack – are cloud-based and customizable to improve social workers’ work environment. A good SaaS platform helps social workers streamline information and access real-time information reporting tools to connect community-based systems of care more efficiently. In other words, to accomplish many of the administrative chores social workers don’t like to do.
As the ability to excel at work was found to be a key satisfier for social workers, according to a 2019 study published in Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance. The authors cited several factors that correlated with the perceived quality of work for social workers. These included extending improvement to perceptions about such key workplace determinants as job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Ready access to data assists social workers who look to solve social determinants of health (SDoH) problems such as unemployment, finances, and housing on behalf of their clients.
“Data science, in my opinion, can be a revolutionary approach to how social workers collect and use data. Social workers in child welfare, mental health, substance abuse, social justice, economic justice, management, and so forth can enter this field with a greater understanding of human behavior than most other fields of study, in that at the foundation of social work education is the understanding of human behavior,” advised Shondra K. Lawrence, Ph.D., MS, Assistant Professor in Social Work, Clark Atlanta University.