Social Work Workforce Research Special Interest Group (WRSIG)

Title and Purpose

Internationally, researchers and practitioners continuously search for knowledge on how to improve workforce wellbeing and retention in the social work profession. The span of interest includes (but isn’t limited to) preparation for practice; early career supports; supervision; training and CPD (Continuous Professional Development including new ways of doing social work, such as digital social work); retention, turnover and inexperience in teams; burnout and resilience in practitioners (and in organizational systems); workforce well-being; working conditions; fitness to practice; workforce demographics (e.g. age, gender and ethnicity) and demographic changes in the social work profession; social work workforce concerns across structures of statutory, voluntary, and private sectors; and emerging differences in workforce concerns across Europe and internationally. The establishment of the WRSIG will enable a network of social work academics who are interested in this broad research area, ensuring they have a platform to connect ideas and collaborate on studies, publications and funding applications. We aim to do this for the following important reasons.

  • We have identified a gap in networking opportunities for academic researchers in this important area of study.
  • International research indicates that workforce pressures and burnout continue, and this results in retention and turnover issues in the profession.
  • A workforce in contstant transition, has an immediate and direct impact on service users.
  • Turnover in social workers means that service users have repeated broken relationships with their key workers which can erode trust and confidence in the profession.
  • As service users are mainly from marginalised groups and poorer socio-economic backgrounds, there is a clear social justice issue in ensuring continuity of social worker and service continuity to empower and advocate for those most in need.
  • The turnover and vacancy issue has created an upsurge in use of agency social workers, and this perpetuates the problem.
  • There is an ethical and moral imperitive to ensure social workers are supported to work optimally with vulnerable service users, carers, groups and families.
  • Social work workforce demoprahics are changing. There is a dearth of research in this critical area and more knowledge is required to ensure we can sustain the workforce into the future, in line with demographic demands.
  • There is a need for intervention based research to emerge, as much of the current research activity ‘measures the problem’ but we are limited on intervention studies to help us develop an evidence base on ‘measurable outcomes’.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged social work and social work education in multiple ways. Taking education and practice from the ‘social’ to ‘virtual’ experience, has far reaching and unknown consequences that we need to learn from and study to ensure best practice policy and guidance reflects the best available evidence.
  • Policy makers, regulators, employers. educators (including social pedagogues) and professional bodies, require the best available evidence to inform practice guidance and ethical standards are upheld.

The purpose of the the WRSIG is to provide a forum for members to:

  1. Network with others from a range of international countries to discuss the challenges and opportunities in collective systems and organisations with a focus on workforce well-being.
  2. Consolidate international relations on this topic and establish a ‘think tank’ for research ideas and collaborations.
  3. To provide networking opportunities for PhD researchers whose projects are on social work workforce concerns, or related area.

Aim of WRSIG

The overarching aim of the Workforce Research Special Interest Group (WRSIG) of the European Social Work Research Association, is to support networking opportunities and ensure the effective use of social work workforce research and knowledge to inform practitioners, employers, educators, professional bodies and regulators to aim to create knowledge to inform optimal conditions to support the workforce and ensure best practice for service users, families and carers and groups.

Objectives of SIG

The main objectives of this network are as follows.

  1. To provide networking opportunities for researchers studying aspects of workforce wellbeing for social workers.
  2. To provide opportunities for PhD researchers to network with other PhD students and researchers (at all stages of their careers) to build capacity and learning opportunities for all.
  3. To build international relationships with those interested in workforce wellbeing.
  4. To create opportunities to collaborate with other international colleagues with shared research interests.
  5. To build research knowledge on workforce well-being to support and sustain the social work workforce into the future.
  6. To widen the range of research methodologies across international countries.
  7. To develop opportunities for international comparisions across countries and contexts.
  8. To share research findings in this area with a network of researchers interested in the area.
  9. To develop research ideas and synergies with others with expertise in workforce wellbeing.
  10. To benchmark standards for best practice across international comparisions.

To inform practice, education (social work curriculum including social pedagogy and other signature pedagogy), policy and regulation for the social work profession.

Scope of SIG

The scope of the WRSIG, is to reach into and connect research and practice by connecting researchers with each other. We will develop a framework for knowledge transfer to relevant stakeholders including employers, professional bodies, regulators and policy makers to ensure that evidence informs curriculum, educators, students and employers. Ultimately the WRSIG is a mechanism to elucidate workforce wellbeing knowledge through responsibilising all stakeholders and upholding best practice for workforce well-being and improve service quality for service users


Dr Paula McFadden, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, Ulster University Northern Ireland

Dr Pia Tham, Associate Professor in Social Work, Gavle University, Sweden

Dr. Maija Mänttäri-van der Kuip, Senior lecturer, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

ECSWR 2023 Vilnius SIG Event

ESWRA – Workforce Research Special Interest Group (WRSIG) Abstract Vilnius 2024

Convenors: Dr Paula McFadden, Ulster University, Northern Ireland, Dr Pia Tham, Uppsala University, Sweden and Dr Maija Mänttäri-van der Kuip, University of Jyväskylä, Finland


Relevant Subthemes:

  1. Challenges and opportunities for social work research, practice, policy or education in contemporary contexts
  2. Exploring the impact and effectiveness of social work practice
  3. Social work research, policy, practice or education across national, social, cultural, disciplinary and professional boundaries

Title: Social worker wellbeing and health: Responding to retention and turnover issues in social work using international perspectives with multiple methodological approaches.

The WRSIG was first formed in 2020 and has over 40 members from a range of international countries. We extend our WRSIG to those unable to attend the conference using Zoom technology, which provides access to research for those without funding, particularly those in the practitioner community who don’t get access to research via conference attendance. This is particularly important as the research from the WRSIG is directly relevant to practitioner wellbeing.  We feel this action is true to our social justice principles whilst also aligning with the overall conference theme “Envisioning Future: Social Work Research and Discourse in the Age of Industry 4.0”.

The research currently conducted by members of the WRSIG group covers a range methodological approach to multiple topic areas associated with social worker wellbeing and health.  These include educational and practice issues, preparation for practice, workforce challenges and working conditions (including ‘Safe Staffing in Social Work’), social worker wellbeing and coping, physiological responses to stress, supervisory supports for social workers, knowledge acquisition for social workers, emotional and social wellbeing, social media challenges for social workers, and resilience and burnout in social workers.  The group proposes a number of presentations for a full day at the ESWRA Vilnius SIG event on the 17th April 2024, which will provide members with current evidence from workforce wellbeing, across a number of cultural and geographic contexts internationally.

Abstract WRSIG event ECSWR 2023