Two-fifths of social workers expect to leave the profession within the next five years, with children and family social workers the most likely to plan to leave, according to research for Social Work England.
The YouGov research for the regulator found that the most common reason for people to leave social work is the high workload (39%), followed by poor health (32%) and poor work/ life balance (29%).
Some social workers reported that they were leaving the profession go to in alternative third sector roles or go freelance in social and health care.
The report suggests that Social Work England could improve retention by improving the public profile of social work, providing greater direct support to lower caseloads, and providing more training.
"The majority of social workers are proud of their profession (89%), but only around a quarter (26%) would recommend it to a friend or family member," said the report.
Social workers are proud when they feel they have made an impact on people’s lives, but the stress from the number and nature of cases can make it difficult to feel that they are making a difference. Almost a quarter of social workers have low morale and for nearly half, morale has not changed over the past year, but it is affected by the media.
Most respondents do not think that social work is respected by society (76%) and that levels of respect are far worse than for similar frontline services such as nurses and teachers.
However, many respondents blame the media for fuelling this perception with eight in ten reporting that the social work profession is portrayed negatively in the news.
Yet, the vast majority of respondents feel strongly that social workers are providing an essential service (96%) and play a unique role in society (92%).
Eighty five per cent of current social workers report stress as a result of their job, with the most common causes being a high administrative workload (62%), a focus on targets rather than user issues (56%), and a high caseload (48%).
The vast majority of current social workers do think that the profession inspires them to be the best that they can be (81%) and that being a social worker is a great thing to do (87%).
Fifty five per cent of social workers met with their line manager weekly and 77 per cent said they felt respected by their manager. Almost half were receiving fortnightly or monthly supervision while 17 per cent were receiving regulatory supervision weekly or more. However, some of the qualitative respondents reported a lack of support in this area.
Continuing professional development is widely available, with the most common types being online learning (69%), in-house programmes (60%), and external conferences (52%).
Overall, all respondents (current social workers, former social workers, and students) have a strong level of understanding of the role of the social work regulator (80%). The role of a specialist regulator is also valued by 77% of respondents.
"In the qualitative research, many social workers hope that Social Work England will be a voice of social workers and help counteract negative rhetoric from the media," the report concluded.
A report on the social work profession