top of page

Social Worker Turnover Crisis & How to be Proactive

2005, a study identified high turnover is related to low salaries, high caseloads, limited supervision, insufficient training, and concerns about personal safety. We are now getting ready for 2018, why are we still in the same boat if we knew this from 13 years ago?

Another well-known study found if a child had more than one caseworker during their case due to turnover, the chance for that child to reach permanent and stable living situations decreased from 74% to 52%. Averagely, organizations will pay 30%-70% costs of a salary when a social worker leaves. Another study showed if you have over a 15% turnover rate, then you had a higher six-month recurrence rate.

I feel safe to say, most everyone in this industry can feel this situation and some have discussed, "Why are caseloads so high? Upon independent research, the average caseload for our state caseworkers is between 30 and 50 cases per worker and between 40 and 100 for non-state case workers. This does not include school counselors whose case loads can be up to a thousand per 1 worker, another topic for another day. The common answer for a case load was to only be between 16-18 cases to give the best quality for their clients which makes it no wonder why our social worker turnover is so high especially when you add in the little pay they receive. Sure, let me get overworked, underpaid, and work in an unsafe environment......said no one, but yet it is happening.

Is our system set up for failure? Could this be part of the reason we are seeing increases in adversities, crisis, and epidemics in our state? With so many important issues going on right now, I see social worker turnover to be one of the biggest core issues impacting other key issues such as substance abuse care and prevention and it needs to be and stay the main focus for addressing needs for our socioeconomic community.

Low pay, difficult work environment, an overloading case system fighting against you, reimbursement rates, and a lot more. Even though there can be some employees who are adding more to the problem than the solution, I have listed some ways you can be proactive in trying to lower your employee turnover to help increase a higher possibility of success for your clients when the current environment is fighting against you.


1. Find some creative ways to add more value by adding benefits for your staff. Benefits will add loyalty.

2. Show visible support through a comprehensive training program and cross training program. Learning new skills add loyalty.

3. Strive for a safe work environment. Think about how you would want to be treated if you were in the same situation. If it is not safe for you and you wouldn’t do it, is it really safe for your staff? Hurt staff means no staff.

4. Create visible, clear systems for a path to advancement. Motivation leads to better work quality.

5. Encourage and support furthering education. Show them you are not a suppressor.

6. Be sure your HR department is visibly supporting your staff and not only protecting the organization from liability. If HR support for staff is not present, you may need to consider hiring a new HR person or a career coach separate from HR. No trust in HR means little trust in your company, another topic for another day....

7. Keep analyzing staff statistics and implement a routine employee survey. Showing you care adds value.

8. Create a systematic pay raise system and recognition program. Confidence in the future creates loyalty.

9. Revisit your shift schedule and get feedback from staff. There may be opportunities where a different routine would produce a better work life balance for your staff and still be able to cover your shifts. When employees are happy, quality of care increases.

10. Show your staff you care by taking their concerns seriously. Support adds loyalty.

11. Strengthen the mental health of your staff. Create programs for your staff to enter if they experience trauma from the cases they work. Healthy minds create quality work.

12. Keep the work environment as fair and professional as possible. Favoritism and politics is a one way street to lower productivity and turnover. Team work makes the dream work if there is no one left out.

13. Be sure to discuss all the possible risks of the position before solidifying a position. Employees need to understand what you expect out of them and what liability they could have when seeking employment with your company. The better the fit for the job, the longer the employment.

14. And my most important tip. If something is failing, look at the system in which it failed. Do not immediately accuse an employee of wrongdoing. More times then not, a problem occurs because of a system failure. Conduct a root cause analysis to find core causes of failure to fix issues. Avoiding band-aid approaches to solve problems will create long term success.

These tips are very loaded tips and some are a lot easier said than done. Feel free to reach out if you need more information on creative programs and implementation advice. Share this article, comment, ask follow up questions or topics you want discussed in future blogs, and subscribe.

Till next time,

Mel K


Barak, M.E., Nissly, J.A & Levin, A. (2001). Antecedents to retention and turnover among child welfare, social work, and other human service employees: What can we learnfrom past research? A review and metanalysis. Social Service Review, 75(4), 625-662.Flower, C., McDonald, J. & Sumski, M. (2005). Review of turnover in milwaukee county private agency child welfare ongoing case management staff. Retrieved December13, 2015, from, J.P., Garnier, P., Zyphur, M. & Zhai, F. (2005). Investigating the effects of caseworker characteristics in child welfare. Children and Youth Services Review, 28(9),993-1006.Children’s Defense Fund & Children’s Rights, Inc (2006). Components of an effective child welfare workforce to improve outcomes for children and families: What doesresearch tell us? Retrieved from Children’s Rights, Inc. website on February 9, 2016 Human Resource Services (2006). The Turnover Tool Kit: A Guide to Understanding and Reducing Employee Turnover. Retrieved from CPS Human Resource Services onFebruary 9, 2016 States General Accounting Office. (2003). Child welfare: HHS could play a greater role in helping child welfare agencies recruit and retain staff (GAO-03-357).Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office

bottom of page