Exploring how social workers experience and cope with public perception of their profession

Alison Legood*, Michelle McGrath, Rosalind Searle, Allan Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The public's perception of the social work profession is a rarely considered perspective and yet a topic that is a concern to front line professionals. This paper explores how social workers experience and attempt to cope with public perception of their profession. It highlights the impact of these concerns on social workers' personal experiences and professional practice. Using semi-structured interviews with sixteen UK social workers, from local authorities and private organisations, we explore the experiences of this group. Thematic analysis of the data identified four concerns: the experience of public perception, drivers of public perception, coping with public perception, and mechanisms to raise the professions profile. Examining public perception through the eyes of social workers provides valuable insights into the lived experiences of these professionals, and offers practical implications at both the micro and macro levels. It reveals two key ways in which the profession can begin to address the prevailing negative perception considered to be emanating from the public: through developing a more co-operative relationship with external sources of public perception (e.g. government and the media) and by engaging in more pro-active self-promotion of the service.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1872-1889
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number7
Early online date13 Jan 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

Bibliographical note

This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in British Journal of Social Work following peer review. The version of record Legood, A., McGrath, M., Searle, R., & Lee, A. (2015). Exploring how social workers experience and cope with public perception of their profession. British journal of social work, Early online, is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/%2010.1093/bjsw/bcv139


  • social work
  • coping
  • public perception
  • social work experience


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