Social workers are under a great deal of stress. If you are a social worker, it is very important that you understand the specific pressures and demands that the job places on you. Additionally, you must be able to recognize the signs when the stress is too much, and you need to work on the qualities that will help you be a happy social worker.
Burnout in Social Workers
It is a known fact that social workers often experience higher levels of burnout and stress compared to other sectors. Indeed, only 6% of nurses and 8% of teachers cited stress as a reason to give up their job, compared to 15% of social workers. Additionally, research by Strozier & Evans in 1998 demonstrated that 48% of social workers take their job home, meaning they become emotionally attached.
Social workers also deal with a range of other issues. For instance, they often feel that they only have limited flexibility and freedom. Additionally, they struggle to achieve a good work-life balance. Support mechanisms within their place of work are often lacking and their relationships with colleagues and supervisors can be strenuous.
So what does all this means in terms of the qualities needed for a happy social worker?
10 Qualities of a Happy Social Worker
1. They must be incredibly resilient to stress.
2. They must be able to say no and recognize when they are no longer able to take anything else on.
3. They must be empathic while at the same time able to detach themselves from their cases.
However, being a social worker isn’t just about being able to cope with the hard parts of the job. It is also about being the right person to deliver the service that they have to deliver. Hence, the list of qualities of a happy social worker continues with:
4. They must be highly caring.
5. They must have a positive view on things, even when faced with difficult situations.
6. They must have a desire to improve outcomes and quality of life for entire communities.
Additionally, managers have an important role to play in ensuring their social workers are happy. As a result, a happy social worker also has:
7. A flexible schedule.
8. A manager with a true open door policy.
9. A good sense of engagement.
10. The opportunity to grow through further education and development.
As you can see, ensuring a social worker is happy requires a multifaceted approach. It is about being the right person for the job in the first instance. Indeed, most would agree that social work, like nursing, is a calling rather than a job that people choose from a career perspective.
Considering the workload, stresses and demands of the job, the average annual salary of $44,200 nationally is quite low. At the same time, however, social workers have to be aware of the stresses and demands of the job and they need to be able to recognize, within themselves, when things are getting to be too much. Many social workers work in the field of mental health and it is said that mental workers often require mental health assistance themselves in order to deal with the stresses of their jobs. Recognizing that stress is present is only one aspect, however. The other important element is that social workers are employed somewhere where they are able to tell management that things are getting on top of them, and that they are now unable to cope. Unfortunately, this is also where the largest problem lies.
The reality is that budgets are tight and social workers have caseloads above and beyond what they could reasonably be expected to manage. Unfortunately, there is only so much that management can do in order to remedy this. Additionally, as social workers are so caring by nature, they will not turn down a case even if they already should. They would rather work themselves to the bone than to see a potential client slip through the net. As such, they are often caught in a catch-22 situation where they realize too many demands are being placed on them, without being able to do anything about it. This is something that social workers need to be able to be aware of and deal with if they are to be happy with their job.