This is a great article that needs to be shared about mental health and stress in Social Work. The reality of the situation is that employers are supposed to support health, safety and well being of employees and while many give this a great amount of lip service, most have no idea what this looks like in practice. The sad thing is this leave Social Workers to fend for themselves. They are supposed to manage their own stress, the anxieties of their clients and the anxieties of management.
As professionals we MUST take out mental health seriously. The job we do is highly stressful. It is difficult not to be concerned about our clients and their families even when we are not at work. We are human and we are concerned about other humans. The result of this however is no down time. We very rarely have those moments where we can reflect on the work we’ve done. Supervisions are dominated by key performance indicators, performance appraisals and case discussions for case management oversight.
One practice I have embedded is not only planning annual leave as early as possible and ensure this is documented in my supervision notes, on my electronic calendar, in my written diary and in the diary of my manager; but also planning my training and doing as much training away from the office as possible.
I don’t go on training monthly, maybe every 3-4 months depending on what I need to know, but I do and I do my best not to go back to the office afterward (this was harder as a manager because I was aware that my staff might need me, however as there is a team manager this wasn’t the best way to think).
I know some may say ” oh I have so much to do” or “that’s not responsible”. To that I say, if your training was and hour away from the office and you finish at 4 or 4:30pm would you be returning to the office??? If the answer is “yes” you are on the fast train to burnout-ville. When do you give yourself the chance to assimilate what you have learned? When will you have the time to embed new techniques into your practice or even think about how to do this? What’s the point of going to training if you’re just going to throw the handouts somewhere and never use what you’ve learned?
In my view training should either help you develop the skills you already have/improve upon your skills to help you do your job better or provide you with new skills so you can either expand your current position or help you to progress. In addition to all this, it is time out of the office, you might pick up new ways of working from colleagues, you might get some ideas about your cases that you haven’t thought of previously because you are so inundated when you’re in the office, you might make some contacts that can help you move into a new position, you might learn that you would like to try a new type of position….being in training gives you a mental break, it is not a punishment!
As Social Workers we spend so much time worrying about others and not enough worrying about ourselves. How can you take care of other people when you have burned yourself out?
Organizations are about the bottom line. They need to make sure their business is taken care of, whether that busy is people or numbers, either way the work needs to get done. You need to exercise boundaries not only with clients but also with your employers. You need to know when enough is enough for you and learn to take a break about a week or more before you’ve hit bottom.
You have triple responsibilities as Social Workers. Your first responsibility, no matter what anyone tells you is to yourself. You can’t help anyone if you’re falling apart. Your second responsibility is to your clients. This is about your professional responsibility and professional accountability. Your third is to your organization but I argue that if you are being professionally responsible and accountable you will meet the remit of your organization as well so this will not be an extra task.
It’s about striking a work/life balance. Find that middle ground because as long as you are giving the illusion that you are coping the more work they are going to give you because as the old saying goes “if you want something done, ask someone who’s busy.”