5 challenges you’ll encounter as a social worker and how to overcome them

Posted: Sep 24 2019

Social work is a career like no other. Where a counsellor will coach an individual through their internal struggles, a social worker will look beyond this and consider their relationships, family structure, community environment and the policies that impact them. With this information they will create a plan to ensure that the wellbeing of the individual is being safeguarded. This ability to make such a difference in someone’s life is why Forbes ranks social work as the 7th most meaningful job, and there is no doubt that is it a vital role in the functioning of our communities and wider society. Social workers look to improve the challenges that our society faces, but it’s important to consider the challenges that they face personally in this profession. And more importantly we must meet each of these challenges with a solution:

Working with vulnerable people

This field of work will see you interacting with both children and adults on the individual level, who may be facing physical disabilities or mental health issues. Another facet of the job will involve working with the families, teachers, and communities of these vulnerable people. Research conducted by Unison explores these challenges with first-hand accounts, with one social worker describing a time where they had advised a panel that a child should no longer have contact with their mum, and they had to deliver this verdict directly in front of her.

Being exposed to these highly emotional situations can lead to compassion fatigue. It can be difficult to remain unaffected by distressing cases, especially when you are dealing with them on a daily basis. Social workers may suffer from depersonalisation, emotional exhaustion and other more easily identifiable symptoms such as headaches.

Practicing emotional resilience can help you to handle a crisis and return to a pre-crisis state. It isn’t a personality trait, meaning that there are approaches that you can take to help develop your resilience. You may find that setting aside time to practice mindfulness helps you to manage the pressure, or focusing more on your work-life balance may allow you to switch off after work and be more present in your home life. Ultimately you need to figure which will work for you, and this may require some time and patience. Outline the positive impact that you’re having on the community and compare these to the stressors that you are facing. This may remind you of the reason that you became a social worker.

Unpredictable schedule

Many social work jobs operate outside of the traditional 9-5 Monday-Friday business hours. Those that do have a typical contract may find their work extending beyond these hours. This can cause problems with balancing work and personal life. Unfortunately, the 9-5 working day is no longer a suitable model for a lot of organisations as the needs of our society have changed.

There are benefits of a flexible work routine – you may find time for mindfulness in the form of an exercise class or reading a book. Alternatively, it may help you to focus on the value of working in such an unpredictable profession.

These are examples of working at the micro and mezzo level of social care. There are also career opportunities at the macro level where social workers are involved in the legalities and policies that affect our system of care. So, remember that while social work not always offer conventional hours, nor does it have a conventional career route. Each individual can choose their direction, and with so many paths to take you can tailor yours to what suits you.

Time spent doing admin is time spent away from the patients

A recent study found that social workers are now spending up to 80% of their time on computers and filing paperwork, leaving a small proportion of day that they’re directly providing support. It is not the only profession that is experiencing this shift. UK construction workers spend an average of 90 hours a year per employee on paperwork. In the care sector, it is of utmost importance to address the issue because it limits the time that individuals are receiving support.

Consider streamlining your caseloads with the help of software. There are various phone and desktop applications that can do everything from store patient files to tracking their progress. This makes the process of gathering information more efficient and therefore reduces the time spent performing administration duties. Paperwork is a way of life that we must accept, so it is a matter of optimising the process.

Caseloads are down but workloads aren’t

Our aging population will see an annual 3% increase in demand for adult social services. Also with the number of people suffering from mental health illnesses on the rise we are beginning to see a surge in demand for social workers with expertise in this field. However, Heidi McIntosh - a senior policy advisor - reported that there has been a national decline in caseloads. It’s vital though, not to associate this with a reduced workload.

The caseload vs workload conversation needs to be initiated to ensure that social workers are not overwhelmed and left disheartened at not being able to offer their desired level of care to each of their cases - and most importantly, so that their wellbeing does not suffer. A session with your supervisor is the ideal time to raise an issue of this sort, and if your employer doesn’t offer this to you then take the initiative to request it.

You could propose caseload weighing as a tool to assess whether your workload is unmanageable. This can help you and your manager to get on the same page and understand whether current expectations are unrealistic.

Society is transforming

People have more choices about the way that they live. Families are no longer conventional; we’ve seen a change in dynamics and support systems. As mentioned before, our population is aging and more people need support for mental health illnesses. For social workers at the micro and mezzo level, this presents the challenge of adapting your care approach. Meanwhile, social workers at the macro level need to support this change by revising legislation and policies.

Enforce the Protected Time Learning approach to reflect on your cases and learn from them. This is an opportunity to share caseloads with your co-workers, and benefit from the power of a shared brain. It’s a chance to not only share knowledge but to learn from different perspectives. This process can help facilitate your professional development and for that reason, it should be seen as necessary not a luxury.

A challenging yet rewarding career

The highly sensitive cases that a social worker encounters presents some unique challenges. Along with this, there seems to be more pressures in the job than ever before. With the right training, support and key skills, you can overcome these and learn how rewarding a career in social work can be.

Apply for a social work job with Tradewind Recruitment Social Care

At Tradewind Recruitment Social Care, we are committed to finding the best talent and matching these candidates with the best roles. We have various roles available around the UK - in child protection, homeless shelters, mental health and more. Find our latest jobs here.

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