How to Deal with Case-Overload as a Social Worker and Carer

If you are a social worker, you probably know better than anyone just how much pressure has been put on professionals since the Covid-19 crisis began. It appears that more than 70% of children’s social workers are struggling with caseloads since the pandemic outbreak according to recent data.

Only 4% said their workload was ‘comfortably manageable’, whilst 24% said it was ‘mostly manageable’.
These statistics make it clear that to the vast majority, the work given to social workers is unmanageable and unrealistic. On top of this, workers are met with additional hardships such as minimal PPE (personal protective equipment) and a lack of clarity from governments about guidelines for safe practice during the outbreak.

Has the Rise in Social Workers Made it Easier?

Believe it or not, according to government data, September 2019 saw the highest record of children’s social workers in the UK. The number of agency workers also grew by 10% over this period. You would think with this surge in employment, there would be an ease on the caseloads given to professionals. However, recent feedback says otherwise.

With more and more investment going into the social work field, influential figures are beginning to realize the vital role they play in supporting both young people and families throughout the pandemic.

So, why then does it continue to be such a stressful area with both high turnovers and increasing amounts of staff going off sick due to burnout?

Common Threats to Social Workers

After finishing the arduous and complex training to become a fully qualified social worker, many are unprepared for the level of exhaustion and work expected of them. This is ironic, as the last thing you want is to make helping others such a priority that your own mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing takes the hit.

This leads to what many call burnout, which unfortunately is a commonly used phrase for those in social work.

What is burnout exactly? It’s the process of struggling to operate, becoming more closed from input, increasingly resigned, irritable, and acquiring a tendency to become angry easily. Sadly, when a social worker reaches this stage, they may have to take extensive time off, or even worse are forced to resign or get fired.

On top of this, the high expectations required alongside poor supervision or mentorship given to social workers makes it difficult to withhold the demanding role and the emotional exhaustion it brings.

Moreover, self-care is a substantial element to burnout prevention and should be taken seriously by all those working in areas that can be emotionally and mentally draining.

Ways to Prioritize Self-care as a Social Worker

To avoid overload and burnout completely, researchers have found that it is particularly helpful to prevent things such as compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and secondary traumatic stress.

By taking self-care seriously, professionals can assess their own needs and ensure they are being met without feeling guilty. From finding supportive mentors, a positive peer group, pursuing personal goals and hobbies to relaxation, there’s plenty social workers can do to increase their wellbeing. Here are some ideas:

Prioritize your comfort in and out of work

Try to eat lunch at your desk as little as possible, invest in a comfortable chair, fill your office or desk with your favorite plants that refresh your spirits. If it helps to play relaxing music that puts your mind at ease while you type up reports, then that is what you need to do.

Get into healthy routines

Conditioning your mind and body to carry out habitual activities that ground and center you are a crucial part of self-care. Before reaching the office for example, can you find one hour to go to the gym? Are you a church-goer who finds peace from worship? If so maybe you can schedule a time to visit after your day is finished. It depends on what self-care strategies work for you personally. Finding these and sticking to them will help prevent burnout.

Seek support

Within the workplace, there should be access to mentorship or advice you can seek out. Also, ensure you surround yourself with a peer group that you feel comfortable opening up to. Learn to check in with each other and personally debrief after an intense case to process what happened and figure out your next steps.

As we can see, social work is never easy, and unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before things become balanced for the majority of professionals. However, taking personal ownership over your self-care is fundamental if you want to avoid burnout and continue serving your community as a successful social worker.

Four Calming Techniques to Improve Your Mental Health

If you are like me and the other nearly 325,000,000 trillion people in the U.S., you have experienced stress. From raising kids, dealing with your boss or handling a health issue, you can feel overwhelmed. But there’s good news! Learn how to create peace and take control of your life.

Determining the Type of Stress

Most people do not realize stress, a response to stimuli comes in two varieties which is good stress and bad stress. Bad stress or distress happens when your perception of an event is threatening. According to Stress Management Society, “Through the release of hormones, such as adrenaline, cortisol…the caveman gained a rush of energy…”. This onset of biological and emotional reactions resulted in the need to fight or flight.

Good stress or positive stress is the opposite response. It is marked by feelings of happiness and a sense of confidence. Your thoughts are focused and the energy is motivating.

Four Paths to Calm

Now that you know more about stress, you can start to manage it. Try these tips to make stress ignite your creativity and passion. Make stress work for you.

1. Keep It in Perspective

So, how do you transform your bad stress into good stress? Change your perception. If your job causes you to relocate, consider it a career opportunity. If the throbbing in one of your molars means you need a root canal, don’t panic. Discuss it with an emergency dentist Calgary. Consider it an investment in your health.

2. Calm the Monkey

Your mind races with thousands of thoughts all day. Anxiety builds as you obsess about future concerns. What if this happens, what if that happens? Stop!

Just breathe. As you mindfully count from 1 – 10, inhale and exhale slowly. Feel your heart rate decrease.

The Buddhists used this breathing method for quiet meditation to conquer the Monkey Mind or frenzied mental condition. In Mindfulness: Taming the Monkey Mind by Mitchell Wagner, the author states, “It is not possible for the mind to be open…when it is consumed by anxiety.”

3. Choose the Right Foods

What do yogurt, pistachios, and spinach have to do with relaxation? They contain key ingredients which affect your mood.

Pistachios

According to Organic Facts, pistachios have “6 grams of protein per ounce…”. Protein contains an amino acid which produces serotonin, a regulator of hunger.

Spinach & Avocado

The folate found in this green leafy vegetable produces dopamine, a chemical producing feelings of pleasure. Folic acid improves memory in adults experiencing stress. Avocados are also high in folate and vitamin E.

Yogurt

This comfort-inducing snack is filled with probiotics. It delivers healthful live bacteria in the gut linked to good mental health.

Strawberries, Raspberries, & Blueberries

These fruits are high in vitamin C which helps fight stress.

4. Become a Yogi

Yoga is a tradition dating back 300 years ago. Yoga is low impact and is a synergy of mind, body, and soul.

The International Journal of Yoga published “Exploring the therapeutic effects of Yoga and its ability to increase the quality of life” and found “Yogic practices enhance muscular strength…reduce stress, anxiety…”. Bikram, Hatha, and Kundalini are some of the best forms of yoga for beginners.

Invest in Stress Management

Consult with your doctor. Read books and attend local exercise classes. Stay up-to-date about trends.

Stress is a part of life. Learn stress management. Anticipate the unexpected and choose a strategy challenging you to do your best. Then, sit back and relax.

Burnout: Who’s Taking Care of the Care Takers?

 

burn-out

Stressors are a given in the helping professions such as social work, teaching, and nursing which can often lead to burnout. These can include intense and long work hours, low salaries, mismanagement, lack of appreciation and support, lack of job autonomy and security, lack of professional development and growth opportunities, politics (both interagency and governmental), and even personal risk at times. As a result it’s highly important to establish and implement procedures that reduce and/or eliminate stressors in order to prevent burnout and ultimately employee turnover which negatively impacts the organization and those served. 

Burnout is preventable. However, helping professions haven’t typically focused on their employees in the same way they’ve focused on their clients. Reducing and eliminating the stressors that contribute to burnout would ultimately require a total revamping of society. Many of the standards set by organizations are established by outside sources that are often disconnected from the reality of service provision.

This can lead to organizations placing a greater priority on those standards rather than addressing and supporting the needs of their employees, which also directly affect the needs of those they are helping. In an attempt to meet particular standards, organizations often have limited resources to reach their objectives. This can manifest as low salaries as well as significant overtime due to limited staffing due to limited funding while occurring within a societal framework that often fails to provide sufficient vacation time, healthcare, or other programs to support well being.

Contemplating a complete overhaul of society is overwhelming and contributory factor in creating the circumstances for burnout. There are many protective factors helping organizations and employees as individuals can do to promote change. Many in the helping fields advocate for others as individuals and overall societal change, but often have difficulty advocating for themselves. Some of this is a result of societal traditions and some of it is a result of a lack of education on the issues that directly impact them. This is particularly evident in regards to pay.

Employees in the helping professions are often underpaid and since money equals value in our society this communicates how little our society values the services these individuals provide.  Of course most don’t go into their chosen field to make a ton of money. However, if one has a major financial burden due to the profession they chose, this can contribute to burnout. At a societal and organizational level, those in helping professions need to advocate not only for higher pay, but also shorter work hours and increased vacation time.

Research has demonstrated that working overtime has a direct correlation to decreased productivity while employing flexible hours has a direct correlation to increased productivity.  Such policies also promote overall well being in all aspects of life, therefore, they should be taken into consideration and ample time off should be provided to recuperate. This could also provide opportunities for more jobs in these fields thus decreasing the unemployment rate.

These changes alone could move the meter tremendously towards eradication of burnt out helping professionals. Additionally, there are smaller changes that can be made until organizations and society buys in to the value of taking care of its employees and citizens.  Since increased job autonomy and social support within organizations are directly linked to increased job satisfaction and decreased stress, organizations should create an environment that promotes this. Supervisors need to be mindful of providing praise as well as allowing room for employees to create aspects of their job duties.

Many enter into their chosen field passionate about certain areas and when they aren’t allowed to be involved in their passions, lose enthusiasm for their job.  Encouraging employees to incorporate their passions can significantly improve job satisfaction and decrease burnout. As well, creating promotional opportunities along with salary increases adds to employees’ motivation to be productive and satisfied. Along with all of this, providing opportunities for professional development in areas of employees’ interests will promote growth that will benefit both the individual workers and the organization. Included in this should be stress management workshops because no matter how many of these changes are made, stress will still exist in the helping professions.

Employees and organizations need to constantly educate and empower themselves in order to most effectively advocate for those they help, their field, and of course, themselves. At first, it may appear selfish to advocate for oneself when many working in helping professions have been socialized to operate within society’s parameters. By instituting protective factors for helping professionals, it will not only benefit the employees and their fields, but society as a whole will also reap the benefits. It’s time to stand up for health and well being for all including those who traditionally provide such opportunities of empowerment.

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