How Can Social Work Managers Best Support Their Staff?

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Social work careers can be extremely rewarding, offering the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those in need. But social work can also be a demanding, high stress field. In order to best serve their clients, social workers must be able to maintain a calm demeanor and healthy outlook.

While part of this will rely on the personality of the individual social worker, social work managers can play a key role in ensuring that their employees have the resources and guidance they need to avoid burnout and stress. By understanding how to best support their staff, social work managers can promote the best outcomes for both their employees and clients.

Social Workers Are Natural Leaders

Although social work careers come with a unique set of stresses, these jobs also almost always attract people who are trained and compassionate leaders. This means that managers in social work are well equipped — perhaps more so than in other fields — to face the challenges inherent in managerial positions. In fact, it’s a requirement of the job to be a good leader. The National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethicsprovides a list of attributes that all social workers should have, including service, social justice, dignity and worth of a person, the importance of human relationships, integrity and competence. When combined, those traits are the building blocks of a great leader.

When you consider the basic description of the day-to-day responsibilities of a social worker, from championing causes to understanding organizations and ensuring communication, it’s no wonder social workers make excellent leaders. Managers in social work can utilize the skill sets they have developed not only to serve clients, but also to create a healthy and supportive work environment for their employees.

Social Workers Understand Employees

Just as it’s important that a manager be a good leader, it’s important that they understand and empathize with the unique stressors their employees are facing. Whether social workers are providing therapy in private practice, working in schools, or serving in social services organizations, they operate on the front lines of the community, and often are helping individuals in crisis situations.

Given the nature of the issues they help clients address, social workers can be more involved in the emotional lives of their clients than someone like a financial adviser or lawyer. Managers need to understand the unique situation employees are operating in and take special care to closely monitor their employees for signs of burnout, stress, or fatigue.

Social Workers Create a Supportive Environment

Recognizing a problem and fixing a problem are two different things. While it is important that managers be able to recognize when their employees need a little help, it’s equally important that they create an environment where they are actually able to take actionable steps to help that employee.

First, managers must create an environment in which open dialogue is encouraged and welcome. Simply being able to discuss the stress with other colleagues will help create a sense of camaraderie and reduce feelings of isolation. It will also help employees feel comfortable approaching the manager with any issues. This will empower employees to help identify the tools they need to do their jobs better, and allow the manager to monitor employees who might be struggling. If anyone appears to be having trouble, the manager can sit down with that employee individually and work out specific strategies to reduce stress.

In addition to creating a healthy environment for employees, managers should be role models and demonstrate how to maintain a healthy mental state in a stressful job.

Social work is a rewarding field for the same reason that it is a particularly stressful field: It provides the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of people who are struggling. Social workers often have a passion to pursue and uphold their commitment to social work values. This means they are often willing to push themselves — perhaps too far — in order to serve the individuals in their community. Managers need to recognize that employees who are very passionate about their cause might overexert themselves and fail to recognize the importance of taking a break and pulling back a bit to regroup. They may not recognize the toll that the high-stress environment is taking on their mental or physical well-being. A good manager will be able to recognize this and take action, and will also establish an environment that allows for this.