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Social Work Burnout: How to Spot the Signs of Stress and Prevent the Effects

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​Social work is an extremely rewarding job and social workers have the potential to make a lasting positive impact on people’s lives. However, it’s no secret that the unique challenges and demands of the role can lead it to also being one of the most stressful.

Burnout has become an increasingly discussed topic within social work. Research from a recent Social Work England-comissioned study revealed 79% of social workers cited high workloads and burnout as the main challenge facing their organisation over the coming year.

Here, we look at how to spot the signs of burnout and what social workers can do to help prevent it.

What is burnout and how to spot it?

Burnout is recognised as a prolonged period of stress and emotional fatigue. Those experiencing it will often feel complete exhaustion across all aspects of their lives.

Unfortunately, many people do not realise they are experiencing burnout until it’s too late. This is because it typically affects high performers who are extremely ambitious and motivated and therefore it is within their personality to keep pushing on through periods of stress.

Just a few signs that you might be experiencing burnout are:

  • Exhaustion- physical, emotional and cognitive

  • Excessive stress

  • Interpersonal problems- you may find yourself withdrawing more or getting in more disagreements at work.

  • Becoming pre occupied with work, even when you’re not working

  • Depersonalisation

  • Health problems

  • Changes in sleep habits

  • Lack of satisfaction from achievements

How can social workers prevent burnout?

As a social worker you spend each day supporting people who are dealing with stressful situations. However, it’s important to look after yourself too.

The demands of social work can mean that it may feel difficult to make time for yourself away from the job, but there are a number of small steps you can take that can help make a big difference to your work life balance.

1. Create a schedule

Having a fixed schedule can make it much easier to plan out and prioritise your workload. It can also help you to identify which areas have the potential to cause the most stress and allow you to plan ahead to prevent this.

Most importantly, a clear schedule will allow you to filter breaks and downtime into your day, even if only for a few minutes.

2. Negotiate your workload

Workload can be a key stressor, especially within social work where caseloads are often high. Even though you may feel that everyone is experiencing the same issues, it’s still important to raise them and see where changes can be made.

Many councils are aiming to reduce social work burnout by working towards ensuring caseloads are manageable and offering flexible working. Locum social workers can also help play a key role in this by providing temporary relief when workloads are high.

3. Use your holiday days

Your holiday allowance is there for a reason and it’s important to make the most of this. If you know you have a busy or stressful period coming up, make sure to have some holiday days booked for the future to look forward to.

4. Talk to someone

As a social worker you will be used to offering help, but how often do you ask for it?

The confidential nature of the job can mean social workers are prone to bottling things up, but this can often make the problem worse. Today, many social work teams aim to create a positive atmosphere where employees can feel comfortable in talking through any problems they may have and offer support where needed.

If you are a locum, remember that you can always speak to your agency too. At Opus, we work to build positive working relationships with our locum social workers and are there to listen, offer support, and point you in the right direction.

We work directly on behalf of numerous local authorities and public sector organisations to manage their social work recruitment and our dedicated social work and care teams are always keen to speak to candidates interested in making a difference through social work and care.

Candidates registered with Opus are first to hear about jobs in the organisations we work with. Check out some of our latest live jobs today or register to be notified when new opportunities become available.

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