Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
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How to Fight Burnout in Social Work

Those who work in social work, healthcare, and law face the highest rate of burnout. When you started your career, you understood that due to the nature of your job you at some point would hit the wall. This type of exhaustion can cause serious mental and physical ailments which can inhibit you from doing your job; here are some tips to help you fight social work burnout...

Top Causes for Burnout in Social Work

  • Long hours
  • Low pay
  • Dealing with severely troubled individuals
  • Coping with situations you cannot change
  • Lack of training for real world social issues
  • Little time and cash for continuing education and training to foster career development

The Broken Shut Off Valve

According to experts Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter, social work burnout can result in the erosion of personal values, dignity and spirit. Social work requires you to be compassionate at times and methodical at others. Learning how and when to shut off your emotions can be difficult and when you are in the thralls of burnout, it often feels like you absolutely cannot fight deluge of emotions regarding difficult work situations.

On the other hand, some social worker burnout results in just the opposite, when you feel you have become desensitized completely and are unable to show emotion or compassion at all. Both situations can cause serious problems at work and can result in depression and anxiety. This is a sure sign of burnout and when dealt with accordingly, can be avoided and/or resolved. 

Solutions to Social Work Burnout

Take a Break

You may not be able to afford to take time off, but taking small breaks can still be beneficial. On your rare days off, shut off your phone, don’t answer emails, and avoid negative reflection about past cases. Give yourself the time you need to step away and regain a positive perspective on what you do. Enjoy doing something you love, whether that’s taking a swim, gardening, or reading a book.

Ask for Help

Everyone needs a little back up; employ the help of friends and family, seek professional counseling to help you deal with more complicated emotions, and when your caseload is overwhelming, ask coworkers for help. As a social worker, you live by the code of, "I can take care of this," - no you can’t, not all the time every time. Learn the warning signs of being overwhelmed and call for back up when you need it.

Set Attainable Goals

Setting realistic goals will help you avoid becoming overwhelmed. Stop trying to solve problems before they arise and allow yourself room to properly adjust to situations. Planning for the worst is healthy, expecting to fail is not. Take each day and each case as it comes.

Work/Life Balance

Do what you love with who you love whenever possible. Enjoy your "you" time whenever you can; this will help you refresh. Schedule a lunch with a friend during the week or plan a date night with your partner; take time to socialize outside of work.


Celebrate each victory, no matter how small. The fact is, as a social worker, every victory is a big victory. Reward yourself; offer yourself some positive reinforcement for a job well done. When battling burnout, a small light in the dark can turn into a beacon of hope.

Take Care of You

Mind, body, spirit; these elements of ourselves cannot be ignored, no matter how dire and external situation is. If you are not running on all cylinders you simply cannot dedicate the proper amount of time to help others. Nurture yourself by eating well, exercising when you can, meditating, and contemplating. 

Remember why you decide to get into social work - to help others. Help yourself and you can avoid burnout and continue to work miracles for others. Your line of work requires all of your energy, but remember to stash reserves for yourself and tap into them when needed.


Image via HSN News

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