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5 Tips to Avoid Social Worker Burnout

The duties of the job for social workers can be overwhelming. Pressing patient and family needs, hefty caseloads, and the sole responsibility of it all. 

According to Merriam-Webster, burnout is defined as “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” Statistics show that more than 75 percent of social workers experience burnout. 

Have you lost your focus? Are you overwhelmed? This article will help you avoid social worker burnout and remind you why you pursued social work in the first place. 

5 Tips to Avoid Social Worker Burnout 

  1. Negotiate your workload - When you start your social work career, it’s common to start with a small caseload and build your way up. Ask questions like, “What is the typical caseload that the social worker takes in a given day?” or “Is there an incentive to take more patients?” If there is no incentive, don’t voluntarily give yourself more stress or more patients to care for.
  2. Prioritize “easy” patients first - When you begin your day as a social worker, look at the caseload and prioritize your day accordingly. For instance, if you are a social worker in a hospital setting, check out your patient list for the day. Is there a patient that may need resources and might not need to be called to set up? Start with the patients who you can check off the case list quickly. If there is not a way to do this, ask a coworker to provide support from the start.
  3. Empathy - Appreciate the patient’s feelings. Social workers are the bridge between patients and available mental and emotional resources. Offering relevant resources provides  them with a roadmap for success. Patients will eventually thank you but may initially be defensive or shut down. Proactively communicate that you are here to help and give them the help they deserve.
  4. Microbreaks - Short breaks are more effective than working for long periods of time and not stopping. Try to take a break between every couple of patients, simply to regroup and breathe. You will notice a difference in yourself when you take the time to rest between patients. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your office. Physical activity can help improve your mindset for the rest of the day.
  5. Self-care - Do a regular check-in with yourself. Are you sleeping enough? Are you eating enough of the right foods? Give yourself permission to unplug. Self-care helps you stop and breathe, offering improvements for both your professional and personal life. Some people choose to start the day with this “me time,” while others prefer to take personal time  to regroup at the end of a long day. Others take walking breaks during lunch. Figure out what works for you and make it a priority every day.

Social workers aren’t the only people who are prone to burnout - it can occur in any stressful healthcare profession where the physical, mental, or emotional health of others is your responsibility. Try these tips to avoid social worker burnout and better manage your day. Remind yourself to enjoy your role again. If you still are having trouble, it may be time to reevaluate your job and see if it’s a toxic environment. This is a significant factor that impacts stress levels in many careers. While the job has its fair share of challenges, social workers are highly valued their important and meaningful work.

5 Tips to Avoid Social Worker Burnout
Jackie Boyle

Jackie is a full-time pharmacist and career coach at TheHappyPharmD, where she helps pharmacists live life by design. She loves her family, changing the world and the profession of pharmacy.