After my blogserie about your salary it’s now time to address another urgent problem Social Workers have to deal with: exhaustion!

It makes me sad when I hear Social Workers talk about their huge workload.

Donna said: “I really love my work but it’s exhausting. I have too many clients to handle. I can’t help them the way I want. That’s making me sad and angry. I work 60 hours per week and it’s still not enough. My husband and kids are complaining because they miss me. I wish I could solve this problem but therefore I need more energy and that’s what I’m missing right now.”

Shelley, a student, said: “I am in the middle of my 2nd semester of grad school and I’m exhausted. I have four classes, a 20 hr week internship, and I’m a single mom.”

Not only we know that exhaustion is our problem. Others know it too. They make fun about us like this.

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Or they describe us in a book like this: “The social worker seemed to be an older, underpaid woman who had to deal with more cases then she could handle, who was sick and tired of her work counting her days till her retirement.” [from Isabel Allende, Maya’s Notebook]

And all true. It’s a shame. But who is responsible? Our managers? Have you ever complained at your manager about your workload? Did it help? Did he or she take measures and was your workload more balanced after that? I hope so but to be honest with you I’m afraid this is often not the solution.

Is there something you can do yourself? I think you can! There’re proven ways to take good care of yourself and prevent you from exhaustion. I’m thinking of five ways:

  1. respect your boundaries: say no to your boss and clients when you need to
  2. take good care of your health: eat well, sleep well and do your exercises
  3. talk to your colleagues: when there’s a lot going on in your mind about specific clients get it out of your mind and talk with your colleagues, ask for help
  4. be realistic: you can’t save the world in one day and not on your own
  5. celebrate your successes: take time to stand still and celebrate the things you do achieve

What are you doing to prevent yourself from exhaustion?

Now I would like to know if starting your own business could be a solution. Are Social Worker Entrepreneurs free from exhaustion? I feel I need to think about this and will let you know in my next blog.

Don’t forget to share your ways to deal with exhaustion below in the comments to help others!

Showing 18 comments
  • Su
    Reply

    Hey Anneke … caution everyone this is a ‘truly hit burn out/what a waste of skills response … it’s a nice idea But:
    – in my experience (17 years) talking to a supervisor or manager resulted in ‘let’s look at your diary’ (d’oh, I can do that myself, quart-pint pot) or ‘well we can’t stop the work coming in’ – old-school managers would be a buffer but those I encountered in recent years don’t have those skills and follow the ‘must hit KPI’s’ method;
    – you can’t ‘just say no’ to court and conference reporting deadlines;
    – the self-care prompts you give are great, just please folks aim for the small steps method rather than all-or-nothing.
    It will be great to read others’ comments and views (and less battle-weary insights!).
    Peace to all.

    • Anneke
      Reply

      Hi Su! We could talk some more about these kind of managers but that would definitely be a waste of time. I agree. So it comes down to you and me. Small steps are okay but you’ve got to start with them in time. Like: what can you do today to make this day a dream day?

  • Berto Mostert
    Reply

    Work cleverer! Take care of yourself because yóú are the only tool that you have. Be assertive. No is no!

    • Anneke Krakers
      Reply

      You’re so right Berto! Its the only tool we have … Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Steve Parrish
    Reply

    I love the work I do, it is a demanding role that requires me as a professional to sacrifice a lot of myself. The role places a huge demand on family and loved ones and below is how after much contemplation I decided to manage my work/life balance.

    1) I will no longer work from home or bring work home.
    2) a great manager told me make your yes valuable, say no more.
    3) I eat and drink healthy and exercise regularly.
    4) I have incorporated a plan to have 3 months off work every 2 years.
    5) I motivate and push for regular supervision with managers and peers.
    6) I take full advantage of training and development opportunities. The provide the opportunity to reflect and a welcome break from the office.
    7) I accept the work gets done when it gets done, if it can not be done in time it is passed back to the manager with an explanation and recorded.
    8) I remain positive, keep a sense of humour and remind myself and colleagues we are a team.
    9) if owed hours I ensure I take it, as soon as my TOIL exceeds 15 hours I put in for 2 days off. I record every hour owed.

    I still find the job role rewarding but feel a cultural change to social work is needed, it amazes me the amount of people who take work home, do not claim back hours owed and brag/complain how many extra hours they worked.

    • Anneke Krakers
      Reply

      Thanks Steve for sharing the way you deal with this. You made some bold decisions but it’s clear that this is what is needed.

    • Jackie
      Reply

      Those are realistic tips. I would be interested in learning more about the three month off every two years. How that works with job, clients, etc.

      • Anneke Krakers
        Reply

        Here in The Netherlands you can save to take a sabbatical of several months. On the other hand, for me it’s easy to schedule my clients around my travel plans. Working mostly online gives me the opportunity to travel and do online coaching calls from wherever there’s Internet.

  • H
    Reply

    I have a tough problem, where at times, even if I express that I cannot take on another case (often ours have to be dealt with on the day) I still get given it and told to ‘try’ to fit it in, which inevitably means, you need to get this done.
    I ensure that I take a lunch break everyday (though never a Full break unfortunately). I am really glad this article was published as it just shows that we really aren’t alone when it comes to exhaustion and heavy case loads. Will have to look at all the other comments and heed advice from them

    • Anneke Krakers
      Reply

      Dear H! You can’t save the world when you’re exhausted. Please take good care of yourself <3

  • Mary Hawtin
    Reply

    Hi, although I’m not a social worker, as a foster mother we are affected by social workers case loads. For us trying to have any regular exercise is very difficult. I now have a very good sports centre who are happy for me to do yoga one week, acqua another, cycling, etc. I then can attend on a day that fits and no longer have to cancel. It is easy to say take exercise, but all of us know how difficult that can be.

    • Anneke Krakers
      Reply

      Mary, you did well organizing this for yourself!

  • Amy W-Hunt
    Reply

    Things that I teach my MSW team: Working smarter, bundling non urgent activities, effective triage, good time management and skills to avoid or curtail the things that steal time from our day. I also tell them to play as hard as they work, and use all breaks and vacations well.

    • Anneke Krakers
      Reply

      Like that Amy! ‘Work hard, play hard and rest hard’ is a great mantra to use. You must be loved by your team members!

  • Sat
    Reply

    I agree most social workers have a can do ethos and have a feeling of loss when we feel we cannot deliver but we are in a climate of experiencing immense pressures and we have to protect ourselves. It is imperative that we adopt a new way of working which arms us with protective factors to deliver a safe practice and it is unfortunate that we are adopting the “no” word but at times that is the only way as there needs to be an element of giving to your personal family commitments and without that balance how can we feel valued and have a quality of life???

    I love my job and I am very committed but I have learnt detachment skills

    • Anneke Krakers
      Reply

      Agree. We have to change the game ourselves. We have to change the way we work and the way our work is organized and packed. I firmly believe that entrepreneurship is the solution. Thank you Sat!

  • Swapan
    Reply

    I am into social work entrepreneurship in India

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