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12/07/2018  •  Articles

Signs of social work burnout and prevention tips

Have you been finding yourself living for the weekend, feeling more exhausted than usual and generally lacking enthusiasm? These could be signs of social work burnout. 

In any role, it’s important to tackle each day with a clear head. This is especially important as a social worker. You want to give every service user the attention they deserve, but when you’re feeling burnt out, this can prove difficult. 

In this article, we’ll outline the signs and causes of social work burnout, along with five tips to help prevent burnout from happening. 

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of exhaustion that stems from continuous stress over time, leading to a lack of motivation and energy. It can often be brought on by pressures in the workplace. When you feel overwhelmed or have negative experiences at work, and they persist or aren’t managed effectively, they can impact your health and happiness.

Prioritising professional output over our mental health isn’t efficient, as it ends up becoming counterproductive. When we’re overstretched, treated unfairly or don’t have support, we lack job satisfaction. This can then affect the quality of our work and the energy we can bring to others.

While it is commonly associated with people’s professional lives, burnout can have repercussions for other areas of our lives too. It can leave us emotionally drained and physically susceptible to illnesses. It can also influence the way we communicate with others, which may harm the relationships we have with loved ones.

If you feel this way, you mustn’t blame yourself. These symptoms are very common, particularly in social work, and there are plenty of ways to manage them.

When it comes to burnout in social work, there isn’t one single factor that can cause it. Instead, it is typically a combination of different factors that will eventually lead to burnout.

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What causes burnout in social work?

Social worker burnout can be caused by many factors, including:

  • Feeling unable to detach yourself from work
  • Ethical dilemmas
  • High caseloads
  • Meeting court deadlines
  • Workplace conflicts
  • Funding concerns
  • Organisational stressors

When it comes to burnout in social work, there isn’t one single factor that can cause it. Instead, it is typically a combination of different factors that will eventually lead to burnout.

Signs of social work burnout

If you’re worried that things have started to feel too much and are unsure about what you’re experiencing, there are a number of social work burnout signs to look out for.

You may be struggling to focus and manage your workload, perhaps feeling incapable of meeting deadlines. You might have lost all sense of joy or purpose in your work. You could also have lost confidence in your ability to perform your role. The consequences of letting growing work pressures go unchecked show up in various symptoms, including:

  • An impacted ability to focus and carry out tasks 
  • Expressing frustration towards team members or service users 
  • A diminished passion for your work and company’s mission 
  • You frequently have less energy than usual 
  • Your coping mechanisms are becoming unhealthier (e.g. increased alcohol intake) 
  • You’re struggling to sleep well or your sleep routine is inconsistent 
  • You’ve started to notice new health problems 

5 tips for preventing social work burnout

If you’re feeling burnt out and don’t know where to start in order to get back to yourself, don’t worry. We have put together five tried and tested tips for preventing social work burnout, including self-care strategies and advice on who to turn to for the right support.

Regain your sense of purpose

Social work burnout can make you become detached from your goals, your desire to help others and your self-confidence. If you find yourself wondering what the point of your work is, stop and remember why you became a social worker. It may help to write this down so that you can really connect with the reasons and look back over them whenever you need to.

Noting down all the lives you’ve helped to improve and the smiles you’ve put on people’s faces can do wonders for your self-esteem and sense of purpose. The work you carry out every day has the ability to change people’s lives for the better, which can be a powerful motivator. People may not always thank you for the work you do, but they won’t forget it – and the positive change you make speaks for itself.

Clearly identify your role

When the pressures of social work affect the whole team, it can feel like there’s never enough time to get everything done and you may pick up tasks that aren’t in your job description. This can then make it impossible to meet the requirements of your role and if this continues over time, burnout almost becomes inevitable.

Clearly identifying all the tasks that are your absolute priority can help you to cut out or delegate anything else. It may be that communication could be better in your workplace, or that more efficient processes are needed. If you need support with managing this and understanding why your workload has become too much, it’s entirely reasonable to request a meeting with your manager to discuss it.

Open up to someone

As a social worker, helping others is something you will do daily, as part of your duties. Giving to others supports our self-esteem, sense of connection and life satisfaction. However, letting others support you in return is also important.

If you have a good relationship with your manager or you have a trusted confidante at work, it will hugely support your wellbeing to talk to them and outsource some of your mental load. A problem shared is a problem halved, after all, so entrusting someone with your challenges can help you to gain perspective and find new solutions together.

Time management

Before the end of each day, spend five minutes writing down what you need to do the next day, in order of priority. This simple habit can make all the difference to your sense of capability, your self-worth and your enjoyment of your work. It will leave you feeling less overwhelmed, helping you to approach each day with clear intention.

It is also valuable to incorporate breaks into your calendar. Good time management for preventing burnout in social work means finding a balance between productivity and recharging. You could also extend this by adding your out-of-work hours to your schedule, making time for rest, socialising, exercise and other nourishing activities.

Engage in regular exercise

Exercise can significantly improve our mental health. Looking after our bodies is vital if we’re to make any kind of positive changes in life. It boosts our overall health, which helps with feelings of self-love; it produces feel-good hormones that motivate us; and it helps us to feel mentally and physically stronger. This makes us feel better able to approach life’s challenges.

Whether you take up a new class, sport or outdoor activity, any kind of physical exercise helps. Even a half-hour walk during your lunch hour or after work can help you to clear your mind and feel reinvigorated.

Social work opportunities with Liquid

Here at Liquid, you’ll have unrivalled guidance and support, with a personalised and bespoke service. From the minute you join us, through to starting work and beyond, we will support you every step of the way; with a dedicated social work recruiter and your very own candidate care consultant, you’ll always have us to turn to, at any point of your career journey.

If you’d like to be put forward for our current job opportunities at Liquid, you can register for guidance and support from our expert, caring team. 

The information in this blog is for general informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for personalised guidance. The author(s) and publisher(s) are not liable for errors or omissions, and reliance on the content is at your own risk.

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