Social workers are people committed to better the lives of others and this is done through varying capacities. Some work with families, children as well as in school while others work in the medical field especially those dealing with mental health. They assist people to amicably deal with domestic conflicts, disabilities, challenging health conditions, economic problems that precipitate housing problems, unemployment as well as issues like drug and substance abuse. (www. bls. gov).
Their role in policy making can also not be underscored given their efforts in conducting research and making relevant recommendations as to the best or appropriate strategies. Social workers are also quite influential in the adoption processes as well as single parent assistance. Medical and public health social workers are committed to offering psychological support to people with life threatening conditions for instance HIV Aids and Alzheimer’s disease patients. Social workers can also work in local authorities as well as in government.
In pursuit of making the lives of others worth the while, social workers in their respective fields are faced by many challenges. (www. bls. gov). They have to be in constant movement from their offices to where their clients are located and back to their offices where clerical work is done. Most often than not they experience burn outs while in their work a condition that affects their productivity levels. The focus of this paper is to explain why burn out occurs among the social workers, it will illustrate how it occurs, its effects on the organization and thereafter suggest that appropriate solutions to resolve it.
The term ‘burn out’ is used to refer to the process or state of mental exhaustion that has a high impact on one’s productivity. In the book Handbook of human factors and ergonomics in health care and patient safety, Carayon presents some signs and symptoms of burn outs in the work place. Burn outs leads to anxiety and lack of zeal. It causes depression and mental exhaustion, poor concentration and memory as well as increased instances of absenteeism and general poor productivity. (Carayon P, 2006). Burn outs are not good for any profession in any organization.
They cause a negative impact on interpersonal communication among the various employees in an organization would definitely have a bad effect on the company’s output. (Azar T, 2000). Burn outs increases people irritability and minor issues are magnified and this can be a source of conflicts among the various employees. The overall effects of burn outs are transferred from the individuals affected to the organization as a whole. Organization risk registering high dissatisfaction levels, increased job turn over as well as low morale. In Carayon’s book burn out is defined as ‘the persistent negative work related state of mind that is
characterized by exhaustion which is accompanied by distress, a sense of reduced effectiveness and the development of dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors at work’. (Carayon P, 2006). This psychological problem develops gradually and may initially be unnoticed. It arises from the contrast between one’s objectives or intentions and the reality at the job. In most cases burn outs are caused by the adherence of inappropriate or rather inadequate stress coping mechanisms. Prolonged job stress leads to burn outs among the employees in question. Burn outs lead to decreased motivation and creates anti work attitudes. (Carayon P, 2006).
Social workers in the various fields experience burn outs while in their work places. This occurs when the organizations they work for fail to meet their high goals and expectations. They feel dissatisfied with their work and this dissatisfaction leads to feeling of disappointment and grief. (Soderfeldt M and Soderfeldt B, 2003). According to a 2006 research it was clear that most social workers are not contented with their work. A high percentage reported high levels of job dissatisfaction and were ready to leave their various organizations. According to them, the value of the work they did was not equivalent to the pay they received.
(The Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2006). Social workers suffering from burn outs may feel detached with their clients and this will definitely affect their productivity levels. (Takeda F et al, 2005). Although different people will react differently to burn outs some could isolate themselves and have poor eating and sleeping habits. Others may find solace in alcohol or smoking all of which has a negative effect on their health. The relationship between the social workers experiencing burn outs and their clients as well as with fellow workmates is negatively affected by burn out as it triggers anger.
(Lewandowski A, 2003). Organizations suffer economically whenever social workers leave due to the burn out problems. They incur the costs of hiring new employees and training them to be effective. This is made worse by the fact that they have the constraint of scarce resources. Organizations or agencies that fail to address the issues presented by their employees in this context the social workers are more likely to register higher incidences of job turnover which translates to increased costs. (Lewandowski A, 2003).
A major cause of the increased instances of burn outs among the social workers is attributed to lack or failure by some agencies to involve them in the decision making processes. The lack of autonomy and the increased bureaucratization in their work place makes them feel alienated or isolated. (Lundy C, 2003). The problems to be handled by social workers become difficult by the day and this demands that the organizations adjust with the changing times if amicable solutions are to be arrived at. In her book, Social work and social justice, Lundy explains that social workers have a challenging job.
Financial constraint is a major set back hindering their efficiency or productivity. They have to undergo or rather face job related stress as they try to allocate the minimal resources to match the overwhelming demands. The structure of the social welfare delivery, the mandate of the agencies they work for as well as the needs of their clients also lead to increased stress which precipitates burn outs among the social workers. (Lundy C, 2003). Most social workers are in the job due to a call or vocation to help others and the failure to involve them in the decision making process hinders their effective performance.
(Kreisher K, 2002). Great control of funding sources also has a negative effect on the level of satisfaction that social workers derive from their work. The reduced commitment by the government to boost the welfare sector has led to the reduction of funds which makes social work a very challenging profession. (Lewandowski A, 2003). Without the autonomy or involvement in the decision making process they are denied the chance to apply their findings or expertise to directly affect their practice. This hinders the effectiveness of various welfare programs and on not realizing their goals they are frustrated and feel helpless.
The ineffectiveness of the sector that they work for may have a direct negative impact on the social workers. They may place themselves in the shoes of their clients who could be victims of abuse or violence and live in fear especially with the knowledge of how ineffective the system is. (Kreisher K, 2002). Given the emerging social and economic conditions, the involvement of social workers in the decision making process would be more of a necessity then a requirement. This would ensure that there is effective division of labor and the work load could be minimized. Workload has negative effects on the employees’ health.
This can be backed by a 1999 survey by the Canadian Union of Public social workers which established that increased work load among the social workers in the development services in children aids societies had a negative impact on their well being. To a tune of 87% social workers in the various fields confessed that the increased work load had a negative on their health. (Kreisher K, 2002). Work overload precipitates burn outs. With minimal finances at their disposal, agencies or organizations dealing with welfare hire fewer people than would be required a condition that sees the social workers with a large work load at their disposal.
The social workers job predisposes them to risks of physical and verbal abuse and threats at work all of which have negative implications on their mental, physical and social well being. It also has an effect on their job satisfaction levels. In the article ‘Burned out’ Kreisher Kristen argues that the poor pay given to social workers dealing with children and the youth, in the face of the tough economic times has a big role to play in boosting ‘burn outs’ among the social workers. Their job demands are increasing while their reward or pay is dwindling and this is a major disincentive for them.
There is need for the welfare organizations to adjust the compensation rates to match the difficult economic times. (Kreisher K, 2002). As Lewandowski in Organizational factors contributing to worker frustration: The precursor to burnout notes disappointments among the social workers have also been aggravated by the fact that their roles or responsibilities have changed and are in contrast with their expectations. Instead of spending more time with their clients in the field they spend more time carrying out clerical work. (Lewandowski A, 2003).
For the agencies or organizations accountability is of essence as they are under pressure from the financiers to show how their resources are spent. In other words the agencies are more concerned with the number of people served while the social workers are more concerned with the quality of services provided. The social workers pay is at times affected by gender bias where for instance women dealing with children are lowly paid. (Kreisher K, 2002). The burn out problem can be resolved if appropriate strategies are adopted to help the social workers face the challenges in their work effectively.
Prevention of burn out can be handled both at an individual level as well as at an organizational level. Social workers can be advised to take well balanced diets, have enough sleep, talk with their workmates and share their challenges as well as create some time away from the stressful conditions. Social networks are vital as they enable one to connect with their friends and make the stress that they face easier to deal with. Identifying hobbies that would ease the work tension and pressure is also an effective way of reducing the effects of burn outs.
Of mush significance is the role of organizations in resolving burn outs among the social workers. Organizations must adapt all inclusive strategies where social workers have a significant role in the decision making process. (Azar T, 2000). This makes them feel appreciated for the roles they play in the organizations. To enable social workers better manage the challenges attached to their work it is important that the social work curriculums be modified to train them on the appropriate ways to handle complex situations.
Spending more time training would also ensure that they acquire immense knowledge on how to deal with real life situations. Mentorship programs would also suffice in resolving the problem of burn outs. Strong mentorship where older and experienced social workers share their experiences with younger and inexperienced social workers will provide them with adequate knowledge on how to deal with difficulties while in this job. It will reduce their job stress as they will understand that it is part of their job. Mentorship also provides them with relevant solutions to would be problems while in their jobs.
Strong supervision is also vital in ensuring that work load problems that cause burn outs are effectively handled. (Kreisher K, 2002). An organization culture is also crucial in creating or reducing burn out in the work place. Positive cultures must be embraced by all means. Organizations with positive cultures go the extra mile to ensure employee retention. They make them feel that they are part of the organization and involve them in the decision making processes. They also provide financial incentives like paid vacations and health benefits.
Team work is also embraced in such organizations and it ensures that job stress does not have adverse effects on the employees. Supportive co workers are essential in reducing job related stress. (Kreisher K, 2002). Organizations must also invest in making the work place safe such that the risks of being physically harmed are minimized. They can train the employees on how to deal amicably with incidences of violence. The effects of social workers burn outs on the individuals, clients and on the organizations are not desirable.
The organizations must by all means ensure that employees are retained as increased job turn over sees them lose skilled, experienced and dedicated employees. They must therefore be committed to minimize the job stressors in the work environment to curb burn outs. References Azar T. 2000. Preventing burnout in professionals and paraprofessionals who work with child abuse and neglect cases: A cognitive behavioral approach to supervision. Psychotherapy in Practice, 56, 643-663. Colleen Lundy. 2003. Social Work and Social Justice: A Structural Approach to Practice.
Broadview Press. Fumi Takeda. Naoko Ibaraki, Eise Yokoyama, Takeo Miyake and Takashi Ohida. 2005. The Relationship of Job Type to Burnout in Social Workers at Social Welfare Offices. Journal of Occupational Health Vol. 47 (2005), No. 2 119-125 Kristen Kreisher. 2002. Burned Out Children’s Voice Article, July/Aug 2002. Retrieved on 12 August 2008 from http://www. cwla. org/articles/cv0207burnedout. htm. Lewandowski A. 2003. Organizational factors contributing to worker frustration: The precursor to burnout. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 4, 175-185.
Pascale Carayon. 2006. Handbook of Human Factors and Ergonomics in Health Care and Patient Safety. Routledge Publishers. Soderfeldt M and Soderfeldt B. 2003. Burnout in social work. Social Work, 40, 638-647. Social Workers. Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Editions. Retrieved on 12 August 2008 from http://www. bls. gov/oco/ocos060. htm The Royal College of Psychiatrists. 2006. Mental health, burnout and job satisfaction among mental health social workers in England and Wales. The British Journal of Psychiatry (2006) 188: 75-80. doi: 10. 1192/bjp. 188. 1. 75.
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