Social workers go into the profession to support disadvantaged people and make a difference, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. For every client that’s a success story, there are others that simply can’t be reached. The often challenging work environment, bureaucratic red tape, and difficulties they see clients experience are enough to stress out even the most motivated social worker.
Protecting client confidentiality means social workers can’t discuss many day to day difficulties with our work with our loved ones and friends. But there are others who understand: our social work colleagues and industry peers. Social workers are better equipped than anyone else to help each other through the difficult times and appreciate their victories.
Making your workplace or school program a safe space for social workers to connect is the first step towards peer support. These are three things you can do to create a support network between social workers on and off the clock:
1. Incorporate support meetings into the work or school day.
Nearly all agencies include administrative meetings in a typical week, but a typical employer or social work program might not have additional formal opportunities to find support. Encouraging your manager or a professor to start a monthly or weekly support meeting for all social workers in the agency is the perfect place to get started. These meetings are an ideal opportunity to present clinical cases, seek out help working with challenging clients, and to generally relax and get to know each other without feeling constricted by the busy workday.
2. Create a regular social date for social work colleagues and classmates.
Outside of a more formal opportunity, social workers will also benefit from relaxing together off the clock. Creating time to hang out will allow colleagues to become more friendly with each other without the greater formality of a clinical social work meeting time. Consider starting a monthly lunch potluck, morning coffee outing, or after hours community space where all social work colleagues are welcome to drop in.
3. Help each other out at work and school.
Social workers have full caseloads and busy schedules, but making an effort to regularly use teamwork during the workday will help take away some of the stress. If you notice your colleague having difficulties, offer to help them. Volunteer to support classmates struggling in class by tutoring them in subjects where you’re strong. Encourage a warm and supportive office culture by always greeting colleagues and taking the time to ask how they’re feeling. Coworkers who frequently work separately in the field can check in over email or the phone.
Even with strong social supports implemented, sometimes social workers need further help. If you or a colleague are looking for a support group or further resources, try out these three great resources:
1. National Association of Social Workers - America’s largest organization for social workers offers various career resources, conferences, and networking opportunities for social work students and professionals. Get in touch with your local chapter to find out what supportive gatherings and events are happening in your area.
2. Network of Professional Social Workers (Facebook / LinkedIn) - This group was founded with the aim of connecting social workers around the world. The welcoming community is extremely supportive and also offers social workers a wealth of resources, job opportunities, and networking.
3. r/socialwork - This online forum is a safe, anonymous space for social workers to connect around the world, which is particularly useful if you live in an area without many social workers. The forum is a great resource to discuss the profession, get career advice, share resources, and encourage one another.