Michael M. Martinez

Issues and Solutions within the Social Work Profession

            Stress within the workplace is a very common issue for many individuals. However, within the Social Work field, it is more common. Working and dealing with children who are abused mentally, physically, sexually and psychologically, takes a toll on the human body. In our society there’s a lot of people who need to be helped but few act on the situation. In this paper I propose to use academic citations to help explain the main issue that stress has within the workplace of social workers. Three subgroups that I will talk about will be the amount of physiological stress it has on the body, the lack of proper compensation to help accommodate us due to being understaffed, and finally to adhere by our moral principles that they help satisfy our clients; after I explain what each problem is I will then introduce three possible solutions to the problems within the profession.


            Within the workplace as a social worker, the human body will go through an ordeal amount of stress. “Role ambiguity is a contributing factor to stress among mental health social work. Role ambiguity is associated with anxiety, depression, and is subjective to work load (Willems).” Role ambiguity is when people are unsure or uncertain with what is expected within a certain role, especially when within their job they are understaffed. I agree with Willems. I feel like that within the social work profession we are expected to just do things without breath. We are expected to do so many things for our client, that at times we are unsure of what are role is supposed to be. Having this kind of mentality and uncertainty within the brain can cause the body to feel fatigue and in a sense of shock. Willems goes on to say that, “source of stress among this profession was also the fear of not being able to help the people they needed, too little time to perform duties to the person’s satisfaction, rationing of scarce services and the meeting of imposed deadlines and emotional demand of clients (Willems).” As social workers, we have this mindset of wanting to please everyone; including our clients and supervisors and ourselves, at times it is just not possible and if we try to lease everyone we just end up burning ourselves out.

            As a social worker, we are not compensated enough for work we are assigned due to being understaffed. We are being assigned multiple cases at one time to handle. “It has been suggested that social workers lack the resources and the staffing to do the work required of them and that new legislation is giving them further responsibilities with limited control or autonomy (Chenoweth, Lesley; Lloyd, Chris; King, Robert)”. I agree with this. Due to the lack of resources it is hard for social workers to do their professionally. Social workers are having to work twice as hard handling more than one case, not including what each case is about this can lead to severe burnouts and high levels of stress. Another article agreed with Chenoweth, Lloyd, and King. This is what they had to say, “High staff turnover may have a negative impact on agency functioning. A recent U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) study of Child a Protecting Children Family Services Review (CFSR) findings from several states associated high worker turnover with agency failure to meet a variety of CFSR performance standards, including those related to child safety and permanency (Costello, Theresa, et al.).” 

            The third and final subgroup I will talk about is how social workers adhere by their moral principles that they help satisfy their clients. Chenoweth, Lloyd, and King go on and say that, “Social workers experienced conflict between acting as patients’ advocates and representing

their interests, and the responsibility to ensure patients and others are safe. (Chenoweth, Lloyd, and King).” As a social worker we have a constant conflict of trying to please our clientele with things that are morally right and to things that they want done to help them. Within our profession we go by our Code of Ethics. At times we are torn between what is morally right and to what is legally right. An article agreed with what Chenoweth, Lloyd, and King had said. “In our work, although we are surrounded by people all day long, there is not a balanced give and take. Concentration is on clients, not ourselves. In the truest sense, we are alone—we are the givers, and our fulfillment comes from seeing the growth, hope, and new direction in those with whom we are privileged to work (Smullens).”



            Many social workers might not admit it but the reason why they get stressed is because the decisions our clients make are not ideal. However, it is not our job to judge our clients, but instead lay out the best options for them to choose from. “One thing is teaching the person to be more aware of the stress building—recognizing the symptoms and taking the time to stop and breathe. They need to get control before they make a bad decision (Getz).” As a social worker we will get stressed, it is inevitable. However, we must be able to compartmentalize. Meaning that we must be able to “put away” our feelings and focus on the task at hand. Whether we take a deep couple of breaths or close our eyes, we must be able to contain our stress levels to stay in a professional manner.

            Getz goes on to state, “When we get stressed, it can take three to five hours just to get back down to the state we were in when we first encountered that stressor…When the next stressor hits us, there’s not as much residual response left from the last one (Getz).” I agree with Getz. Whenever we do get stressed whatever the situation may be, it takes a while for us to reach homeostasis. However, the next time we do get stressed it is easier to control with the help of breathing techniques.

            In a similar article, the New York Times stated that, “Controlled breathing, like what you just practiced, has been shown to reduce stress, increase alertness and boost your immune system… How controlled breathing may promote…one theory is that controlled breathing can change the response of the body’s autonomic nervous system, which controls unconscious processes such as heart rate and digestion as well as the body’s stress response (Alderman).” Controlled breathing is a proven tactic to help reduce stress, although the article is not specifically about social work stress, why should controlled breathing not work in a social work aspect?

            One solution that has been proposed to reduce stress within the social work field is to not take on more than one case at a time. “Social workers face a conflict between the demands made on them as employees and their expectations of some professional autonomy (Chenoweth, Lloyd, King).” However, the demand of social workers is high and due to the lack of social workers it is almost impossible to not take on more than one case. We live in a not so perfect world where kids are abused, and women are assaulted, and certain families cannot make ends-meet. With this being a constant battle between “good vs. evil” if you will, it is hard for social workers to take one case at a time, they must take three to five cases at once.

            In a similar article written by many authors they conclude that, “Providing more time in the practice, and more time per patient and experiencing less job stress are all associated with perceptions by patients of better care and better practice performance. Workload and job stress should be assessed by using list size adjusted data to realize better quality of care (Hombergh, Pieter, et al.).” As contradictive as that may sound, if social workers would be able to spend more time with their clients, the levels of stress would decrease. Today’s society within the social work profession, social workers take more cases however they do not spend as much time with their clients and therefore are stressing because they are trying to make sure that their clients are satisfied.

            Finally, a third solution will be one that I proposed myself. A solution that I propose to use that will help bring down stress within the workplace is that perhaps that government sets aside a budget for social workers, and in return we use the funds towards programs that social workers can introduce to their clients. These programs can help the clients by perhaps providing housing or making support groups or for children perhaps having a youth center that can help with the needs of each child.

            If the government does this this will help lift some of the burden and stress on our backs since we are already worrying what is in our client’s best interests. “Studies show that an individual social worker’s stress levels can vary depending on the type of client he serves and the type of setting in which he works. For some, working with clients with more serious and persistent mental illness leads to greater burnout (Baer).” I agree with what Baer says. The amount of stress varies on the kind of work that you do within the social work setting. Some clients are easier than others while working with them. Baer goes on to say that, “Changing to a population of clients with less serious illness may alleviate your burnout. Also, those who work in a private practice report less burnout than those in public settings (Baer).” Changing the population of clients that you work with may also help with the amount of stress that you have, however with these programs not only does it better your client’s situations it also relives the stress you have for them.

            At times it is not even your stress that your carrying, it is your clients stress. We stress for our client’s stress and that is not healthy. At times we need to be able to have self-care. A similar article goes on to say that, “Self-care is fundamental for everyone. It is part of self-regulation, the physical and mental processes through which we create inner and outer balance. If we cannot self-regulate, we are prone to overwork, overplay, burn-out, and unhealthy living (Tooley).” It is important we take care of ourselves when we need to. Being able to disconnect can reduce the amount of stress within the workplace and you won’t feel as overworked than you already are.

In conclusion to this essay I have explained three subgroup issues within the social work profession and lastly, I proposed three possible solutions to the issues states above.

Works Cited

Alderman, Lesley. “Breathe. Exhale. Repeat: The Benefits of Controlled Breathing.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/09/well/mind/breathe-exhale-repeat-the-benefits-of-controlled-breathing.html

Baer, Taryn. “How Can Social Workers Combat Work Burnout?” How Can Social Workers Combat Work Burnout?, Social Work Degree Guide, 2018, www.socialworkdegreeguide.com/faq/how-can-social-workers-combat-work-burnout/.

Chenoweth, Lesley; Lloyd, Chris; King, Robert. “Social Work, Stress and Burnout: A Review.” ResearchGate, Journal of Mental Health, 2011, file:///C:/Users/migue/Downloads/SocialWorkStressBurnout.pdf, Accessed on March 21st 2018

Costello, Theresa, et al. “The Study of Workload in Child Protective and Child Welfare Services.” Calswec.berkley, Http://Calswec.berkeley.edu/Sites/Default/Files/Uploads/the_study_of_workload_in_child_protective.Pdf, 2008. Accessed on April 1, 2018

Getz, Lindsey. “Web Exclusive.” Workplace Stress: How Social Workers Can Help Prevent Clients from Making Bad Decisions, Great Valley Publishing Company, Inc, 2018, www.socialworktoday.com/archive/exc_091510.shtml.

Hombergh, Pieter, et al. “High Workload and Job Stress Are Associated with Lower Practice Performance in General Practice: An Observational Study in 239 General Practices in the Netherlands.” BMC Health Services Research, BioMed Central, 15 July 2009, bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6963-9-118.

Kimes, Austin. “Burnout Rates among Social Workers: A Systematic Review and Synthesis.” ScholarWorks, California State University, 2016, www.scholarworks.lib.csusb.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1452&context=etd, Accessed on March 23, 2018

Smullens, Sara Kay. “What I Wish I Had Known: Burnout and Self Care in Our Work Profession.” The New Social Worker. 2013. http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/field-placement/What_I_Wish_I_Had_Known_Burnout_and_Self-Care_in_Our_Social_Work_Profession/ Accessed on April 1, 2018.

Tooley, Aaron. “The Importance of Self-Care in Social Work and Social Work Education.” Online MSW Programs: A Comprehensive Directory of Accredited MSW Degrees, 2018, www.onlinemswprograms.com/in-focus/self-care-in-social-work-and-social-work-education.html

Willems, Emily. “Stress among Social Work Professionals in Mental Health Care Settings.”           Sophia. St. Kate, St. Catherine University, 2014, www.sophia.stkate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1412&context=msw_papers, Accessed on March 23, 2018

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