Frustrated By Fellow Social Workers

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Career Question: A woman earned her master’s degree in social work in 2020 but did not land a job in the field until almost a year later in 2021. She said her position is working with a specific population and a client disrespected her today. Her plan is to resign tomorrow. She stated clearly that this population isn’t for her and asked for suggestions from other social workers of new populations. She noted that she isn’t licensed.

My Response:

“First, you deserve the same empathy and compassion we give our clients. Second, do you have appropriate supervision?

Only you know what you can and can’t or will or will not tolerate, and that doesn’t mean that social work isn’t for you. We don’t have to struggle or get abused in order to do good work. You’re doing a disservice to yourself and your clients if you stay in a position just to prove you can or to meet a specific timeframe. I had 4 jobs in a 12-month period after undergraduate and don’t regret leaving any of them! I am absolutely amazing at what I do and what I LOVE to do!!

Know your boundaries and your triggers – it’s what I tell my staff, students, and interns.

You can also look into macro social work if direct service is not for you. Broaden your scope.

Be willing to learn and explore and look for jobs that require “social work or related fields”. There are jobs in human services fields where you can make a difference – from public health to community development.

Good luck!!”

The Meaning:

If you know me, then you know my answer was not just to the person who asked the question but also in response to the other answers she was given.

I was annoyed and admittedly surprised by the dozens of respondents who questioned her confidence or told her that she was in the wrong field, or that it was too early to resign, or just to stick it out because all populations are challenging. All horrible advice that I totally disagree with.

  • This woman is clearly new to the profession and I expected experienced social workers to mentor and educate her instead of condemning her for exercising her right to do work that she loves. We don’t have to struggle and suffer because we are social workers. We don’t need to be ‘initiated into the field – it’s not a gang! This belief is one of the reasons that burnout is so prevalent.
  • A great supervisor and quality supervision are essential to progress and advancement in social work. The problem could be her employer and not the population, but again, she has the right to determine her career trajectory.
  • It’s never too early to resign. If you know that a particular job is not for you then get out as soon as possible. I will not glorify struggle stories. I performed home visits as a Family Support Worker for 8 months. I knew that I would NEVER EVER do home visits again. I hated it. I only stayed for 8 months because that is how long it took me to secure another job. The job after that I worked for 4 months before moving on. The job after that I had a conversation with my supervisor a little over a month into the job about the things that I wanted and needed in order to remain with the company. I stayed in the role for six years and was promoted then in year 7, I was promoted again to Assistant Director. This is the job I was working while completing my master’s degree.
  • I have naturally strong boundaries. I also don’t do well with disrespect, but I know that not everyone is as comfortable advocating for themselves as I am. Honestly, I can’t say that I have been “challenged” or “disrespected” by either adult or youth clients in the way the respondents explained.  
  • It frustrates me that so many social workers still have a very limited view of what social work is. One of the things that I love most about social work is the variety of career options offered.  There are so many diverse ways you can utilize your social work degree. It’s literally what I do here LOL.
  • There were also respondents who gave similar advice to mine, those who asked for additional information, and those who offered different populations to work with like veterans, dialysis patients, and geriatric social work. those made me more hopeful.

I hope she gets the resources and support she needs to build a career that she LOVES!

Nicki Sanders, MSW, CEO, is a Career and Empowerment Strategist who helps high-performing women of color in management go from overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated to energized, well paid, and appreciated. Through Nicki Sanders Leadership Consulting, she also helps businesses recruit, hire, train, and retain great employees. Nicki has an extensive background in developing and managing successful programs and leading high-functioning multi-disciplinary teams. She is an accomplished professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has combined her gift for authentic relationships, Master of Social Work degree, and over 20 years of diverse work experience to create a life she loves. Nicki is a lover of cupcakes, travel, and 80’s hip hop and R&B music.

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