As social workers, it is frequently said to us that we must maintain a work-life balance, and have a separation of our work and our home in order to maintain mental health and decrease chances of burnout, overwhelm, and turnover rates.
Though understandable and highly desirable, is it really plausible? The answer: Yes and No.
Our first order of business: What exactly is a work-life balance?
A work-life balance is the fluid integration of all areas of our individual lives in order to maintain physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual equilibrium, and to ensure that no one area is “taking over” in a negative way.
In terms of social work and the human services fields, many professionals are on-call, and are required to serve the organization of employ at any moment. This is especially true when speaking of clients and the various concerns they may face – whether it be suicidal thoughts and attempts, mental health crises, sudden eviction, health issues, runaways, committing a crime, and everything in between. When in an on-call occupation, it is very difficult to have the boundary between your home life and your work life. Provided below are some tips in order to lessen the load of your serving and sacrificial role, so that you may stay on top of your game. Remember, you cannot help others if you yourself are not functioning well.
- Leave your work bag in your car. This is a simple, but highly practical task. If you want to symbolically and actually draw the boundary, simply DO NOT BRING YOUR WORK HOME. Paperwork, schedules, progress notes, etc. can be left in your work office or your car once you are parked in your driveway. I understand that social workers have limited time to achieve everything that is required, but do your best to work smart and work hard 9 am to 5 pm in order to lessen the feeling that you have to finish your work at home. Even if you have work that needs to be finished, do it at the office. Stay late if necessary, but be strict with that boundary.
- Give yourself 1 hour of self-care per week. I say only 1 hour per week due to the hectic, and often irregular, schedules of social workers. However, for prime mental health and self-care, 1 hour EVERY DAY would be most beneficial. You don’t have to go crazy with a full-on spa day, but you absolutely should if you need one. Whatever your mind, body, and soul need, give into that feeling. This could be spending time with friends and family, or being in solitude. Working out or taking a nap. Writing or venting to a loved one (of course follow the HIPPA guidelines and utilize your agency’s supervision).
- Have a work planner and a personal planner. Similar to the first suggestion, attempt to place boundaries in your life. Practically, it is easier for me to have one planner that encompasses all areas of my life, but it could also make following confidentiality guidelines easier – especially if you lose a planner that may have “top secret” information. Have separate planners also makes it easier to utilize Tip #1 of leaving your work belongings in your car or office space.
- Take advantage of vacation days and personal days. Here you could even plan ahead (if it’s possible), in order to determine when you may be feeling the strain of your job. Or, you could leave them to whenever you feel you most need them, similar to a prn medication. Whatever works best for you in order to remain the best practicing social worker!
- Change into different clothes as soon as you are doing a non-work related task. This is another tip that creates physical and mental boundaries. If you have to stop by your child’s soccer game in between visits or meetings, then quickly throw on shorts and a t-shirt. It may be one more thing you have to do, but it helps you forget about work stress for more than a moment. It’s also nice to enjoy your child’s game without uncomfortable or restraining work attire.
- Utilize weekends and holidays. This is another one that is easier said then done, especially in an on-call position. However, if you make it known where your priorities are, and if your agency is focused on social worker mental health, it is possible. There are only five official work days in the week, leaving two consecutive days to relax and focus on your personal life. Please do not be your own worst enemy and schedule work events on the weekend in order to lessen the load during the week. If anything, do the complete opposite. Go absolutely crazy and workaholic during the week so that your weekends are blissful and relaxed with no work to even be done.
It is my desire that this tips come in handy for social workers so that you may all have the best mental and physical health necessary in order to serve your clients well. It is easier to write these out than it is to utilize them, but it is not impossible. Find your stride and your balance, whether these tips come in handy or not – As long as you are ensuring BEST PRACTICE, and health in ALL areas of functioning.