50 ways social work affects your personal life

Social workers reveal the impact their work has on their lives and families

emotional distress
Photo: Cultura/Rex/Shutterstock

Social work is a demanding job, and research from Community Care and UNISON has revealed the enormous amount of emotional distress and exhaustion many are suffering as a result. Social workers reported working long hours, and leaving the job with concerns about their cases.

Four in five social workers said they had experienced emotional distress in the research, and this leaves a lasting effect on professionals even out of the office.

Here are 50 ways their work affects social workers’ personal lives as taken from respondent’s answers to our survey.

  1. I spent 13 hours out of the house today. By the time I got home I was exhausted, my children were exhausted and fed up that I was late again, my husband was exhausted and fed up that I was late again. Sometimes I wonder how I find the balance between the needs of the children I am involved in the care of and the needs of my own children.
  2. Less emotionally available to my children, less tolerant.
  3. My anxiety has increased. I’m constantly too tired to cook or exercise. I am not sleeping well.
  4. My work makes me mentally and emotionally tired.
  5. Home very late, unable to cook dinner, limited time with partner.
  6. A positive impact today! I had to support a young person negotiate her way through the benefit system and learned about support my own family could access.
  7. My family suffers due to the time that I get into the office early in the morning and mental exhaustion I feel when I get home.
  8. Arrived home late, kids and wife had already eaten and I had left overs on my own.
  9. I left work completely drained and emotional. I wasn’t able to do anything productive in the evening. I spent most of the evening crying.
  10. It made me realise how lucky I am to have a ‘boring normal’ home life.
  11. My children have noted that I go to work before they leave for school (7.30 am) and I am back later than them. I get home around 6pm and my commute is around 10 minutes.
  12. Late childcare arrangements had to be made for my 11 month old today.
  13. Late home for plans with partner, although she is sadly used to it by now!
  14. I always end up offloading the day’s stress onto my husband, so yes, it affects our relationship because I’m always moaning!
  15. Photo: Rex/Shutterstock

    Photo: Rex/Shutterstock

  16. I was late home from work. I return tired and irritable most days and then am grumpy with my family.
  17. I have reduced my hours so I can collect my children from school however I can be late collecting them by as much as an hour. Which has an impact on everything from providing meals and overseeing homework.
  18. Too tired and didn’t want to play with the kids at home.
  19. I go home very stressed and often late and any personal plans end up being disrupted or cancelled.
  20. I didn’t get home until 7:30pm which meant my disabled son had to spend 2.5 hours home alone instead of the half-hour he is used to.
  21. I’ve worked most of the evening.
  22. I have recurrent headaches (under investigation) and working long days definitely makes them worse.
  23. I missed my child’s after-school football.
  24. Late home again means less time to spend with family. A stressful meeting meant I dwelt on it in the evening and even dreamt about it.
  25. Takes a while to recover from meeting with families in desperate conditions and being told that you aren’t doing your job.
  26. A very long day so I didn’t get to see my children until they were in bed.
  27. Due to the tasks of the day and having to do a home visit in the evening and removing the children from home and having them placed under police protection it meant I did not get home until 23:30. This impacted by personal life, time off in the evening.
  28. I have an elderly mother with dementia who has needed to go into placement and this has been particularly difficult juggling work and personal life.
  29. I was late home, I had to cancel my appointment with the hairdresser, so my hair is still a mess.
  30. A mother told me I was a bitch and she hoped I fucking died after I told her we would not be able to accommodate her eight-year-old.
  31. It was a long day with the last call on my mobile from the police at 23:02 then I went to bed. I didn’t have any ‘down’ time or ‘family’ time!
  32. Yes, I am contracted to work 9-5, however I did not finish work until 11.30pm due to awaiting a bed for a client who had been detained under the Mental Health Act.
  33. Yes my boyfriend dumped me today as I prioritise work and not him.
  34. I missed putting my baby to sleep/night time routine.
  35. Photo: dglimages/Fotolia

    Photo: dglimages/Fotolia

  36. I missed an evening yoga class, was late for dinner and didn’t get to oversee my kids homework or talk to them properly about their day. As with most days, I ended up tired and grumpy.
  37. Constantly at my laptop. Usually about 6 hours on a Sunday putting all my time entries and case notes on the system, putting mileage through, overtime, expenses, POVA referrals etc.
  38. Didn’t see my kids or partner. My partner says they are sick of work taking priority and they may as well be single parent. Didn’t have main meal. Only time for two drinks whole shift. Left feeling dehydrated, tired and stressed.
  39. My family eat quick, easy meals that have little nutritional value because I don’t have time to cook properly. Today, I was late picking my daughter up from school because a meeting ran on a lot longer than it should have.
  40. I was exhausted when I came in both physically and mentally. I could not face cooking so ordered a takeaway. I then went to bed early and did not spend a lot of time with my partner. His father is in hospital and I have not yet been to see him due to work.
  41. Made me want to pick up my baby daughter and never let her go.
  42. Yes, my paperwork is so behind after receiving 26 new cases in a day when a co-worker departed her position suddenly that I’ve been bringing work home with me to try and catch up. I find myself cranky, irritable and gaining weight … but these issues are far less stressful than having that mountain of paperwork looming and never getting smaller.
  43. I was stressed and exhausted by the time I got home and had a fight with my partner over something incredibly silly (unwashed dishes).
  44. I am exhausted and have come down with a cold and bad throat.
  45. Drove for 2 hrs 15 minutes today…driving causes me back pain; makes me miserable!
  46. By the time I get home, with travelling time as well.. I am so tired that my speech is slurred and I cannot be bothered to eat. I fall asleep on the sofa.
  47. I never get to spend time with family or friends. I have absolutely no life outside of work.
  48. As usual I got home late, tired, physically and emotionally exhausted. Thankfully my partner had tendered to the needs of my 8 year old child. I can’t help but feel this job is causing me to neglect my own child, it’s not fair. I’m there for other people’s children but not my own consistently, this culture of work is not sustainable for parents.
  49. Photo: Elvira Schafer/Fotolia

    Photo: Elvira Schafer/Fotolia

  50. My own 7-year-old child tells her friends that she only sees her mummy every morning and became upset in school as she told the teacher she didn’t know when she would get her homework done as mummy doesn’t come home at night.
  51. I’ve recently returned from six weeks sick leave due to depression. My manager gave me five cases to look at and allocate as and when I was able. In her absence all five were allocated to me. I was beyond anxiety and wanted to go off sick again. Came home in tears and could not sleep.
  52. I missed my daughters GP appointment; was late home, missed a surprise meal my partner had organised – because it is my birthday today – and felt like I was failing all of the above and my unmanageable workload.
  53. I told my daughter that I would be home by 8.30pm. She couldn’t understand why mummy finally got home at 10pm and wouldn’t go to sleep until she knew I was home.

34 Responses to 50 ways social work affects your personal life

  1. Mrs Gillian Mansfield March 24, 2017 at 12:28 pm #

    Try having the stress of being a Domiciliary Operations Manager. You work 24/7, take abuse from all and are expected not to have a home life!

    • laura March 29, 2017 at 7:48 pm #

      I sympathise with all comments on here. We need to be united – to be the leader in the race to the bottom is nothing to aspire to. Once our employment rights are eroded this is the legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren. The time to say ‘enough’ it is now. Social Workers are good at advocating for others but really poor at advocating for themselves.

  2. Jason March 24, 2017 at 3:25 pm #

    Are Social Worker’s putting their own children at risk? This is a question I ask based on the report from UNISON and Community Care on the impact that the profession has on a Social Worker’s personal life.

    Some of the 50 comments made could indicate that Social Workers who are parents are not meeting the needs of their own children, such as missing appointments, not having appropriate routines in place or being afforded stability. If this is turned around and the parent was NOT a Social Worker, would they have a Social Worker or family support worker involved?

    Are Social Workers who are parents unable to meet the emotional and physical needs of their own children because they are too concentrated/ saturated in ensuring that the needs of other people, including adults and children, are being met above that of their own.

    Maybe the government need to take note of this survey and consider the impact that the profession has rather than throwing more legislation at it and making it more difficult.

    Just my 2 pence worth.

    • Anonymous March 31, 2017 at 7:52 pm #

      Completely agree with all you said and relate to at least 40 out of the 50

  3. Mohammed March 25, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

    I presume most of the quotes above are from Children’s Social workers who seem to be terrible at finishing their work on time. We are legally obliged to work our contracted hours. Most of will go further but we should not routinely do so and not be expected to do so by managers

    Unless a social worker spends their time engaged in tasks unrelated to work they should leave when the day ends and resume their work the next working day. If all of us did that and our trade union backed us to stick to that our employer would have to look at increased staffing rather than rely on our goodwill to run the service. I fear we have allowed this culture to take root and now we cannot step back.

    I realise I risk being called naive but if our family means so much to us we should be willing to take a united stand on this issue.

    Your colleague.

    • Veteran social worker March 27, 2017 at 6:50 pm #

      I completely agree
      I have been saying this for years
      Whilst each of us is doing the work of 2 people there is no incentive for the Government to put more money into employing more social workers
      If every social worker across the country worked their set hours for one month the house of cards would come falling down
      People need to make a stand instead of moaning how overworked they are and doing nothing about it

    • Clare March 28, 2017 at 12:30 am #

      I agree. I believe that as this is a profession mainly consisting of women that this is a feminist issue. Regarding work culture and the history of this in Social Work, I believe if this was a profession mostly consisting of males then things would be quite different.

      Hard for me to say what others approach should be as I also work way over my hours. The work loads are crazy. But, driving oneself into the ground is not good and shows management is not working as it should. However, within some teams there can also be an element of competition?

      It is undeniable the systems are creaking under the strain. A united stand is the only answer.

    • Jason March 29, 2017 at 11:07 am #

      I guess that you do not have much experience of front line Social Work with children and families when you have to remove children from their homes in the evening and transport them to a location that could be over an hour away. So if WE didn’t do that then a child would be put at risk and possibly killed or seriously injured because there will be NO ONE around working over their contracted hours to move them. I guess a family that needs someone to stay with and get advice from for a few hours because of a crisis doesn’t really matter because I will leave them at 5pm because that is what I am contracted to do.

      Oh not forgetting the court report that needs to be done for children that are looked after because the court wants proceedings done within 26 weeks. Plus the statutory visits, core group meetings, case notes, chronologies, case summaries that ALL need to be updated/ completed because they are overdue because when you set yourself time to the side to do them there was a crisis with one of your families for which you was out of the office for most of the day.

      No task in children’s Social Work is irrelevant, things cannot wait till the next working day, there is no such thing as tomorrow.

      • lubna March 30, 2017 at 2:25 pm #

        like GPS and NHS when one shifts finishes new comes in. zero tolerance etc.

        unions very management process and do not reply support the real issues such as this.

        the whole culture needs to be changed and definitely good will omg, you are 0ut under so much to take extra work. then when you fail to perform. it’s bad worker. and this newas way of working is ridiculous.

    • Tricia March 29, 2017 at 7:57 pm #

      Absolutely agree!

      • Longtime SW March 30, 2017 at 11:56 am #

        Sorry – some things like performance indicator statistics can wait – there is an argument that this is NOT a social work task – the ‘drive’ to get things completed ‘on time’ usually means in your own time – are either of you saying then that you aren’t entitled to annual leave or TOIL? More fool you if you do work in your own leave/TOIL time

        – what has been forgotten is how much goodwill has, over the last 5 years, come to be taken for granted with the expectation that what you used to willingly give is now an unwritten part of your contract. IT IS NOT.

        Working beyond contracted hours on more than the crisis occasions is evidence that the mathematics of staffing ratios is wrong – Max 18 cases per 37 hours – any more than that and it should be more SW’ers pro rata

        Every day, week, month, year you work those unpaid hours is every day, week, month, year that you dilute your ‘hourly rate’ – have said it before and will say it again, if we were paid by the hour, with overtime rates, there would be a recruitment drive like no other.

  4. Hannah March 27, 2017 at 12:37 pm #

    I would say that yes, social workers are neglecting their children for the sake of their jobs.
    I am a 40 year old female who is a social worker. Both of my parents were social workers in my younger years. Unfortunately due to the high levels of stress they encountered they were less emotionally available to support me and my brother. Unfortunately, I sought affection in other ways which led to sexual abuse from a fellow peer. I did not achieve well academically at school, was deeply depressed and had anxiety and panic attacks. My parents do not know about this abuse, nor did I ever think to tell them, they were too busy or tired. I have carried the emotional blue print they left upon me into my adult life; I am single with no children I find it difficult to relate to people and find relationships a struggle. This is a message to all social work parents; please put down your work and tend to your children. They need you, and you may not even realise what is happening if you are too focused on others.

    • Iphia March 27, 2017 at 9:25 pm #

      Wow! I’m getting ready to go on my course in September and this scares the hell out of me! I knew it would be hard, but it seem worst than I though! Sorry for all you’ve been through. God bless you!

      • SabinaM April 4, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

        I’m the same, got interview tomorrow for Uni, I have an 8 year old so will be nearly 12 by the time I hopefully qualify, I’ve always wanted to be a Social Worker but not at the detriment of my own son. These comments and the article has given me pause for thought. Surely the good outweighs the bad or everyone would leave!

  5. Maharg March 27, 2017 at 1:47 pm #

    Evaluation of the information above
    I do think the title is misleading, and should say 50 individuals who are affected by their work as a social worker.

    And at some point in my 10 year + qualified role. Many of the above elements have been part situation I have found myself in. Including threats against myself, family members, and property.

    Throughout this include physical attempted assaults, threats to be stabbed, shot.
    Taken through the courts, have my registration taken away from me. Intimidated by clients, their families and friends. Threats of judicial review. Verbally abused, and complaints made against myself.

    It would be nice to say that this isn’t par for the course, but unfortunately it appears to be true.

    When people do not get what they want or feel the they are owed something we become the meat in the sandwich.

    The reality is, this job like all jobs has an impact. Sometimes it’s about finding a way through. Despite what lands on your head. Resilience, good team, supportive team, and keeping your options open.

    • Iphia March 27, 2017 at 9:27 pm #

  6. Malikah March 27, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

    I qualified in 2006 and only begun statutory social work 3 weeks ago. I decided back then that I wanted to raise my unborn child and be present through all her milestones. Role on 11 years (and 3 more kids) I thought I’m finally ready to do the job I’ve wanted too for more than a decade. The harsh reality has already hit! I’m exhausted and with little practical support its down to me to ensure dinner is cooked a day in advance and that homework is completed first thing on Saturday not to mention all the other commitments that just must happen. I think I’ll give myself a year of experience before moving on… If I carry on, my own children would be more deserving of a CIN plan than some of the families I serve. This is a tough job for parents of kids up to late teens and it’s not worth the compromise.

    • lubna March 30, 2017 at 2:30 pm #

      I agree. there’s no flexibility at all in this job. dumping kids in nursery for 30 hrs is not the solution. kids started to call nursery staff mummy.

      this culture does not support or give respect to women at all. school attitude if you late or miss a meeting is questionable.

      also they have so much going on in schools now days. how do they ex0ecf working mothers to accommodate all this. I highlighted this to my kids school and how guilty I feel when am not there and other mother who are lucky to stay full time at home.

  7. Aurelia March 27, 2017 at 10:08 pm #

    The more you do outside your contracted hours the more it appears that you can do more. We need to get better at saying no! At times it is necessary to work on if there is an emergency but the worker should get the time back. I’m a manager and try and protect my staff but I’m very bad at the work life balance myself. We should be looking after ourselves more

  8. A NQSW March 28, 2017 at 7:20 am #

    I’m a newly qualified social worker working on average 10-11 hours a day. My team has no manager and our senior was only appointed when the manger left. The senior works 37 hours a week, she is my supervisor on top of being a BIA once a week, AMHP once a week and Duty Manger once a week and spends on average a day a week in meetings. It transpires that’s she’s only around 1 day a week. I’m in a team with 1 other social worker and 1 unqualified who both openly admit they ‘hate” their job and they refuse to take safeguarding cases and say it’s not their job to manage the duty system.

    This is my 6 months intro into Social Work.

  9. mike jubb March 28, 2017 at 9:00 am #

    It’s a only job for heaven’s sake … if you really want to know about work that affects peoples’ lives significantly , try talking to the thousands of young Phillipine mothers and fathers , obliged to work overseas for years at a time. I have just witnessed the return home after two years of my brother in law , who met his son for the first time, conceived on his last trip home…social work in the UK however is not in the same league. Crisis intervention work can be fun and interesting : it largely depends on your mind-set and often on your background. No wonder social work is needing to recruit from new sources all the time , as I suspect that many social workers raised in the UK lack the grit and cultural resilience required for the job.

    • Sarah March 28, 2017 at 8:12 pm #

      You must be jocking! We are not talking about abandoning the family for the sake of a job here. We are talking about having an emotionally, mentally and physically healthy workforce that are able to function in their personal realm too. But if you want extremes, why don’t we chain social workers to their desks and put them on the drip to make sure they dedicate every second of their lives!? Maybe that will train their emotional resilience and develop the right attitude towards work.

  10. Chris Sterry March 28, 2017 at 10:57 am #

    Social Workers are the front line of Social Services and see persons at their most vulnerable with situations that most of us are not aware of and will not readily be involved in. Coupled with that staffing is being cut to equate with the austerity cuts being imposed by the Tory Government. The Social Workers management are being forced to accept these cuts, while realising, or they should be, that these cuts will cause considerable further stress to their staff on top of the extreme stress they are already experiencing.

    It is not surprising that this is creating further problems for the home life of these Social Workers and their families are also suffering. In fact I would not be surprised if the families of some social workers will, if not now, will in the near future require social care input themselves.

    It is easy for the Government to enforce these cuts, but the Government should be aware of all of the consequences. They sit in the ‘ivory’ House of Parliament without a care in the world and receive their salaries with substantial pay increases, while social workers are lucky if the receive 1% increase.

    The equality is not there and the Government is ‘not fit for purpose’, however, it is unlikely that any party in Government would be.

    The Government should consider the problems they themselves are creating for, not just, Social Workers, but all aspects of care and for the families who require this care.

    My heart does go out to Social Workers for the job they do under considerable pressure.

    We all know that more social workers are required and better pay, but the Government needs to take this on board as do the MPs, if not social care will be no more as people can only take so much.

  11. mike jubb March 29, 2017 at 7:41 am #

    Press the right buttons and the usual responses arrive! For a liberal profession, we do seem rather intolerant of alternative ideas….there is no bogey person orchestrating the world we operate in .it’s not he Tory Government , Management or Cuts that are the enemy , it is ourselves ………you can say your neighbourhood is going to the dogs or you can be that ( generally older) individual who buys a pick up stick and collects the litter yourself. There is considerably less sense of pressure among the social workforce where local levels of unemployment are high , for reasons that are obvious to me but clearly not to all readers of Community Care. I would go further than Chris in asserting that many social workers will eventually require input from social services themselves.. but this wont be due to the impact of the work they do on their health. It will be because of the passivity of their philosphy, which is a reflection of the degenerate society they are fully paid-up members of.

    • Carrie March 29, 2017 at 11:16 pm #

      “There is considerably less sense of pressure among the social workforce where local levels of unemployment are high , for reasons that are obvious to me but clearly not to all readers of Community Care.”

      I am interested in this statement you have made and would be grateful if you can expand on those reasons that are obvious to you.

      Thanks

      • Longtime SW March 30, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

        Hi carrie – I think they are trying to say we should be grateful we are in a job! – ironic really given Govt should be grateful we do the job!

        • Carrie March 30, 2017 at 7:55 pm #

          I understand your comment and somewhat agree. Not only should the government be grateful but they must provide more support for us as social workers.

          I am newly qualified and had so much hope, excitement and enthusiasm. Its still there, but only five months into my career and already i feel the emotional impact.

          I think there is a simple solution though….self management! it seems like its easier said than done though, going from what people say on this thread. I notice in particular the childrens social workers seem to get very emotionally involved.

          This does bring up the question of whether social workers are getting too attsched to the vulnerable children? This is where the self management would kick in – a social worker being able to recognise when they are getting to involved and taking a step back.

          I am new to this profession and hope my comment is taken as support rather than criticism. We all need to look after ourselves!

  12. Franigpane March 29, 2017 at 8:55 pm #

    The answer really is simple
    Learn to say no – Social Work is a team game not an individual one – you will never make a difference working ridiculous hours and never seeing your family or not doing what is personally important to you.
    Saying no to more cases and leaving a meeting on time does not make you a bad person or a bad social worker.

    Try it, saying no is easy, particularly when it is balanced against fantastic social work practice within the hours that you are paid for.

    Go for it

  13. Shana March 30, 2017 at 2:29 am #

    So far this week, I have been verbally berated by a mother when all I asked was if she would be in agreement with me making a referral to the GP for her son who has emotional and behavioural difficulties. I have been called a lying bitch by another client (I had not lied at all) and had a complaint made against me by a stroppy 16 year old because I wrote things about her in a report, which she did not like — and it’s only Wednesday. I am at my desk by 7 or 7.30 most days and rarely, if ever, leave the office for the luxury of a lunch break. I told my line manager in my last supervision that I simply cannot do all the work, which is expected of me and yet was given another case later the same day.

    Social work is relentless; it takes so much from me and gives very little back. It is extremely difficult to continue to find the motivation to go to work. In our office, it seems that people almost take it in turns to go off sick. We had one off for a month, then when she came back, someone else was off for two weeks and so on, until everyone had been off for at least a fortnight. When they are off, someone else has to pick up their cases as in Child Protection, you can’t just shelve it until they are back. Then there are the phone calls, which the duty worker has to take about the sick social worker’s cases, which are totally unknown to you. The people become angry because you are not familiar with these cases and you end up getting more grief and stress about cases, which aren’t even yours – on and on it goes.

    As for the above comment by someone stating, “It’s only a job for heaven’s sake” – words fail me!

  14. mike jubb March 30, 2017 at 10:44 am #

    Shana : a long bike ride is still only a bike ride. However, if you examine too closely all its terrifying constituent elements : that steep hill in 5 miles , the very narrow and busy main road at 8 miles , the precipitous downhill section with potholes at 12 miles … the scary climb up hill , which zigzags around narrow blind bends, you would only ever go to work by car.
    No -one does well undertaking any linear task by constantly reviewing and anticipating the unpleasant details.
    Carrie was asking for clarification as to why social workers in Hull , with local unemployment of 8.9 % ( figures from the Daily Telegraph) moan less in City Centre pubs about their jobs than in Camberley in Surrey with unemployment 1.0 % ( I made that up ) might be that they would be called a Worrawolly and would end up ” Avin a lot off “.

    • Carrie April 1, 2017 at 12:08 am #

      Thank you Mike for your wooly interpretation of what are semi true statistics.

      I am assuming you work in Hull. If not, then i am assuming you have sat in the pubs of Hull earwigging the conversation of social workers to make a statement like that!

      I understand your point that you have so eloquently described as ‘worrawolly’ but do not understand the point you make using the phrase ‘avin a lot off’.

      I get a general feeling that you are not really giving any sympathy or understanding to the the stress people are articulating on this discussion thread. Feel free to correct me if i am wrong. Additionally I am feeling that you are the type of social worker who is able to wtihstand all the turbulence caused by the current incresing austerity and the impact this has on service users and social workers.

      Therfore i think it would be a helpful starting point if you could provide us with some useful tips on how we can manouvre around the stress, how we can manage the stress better and still practice safely. Any ideas from you would be great.

      Thanks

  15. Lucy March 30, 2017 at 2:13 pm #

    It is something when we are asked to consider and compare and thus be grateful because we are not workers from a third world country forced to live away from home for years on end in order to support our families,as posited by a commentator here !

  16. mike jubb March 31, 2017 at 9:01 am #

    Lucy .. get global to get local. Dismissing the majority experience of the world’s population as “third world” and therefore not relevant to how Uk based social workers understand their situation, may protect you from your own distress but doesnt put into proper context. All of us in the UK are going to have to up our game .. from social workers to production line workers .. if we are going to move from a welfare economy to a wealth economy… perhaps if you can see your suffering as a small contribution to that struggle, it would make it more bearable?

  17. Ruth April 2, 2017 at 4:14 pm #

    I’d love to comment, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, but I’VE GOT TOO MUCH WORK TO DO before I go into the office tomorrow morning!