According to the National Association of Social Workers, the first class in this field was offered by Columbia University in 1898. Since then, social workers have helped to serve people in need at private, charitable, and government organizations. They continue to meet the needs of each community while bringing the social issues of their country to the forefront of public attention.
It is because of social workers that many people enjoy the rights that they often take for granted today. Because these brave people were willing to speak out against abuse, neglect, and injustice, there are protected civil rights for all people. Individuals with a mental health diagnosis are no longer forced into institutions. Families can access the resources for which they qualify, even if they don’t know how to complete the administrative process.
Jane Addams was one of the first women to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. Although she is remembered for being a peace activist and a community organizer, her work to establish settlement houses for immigrants in Chicago changed an entire nation. Some might even say she changed the world.
The pros and cons of being a social worker are essential to review if you’re thinking about entering this field as a career. There are challenges to face every day, but it is also a job which offers many rewards.
List of the Pros of Being a Social Worker
1. There’s a lot of variety available to you for employment.
When people hear the term “social worker,” they usually equate it to a position like a child protection services worker. The truth is that social work involves any type of need that an individual or family has when times become difficult. You’ll find social workers helping patients at hospitals, working with the elderly in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and assisting with job placement or training for those with disabilities of some type. There are even social workers who specialize in adoption.
2. Your job allows you to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
Social workers often encounter people when they are at or near their darkest hour. Part of their job is to offer resources to those individuals and families which allows them to access the help they might need. Even though the job isn’t glamorous, and it doesn’t usually come with a great salary, you can always take pride in the fact that you were able to help someone get back on their feet.
3. The diversity of the work makes every day different.
In the world of social work, it is rare that you start doing the same thing two days in a row. On some days, you’ll visit with families to check-in on their progress. Some social workers might be called out to investigate claims of abuse. You might speak with families about the care options they want. You could supervise visits for parents, so they get a chance to be with their children again. There are says when you might help a child finish the legal process to get into their forever home. You really never know what is going to happen.
4. Social workers often work in environments which are comfortable and safe.
Most social workers will do a majority of their work in a typical office environment. They work at hospitals, schools, and government organizations. If they are called out to work with a difficult situation or investigate something that may be dangerous, most can ask for a law enforcement escort to improve their safety. Every job has its perils, and social work is no exception.
5. There are plenty of opportunities for growth within this career field.
Even though social work isn’t a favorite career choice for many people, it isn’t an option that is easy to approach either. Many social workers are required to complete at least a bachelor’s degree in this field or one that is similar, such as psychology or criminal justice. To advance, a master’s in social work, or MSW, is often required. Because of these requirements, there is a limited pool of candidates available for advanced positions. That makes it possible to advance faster than in some other careers.
6. Social workers do have access to benefits and a salary which exceed the national average.Geographic location and funding are the two primary drivers of wages for social workers. In the United States, social works affiliated with schools earned an average wage of $62,000, while those working with family or individual services earned a median salary of $42,000. Social workers who are state employees often earn a pension and other retirement benefits, while privatized workers may have a strong 401k or 403b matching program.
7. There is a strong jobs outlook for social workers.
Up through the year 2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the market to grow by more than 15% for open positions within this field. That includes all possible social work jobs, including hospitals, state agencies, schools, and mental health. Some segments, such as the healthcare industry, are expected to grow by 20% or more through that period.
8. Social workers have one of the highest job satisfaction ratings in the United States.
When asked to evaluate how much they like their job on a 5-star scale, most social workers give their position a 5-star rating. Although some challenges and uncertainties must be faced in this position, the same could be said for any other job. At the end of the day, social workers can always look back and feel satisfied that they did something to help people who come from very different walks of life.
List of the Cons of Being a Social Worker
1. You often get to see the worst of humanity.
Social work is not an easy career to pursue. There are the good times when families reunite, jobs are found, and adoptions are finalized. The bad times, unfortunately, tend to outnumber the good ones quite regularly. You’re going to be talking to children after their families have potentially abused them. You speak to people in the hospital who are transitioning to hospice care. You’re the one who gets to tell a child that a family isn’t going to adopt them.
2. Social workers often suffer from compassion fatigue.
According to Dr. Charles Figley, Director of the Tulane Traumatology Institute at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, compassion fatigue is a state only experienced by people who are always helping others in distress. “It is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” Social workers find that caring for others can begin hurting too much. That can lead to isolation, apathy, substance abuse, and painful emotions with which to cope.
3. Many social workers carry a high caseload.
Because many social work divisions are chronically understaffed, those who do work in this field tend to carry more cases than they should to be effective. The average social worker can balance about 15 to 20 cases at a time once fully trained, with a little more or a little less applicable based on the work they’re doing. In many jurisdictions, you’ll find social workers juggling 40, 50, or even more cases instead. Every additional case they’re forced to take on dilutes their ability to help people and families.
4. Social workers face the same risks as police officers in specific situations.
One of the jobs of a social worker is to visit the families with whom they’ve been assigned to ensure compliance or progress. Walking into an unknown situation presents the same risks that law enforcement personnel face in similar circumstances. The only difference is that police officers are permitted to carry a weapon for self-defense, while most social workers are not.
In 2015, Lara Sobel was allegedly shot twice by one of her clients after the family lost custody of their 9-year-old daughter. Teri Zenner was killed during a home visit with a schizophrenic client when he attacked her with a chainsaw. Ladonna Wolford was beaten to death by two teens at a runaway shelter with a baseball bat. Tanja Brown-O’Neal was stabbed to death helping a man apply for food stamps. And that’s just the beginning of a list that is far too long.
5. Most social workers feel powerless in what they do every day.
When social workers encounter abuse and neglect cases, many of them feel powerless to intervene. Police officers feel the same way. About 10% of children in the developed world experience neglect of some type. About 50% of the children who work with social workers are being seen because of this issue. According to researchers at Action for Children, which is one of the largest charities for children in the United Kingdom, 16% of social workers see more child neglect now than the year before.
1 in 3 social workers and police officers feel like they are unable to approach child neglect in a meaningful way. When children suffer from an acute injury, immediate resources are provided. When those injuries are chronic, and families try to keep it hidden, it is the kids who suffer the most.
6. There is a high level of bureaucracy to navigate as a social worker.
The levels of bureaucracy which social workers must navigate is often quite extensive. This structure isn’t an issue that is new either. Henry Wasserman wrote about what it was like to be a professional social worker in a bureaucracy in 1971. “The formal organization of the agency involved… places the professional social worker at one of the lower levels of authority and power,” he wrote. “Administratively, he is responsible to an immediate supervisor, a senior supervisor, a deputy director, a district director, and higher administrators who are… removed from the worker’s daily activities because they are located in the agency’s central office.”
Social workers may find themselves receiving different instructions from each level of supervision regarding a case they are working. If they run afoul of one level of bureaucracy, their actions may result in a disciplinary action. And, in some states, even if a social worker follows instructions, if a child is hurt or dies while they are managing their case, they could be charged with a crime.
7. The schedule for a social worker is often irregular.
Social workers must be able to maintain a flexible schedule to meet their expected duties. Most individuals and families require help that falls outside of normal business hours. It’s not just a desk job for most workers, which means staying late, going in early, driving to new locations, and dealing with emergencies at all hours of the night. That can be stressful for the family of the social worker, especially if there are activities at home which are trying to be planned.
These pros and cons of being a social worker describe a position that may not be suitable for everyone. You’re required to have compassion, but it is an emotional reaction you must also control. The administrative demands of this job are high. There are long hours to work for a paycheck that is relatively low. If you want to help people in a way that can change their lives, however, there is no better career option to pursue.