Why do social workers control so much

Social work: controlling instead of humanity?

Social professions are one of the fastest growing areas of employment. Even so, improvements are slow. Above all, the working conditions are stressful.

Text: Christine Sommer-Guist

What burdens people most in social work are less spectacular hardship cases such as family dramas and child abuse, which receive a lot of media attention. Above all, it is the lack of recognition of their performance by society and employers.

In addition, there are many fixed-term employment contracts and poor pay. It is often so bad that people in social professions have to deal with existential fears just like many of their "protégés". This is the conclusion of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) in a current study on working conditions in social work.

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The study sums up the multiple burdens of social professions particularly well: “Here, for example, it is about dealing with closeness and distance, the requirement to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty, the relationship between support and personal responsibility, and so on. Such requirements are constitutive for social work and require specific organizational framework conditions that enable the skilled workers to deal with them appropriately. While it is unavoidable as a social worker to be confronted with critical situations of human existence, the conditions of processing such as the availability of time and material resources, the existence of reflection spaces, opportunities for further education and training or the number of those to be dealt with can be changed Control cases. "

Unfortunately, this control doesn't work very well. Everyone and everything seems to be on the move everywhere. From the "New Economy" to "Web 2.0" to "Industry 4.0": Change and modernization wherever you look. Only in social work does everything seem to stay the same.

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The professions are diverse and grow with society and its demands. But what has remained unchanged for years and decades: They are "female" and, for this reason, mostly poorly paid. This in turn leads to a shortage of personnel and skilled workers, which further exacerbates the work situation and problems.

The state and the major charities as the largest employers in the industry know this, but no solutions to the problem are in sight. This bitter truth sums up the saying that went viral on social media at the beginning of the year: “There are 36,000 shortages in nursing. The government promises 8,000. In other words: 36,000 male nurses and 1 mathematician are missing. "

The feeling: "I'm right here"

Johannes M. works in a residential group for young people. “When I help a young person who has cut his arms from wrist to shoulder to confide in me first and then doctors, if I can show him a way out of his pain, then I know that I am right here, in This job, I am right, "he says." It's exhausting. And my days are often very tiring and experiences from the perspective of other professions are probably also shocking, but I learned how to deal with it at university. I knew what social work was means and what it can do. Today I also know how important it is because it improves the lives of the people I work with. "

According to the Ernst Abbe University in Jena, the industry will remain important in the future: “Social work has been one of the fastest growing areas of employment in Germany since the 1960s. Even if comparable growth rates are no longer to be expected for the future within the framework of the 'limits of the welfare state', social work will continue to be a secure and attractive professional field in the future in view of social change, social problems and the resulting need for social and socio-political control. In East Germany in particular, the social services are still in a process of development and restructuring. "

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Social work is therefore a secure, future-oriented field of activity that is paid for primarily by public, i.e. state, and independent organizations such as churches and associations. Johannes M. also works for a church organization, and in fact he cannot complain about too little work. Skilled workers are urgently sought - and found only with difficulty - everywhere in his environment.

"This is due to the conditions in which we work", Johannes M. is certain. "We are often understaffed, work a lot of night shifts and collect overtime. That makes many susceptible to illnesses, which means even more stress and work for the healthy . "

Efficiency instead of care

The DGB study cites three points that are particularly difficult and stressful for people in social professions: the dismantling of the welfare state, controlling and the psychological strain on social workers.

The "Dismantling of the welfare stateAccording to the DGB, "which has been talked about for about 30 years is causing great uncertainty among people who work in the social sector. In its study, the trade union federation comes to the conclusion that many see their jobs in danger and are in theirs feel threatened in their professional existence.

As a sponsor of social projects, the state is also demanding more and more evidence of how the money was used and whether the measures paid for were effective. Controlling In social work, however, the work itself, the performance of people, is viewed critically - in the sense of inefficiently. "The associated pressure to legitimize creates a working climate of control, which puts a strain on social workers in dealing with professional challenges rather than supporting them," summarizes the DGB the high proportion of illnesses in the social professions that can be traced back to psychological stress draws attention to the fact that changes are necessary in the organizational and structural framework of social work ", the DGB is convinced.

According to the DGB, social workers experience more than twice as often Conflicts with clients, patients and customers like other professionals. However, most of them do not experience this as being very stressful. On average, only 30 percent of those surveyed state that they are suffering from the disputes - which is only ten percentage points above the information given by those surveyed in other professions. The DGB interprets this as "greater calmness in dealing with conflicts". However, the good training in dealing professionally with stressful situations could also be responsible for this.

The overwhelming majority of respondents in social professions - an average of more than 70 percent - find it particularly positive that they can plan and organize their work independently. This autonomy and self-determination is an important index for the DGB goal of "good work". And far more than 80 percent see a meaning in their work that allows them to rate their work as important and good.

When the job makes you sick

“I know how important my work is and that I am needed does not burden me. On the contrary - in absolute disaster situations I often outgrow myself and am so present that I function perfectly and find solutions just as quickly and effectively, no matter how long I am needed, "says Johannes M. from his everyday work in the youth living group." When everything relaxes again, I fall into a kind of 'coma'. But only if there is time. And it usually isn't. "

Hardly any time to regenerate: That is just one of the reasons why employees in social professions get sick more than average. This is confirmed by Prof. Dr. Thomas Heidenreich from the Faculty of Social Work at Esslingen University of Applied Sciences and warns: "Many jobs in social work and care have a risk profile."

The co-suffering can lead to burnout

In his opinion, the reason for this is the stress of long-term contact with clients, which can lead to a lack of protective distance, to "co-suffering". This in turn increases the demands on one's own personality - showing strength and being a role model - enormously. In addition to these high expenses, there would be low wages, poor working conditions such as understaffing, shift work, lack of opportunities to compensate for stress and, as a result, excessive work, which often lead to burnout, depression and anxiety disorders.

And indeed: social pedagogues, social workers and teachers are among the professional groups that are most frequently diagnosed with burnout. Professor Heidenreich urgently advises all employers to implement health management - a systematic procedure that is intended to reduce negative stress and strengthen the potential and resources for employees.

Sources of stress also have to be reduced: work processes have to be redesigned, room for maneuver for employees expanded, communication and feedback in the team improved, and opportunities for further training and qualifications optimized. Employers must pursue these strategies and at the same time respond individually to all employees.

The team helps itself

Whether it is because employees in social professions expect little help from their employers or whether it is simply their expertise: People in social professions seem to help themselves best. According to the study "Professional Stress Experience in Social Work", published in "Budrich Journals - Discourse Childhood and Youth Research", social support from colleagues is particularly helpful; it is even considered a "preventive factor against burnout".

The authors of the study recommend even more: The social workers also need mentoring systems, support from superiors and external experts in order to be able to cope with the work including its internal and external requirements and to stay healthy. Supervision is such a help. They are carried out by people who come from the same professional field, but still have an outside view of severe cases or their own problems. In this way, supervision can do a great deal to ensure that employees - and thus also their clients - cope better with stress and strain.

Employers have an obligation to protect their employees by providing them with a safe working environment. The student Ester Alicia from the University of Heidelberg writes in a thesis on the subject: “Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are obliged to assess the dangers associated with the work of employees and to take the necessary measures. Every worker has the right to safe working conditions and a safe working environment to protect his health. This law is independent of the size of the company; it must be ensured by a risk assessment according to §5 and §6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by the employer or other specialist personnel and documented in writing. These conditions apply not only to dangerous goods and heavy loads in industry or construction, but also to psychological stress in social work. "

Load as a vicious circle

So everything is clearly regulated by law. In practice, however, there is still a great deal that is far from it. According to a study by the BKK-Diakonie, employees in care want from their employers: more time for patients, more appreciation and recognition, better training and further education, more staff and a better income.

The wishes of employees in social work are presumably similar. Employers, on the other hand, are confronted with the problem that they get too little money for their offers and thus cannot increase the budget for their employees. This leads to a vicious circle in which less and less and aging workforces have to do too much work under psychologically demanding conditions.

The shortage of skilled workers increases the stress for the employees massively, makes them sick, "burn out". The knowledge about it has reached society, and fewer and fewer of its members can imagine taking up a social profession - which in turn exacerbates the skills shortage and the Increased burden on employees.

The BKK-Diakonie is certain: In the social professions, structures must be created and corporate cultures changed in such a way that collegial advice becomes the standard, that external advice is provided by coaches and supervision if necessary, and that managers are trained to meet their needs Employees can help.

This includes: creating awareness of the stresses and strains on employees, appreciation and openness in management, offering opportunities in which all stresses and problems can be discussed with confidence, creating a good team. This is the only way for people who make a professional commitment to helping others have enough strength to do so effectively and not fall by the wayside.