Most people are drawn into social work because of a deep desire to improve the lives of others. While thinking about the quality of life for the people you will be serving, it is important to also consider the type of life that you will want to have. As a social worker your schedule will depend, entirely, on the organization and population for which you work. Though you may be passionate about working with a particular organization or population, consider options that allow you to pursue your passion for people while allowing you to live a fulfilling life outside of work.
Social work is all about balance: Balancing aid with autonomy, balancing ethical principles and realistic needs, and balancing your work life with your home life. Part of achieving the balance is deciding what you are willing to do and what you are not. Because of the emotionally exhausting nature of the job, maintaining boundaries is vital to career longevity. Boundaries, however, does not mean that you have to leave things undone at the end of the day. Boundaries, when considered before you take a job, can help you to be your best self.
Things to consider when mulling over a new job or position include: What would my daily work schedule be? What are the needs of my clients? Will I be on call? Is over-time mandatory or necessary? How much will I be compensated for my work? Social workers often shy away from asking these questions because they fear being viewed as selfish or caring less about their clients. In reality, however, one cannot be the best worker for their clients if s/he is unable to keep up with the demands of the job. If you know that you are at your best in the morning, for example, it is not selfish to turn down a hospital social work job that would require you to work 2nd or 3rd shift.
In addition to considering your own personal schedule, many people have to consider the schedules of their dependents (children, elderly parents) and their life partners. For those who have to adhere to a very specific schedule, jobs that require frequent on call hours and mandatory over-time are not ideal. Being a caregiver at home and at work can require careful planning. That is not to say that people in this stage of life cannot be social workers; jobs that rarely require over-time and have a set schedule, such as school social work, may be ideal. Additionally, school social work jobs may be ideal for those who prefer to work similar hours as their life partners who work traditional 9-5 jobs. Beyond school social work, some non-profit or advocacy groups operate during a set time of the day.
Finally, for those who have more flexible interests and flexible schedules, there are a plethora of career options that are centered on the schedule of clients in extreme need or crisis. For these types of jobs, social workers are often expected to be available whenever a client need arises. These jobs include crisis management, emergency shelter workers, and many others.
With the diversity of populations and organizations that exist under the social work umbrella, there really is something for almost anyone. The most important thing is that you choose a path that incorporates your passion for your career with your passion for life outside of work. On the surface, it may seem selfish to consider your personal needs before you consider the needs of your clients but trust me- your clients will benefit from the quality of work that you are capable of doing when you are happy doing it.
How does your job fit into your life? What factors do you need to consider before accepting a job? What is your Balance?