How to Set Boundaries in Social Work

How to Set Boundaries in Social Work
How to Set Boundaries in Social Workkeywords
Learn how to set boundaries in social work. Small steps in your workflow can add up and help you reclaim your time while preventing burnout in this field.description

Social work is an incredibly taxing field, with many professionals giving up their nights and weekends to catch up on work. According to CommunityCare, 63% of social workers say their caseloads are too high and more than half (52%) give up more than 11 hours each week in unpaid overtime. If you find yourself pulling 50 to 60-hour weeks when you are only paid for 40, you’re part of this group.

It’s time to set healthy boundaries between your work and your personal life. Not only will this make your leisure time more enjoyable, but it will also reduce your chances of burning out of the field. If you want to have a long, healthy career in social work, it can’t be at the expense of the rest of your life!

Use this guide to learn how to set boundaries in social work. Several small steps can add up and help you reclaim your time.

Set Boundaries with Your Boss

Your manager is supposed to be part of the support system that empowers you to succeed as a social worker. However, they can become a source of stress if they are constantly adding new clients and projects to your plate. Here are a few steps you can take.

  • Request a work phone if you don’t have one already. Delete all of the work apps from your personal phone.

  • Establish dedicated work hours when you will be available. Outside of those hours, turn off your work phone or put it away.

  • Stop bringing your work laptop home. As a compromise with your boss, limit the number of days each week when your laptop sleeps over.

  • Separate your personal and work email messages. If you check your email for social reasons, you will get sucked into work far too easily.

  • Establish a fair timeframe to respond to messages. Half of people respond to work emails within two hours. This might not be realistic if you are in the field or meeting with clients. 

Look to your peers to learn how to set boundaries in social work. Either ask your coworkers for help or reach out to online groups for support. Trust us: you aren’t the only one going through this!

Establish Boundaries with Clients

Once you and your manager agree on boundaries, you can start to set similar rules with your clients. In some cases, this part is actually harder. You don’t want to ignore your humans when they need you, but you also deserve time for yourself. Here are some strategies to implement:

  • Discuss your hours with your clients. Explain when you are available and who they should contact outside of your standard hours.

  • Set up out-of-office alerts. Turn on these messages over the weekend and create automated responses indicating when you’ll be back in. Include an emergency contact number as a resource.

  • Add your work hours to your email signature.

  • Talk to your clients about any planned absences outside of normal working hours. Don’t spend your honeymoon or dream vacation fielding work calls.

  • Set realistic deadlines with your clients. You might not be able to help them first thing Monday morning.

Your clients will experience emergencies when you are away from the office. However, there should be on-call teams and resources in place to help them. If you respond to every emergency, you will never have time for the rest of your life.

Be Strict with…Yourself!

Finally, it’s going to be up to you to hold up these boundaries. Implement self-care best practices to define your free time and step away from work. By investing in your body and mind, you are supporting your future self.

  • Hold yourself accountable for maintaining the rules you set. Avoid the temptation to look at your work phone or check your email messages.

  • Organize your workflow. Look into apps and tools that can make you more effective and reduce any busy work that bogs down your day. For example, stop taking paper notes that you have to transcribe later—it’s amazing how much time you can save with excellent note taking software

  • Create a transition between work and home. Some people destress during their commute with an audiobook while others visit the gym after work. Let your brain rest.

  • Give yourself a bedtime. Maintaining good sleep habits is essential for staying alert during the day.

  • Turn off the news when you aren’t at work or limit how much news you can watch or read about at home. Avoid doom scrolling. 

Finally, you deserve to do something good for yourself as a reward for keeping your boundaries! Go for a hike, treat yourself to a massage, or just enjoy a quiet cup of tea. Step away from the office and do something you love.

Boundaries Can Help You Build a Successful Social Work Career

There is a burnout epidemic in the world of social work. Professionals in this field continue to give up their free time to keep up with growing caseloads. This places a physical and emotional toll on employees who end up fleeing the industry.

While you can’t solve this problem alone, you can take control of your own career. When you learn how to set boundaries in social work, you can increase your chances of staying in this field for years to come.

Start by changing how you approach your caseload. If you can streamline your processes, you can free up time during the workday. Learn more about Notehouse and how it helps social workers. With the right software tools, you can make a large caseload more manageable and keep yourself on top of your work with time to spare.


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