Coping with a demanding social work manager
By Gemma Raw
Great managers can not only communicate effectively with their teams, but they can motivate, support and inspire their employees to help them work to the best of their ability. But sometimes, due to the unrelenting pressure of the social work profession, you may feel that you struggle to connect with your boss.
You may feel that you have been given an unrealistic number of caseloads, or you may feel unsupported and overly stressed. If this sounds familiar, then the first thing you need to do is try and have a private conversation with your line manager to discuss some practical changes which could resolve the situation.
If you’re reluctant to broach the situation face to face, then you may want to employ some of the following coping strategies which will allow you to cope with even the most difficult of bosses.
Have empathy towards the pressures they may be facing
As a social worker, one of the most important personal qualities you can have is the ability to empathise with others. If you believe that your manager is unrealistic in their expectations, it may simply be systematic of the pressures that they will also be facing. As a manager, they will be responsible for the allocation of resources and budgeting, they’ll have to organising staffing levels and take responsibility for any Ofsted reports – all of which can be hugely stressful.
You may find that simply empathising with their pressures may make the situation more bearable. After all, if you are experiencing a breakdown in communication, it’s unlikely to be personal.
Can you take practical steps to improve the situation?
Once you’re aware of what the pressures are, perhaps there are some small steps you can take to address the situation. For example, if you’re struggling to input your casework onto the computer system, perhaps you could ask a colleague to show you some easier ways to work effectively. Or if you know that a co-worker needs some support because they are working on a particularly traumatic case, you could take some time to help them practically and emotionally. Taking some of these pressures away from your line manager may be enough to reduce their stress and improve the working environment.
Keep a record of any unreasonable requests
If you think that you are being singled out by your line manager, then keep a record of any unrealistic requests. You may find that you need to keep notes of dates/times of any inappropriate behaviour in case you decide to take the situation further.
Keeping a diary will also allow you to notice any patterns of behaviour which could help you to view the situation with a different perspective.
It may be hard at times to not react but the most important thing you can do in any difficult working environment is to remain professional. Try to focus on the fact that you’re all working towards the same goals; which is to effectively help the people you support.
It’s important to not say anything you may regret; not only because you should never burn any bridges, but because you don’t want to put yourself in an untenable position. You need to keep your options open, and if the situation worsens, then you may want to start looking at other social work job opportunities.
Mindfulness can reduce your stress levels
If you’re looking for an immediate quick fix, then the best way to cope with any demanding managers or difficult colleagues is to practice mindfulness.
It’s not just about taking a few moments for yourself; mindfulness is about resetting your body’s nervous system back to neutral. This is important because if your body spends too much time in a stressed state, you may be at risk of developing long term health issues. To combat this, and reduce your stress levels instantaneously, all you need to do is sit quietly and inhale and exhale deeply for a count of four. This will immediately calm your nervous system down and allow you to think clearly and rationally.
If you are continuing to struggle in your role, make sure you contact your Sanctuary consultant. They may be able to make suggestions to improve your working situation or help you find an alternative job. We have written a selection of pieces around navigating your social work career.