Abstract: (Withdrawn) The yo-yo effect: Experiences of Job Flexibility during the Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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678P (Withdrawn) The yo-yo effect: Experiences of Job Flexibility during the Pandemic

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Derrick Kranke, PhD, Researcher, US Department of Veterans Affairs, North Hills, CA
Background: Social work turnover from the emotional overload of providing care during the pandemic has created staff shortages and exposed many gaps in service delivery. As a result, those social workers who sustained employment during this pandemic are asked to take on flexible/additional roles to fill in those gaps in services to their most vulnerable clients. Assigning social workers to take on additional roles and show greater flexibility in their work is commonplace during disasters. However, the type and extent of these additional roles may impair social workers’ ability to maintain their clinical effectiveness over time. This qualitative study of (N=27) US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inpatient social workers (n=12) and outpatient social workers (n=15) at two sites across the country assesses their experiences of providing care at their respective VA facility during the pandemic. The VA is the largest employer of social workers. The studied research questions included, 1) Could you describe your roles and responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic?; and 2) How did those responsibilities change/evolve over time? Findings have implications for social worker burnout, turnover, and job outlook. If added flexibility in social workers’ job is creating more harm than benefit, that may be an early indicator of potential burnout and its attendant negative effects on service provision.

Methods: The protocol for this study was approved by the Institutional Review Board of [Redacted]. We recruited subjects using lists of potential subjects provided by social work Chiefs of Staff at 2 VA facilities across the US. Most of the sample were female (n=24). Qualitative findings from semi-structured interviews were analyzed thematically and reported based on substantive significance, or how it informs the existing literature. Responses among outpatient and inpatient social workers are organized in the findings based on environmental context, but fit under the same umbrella categories. Several researchers coded three interviews independently, and used the constant comparative method to sort the codes by shared finding (e.g., “peers helped me when I needed it,” “social workers reminded us to hang in there.”). The resulting group codes were compared, contrasted, and sorted into themes. When differences in the analysis occurred, individuals on the research team provided justification for their coding scheme, and the theme was adjusted so that it encompassed the additional components identified.

Results: Thematic analysis revealed the following themes that would facilitate their effectiveness and wellbeing: 1) recognizing insufficient training to handle a pandemic; 2) meeting the demand for care; 3) responding to unexpected aspects of flexibility; 4) adjusting to new roles over time; 5) adaptation and support; and 6) identifying additional resources to simplify efforts.

Discussion: Learning new roles made social workers more effective at their job and provided them with additional insight and knowledge beyond what they learned in the classroom and supervision. With COVID rates on the decline across much of the country [Spring 2022], now may be the optimal time to develop a training that could equip social workers with the efficacy, preparation, and resilience, should there be another surge in clients.