Abstract: Let's Talk about Your Feelings: Emotional Labour of Community Practice in Times of Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Let's Talk about Your Feelings: Emotional Labour of Community Practice in Times of Pandemic

Friday, January 13, 2023
Camelback B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Guy Feldman, PhD, Lecturer, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Yael Itzhaki- Braun, PhD, Lecturer, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel
Background and Purpose: From the earliest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affected marginalized communities around the world, community practice had assumed a critical role on the front lines of the social services’ response to the pandemic. Previous studies have devoted growing attention to community practice in normal and crisis times. Yet, little is known about the emotions of community practitioners and how they deal with them in order to carry out their job well. Further, although other studies have investigated emotions and feelings in various social work settings (primarily at the micro level), we know little about the emotional work social workers perform in times of crisis and emergency, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. This blind spot is especially troubling because of the emotional toll the pandemic has taken on all social workers, thus there is very much need of further analysis and discussion of their coping practices. Drawing on Hochschild’s concept of “emotional labour,” this study examines how community social workers confronted the emotions they felt during the Covid-19 pandemic so as to meet the requirements of their job.

Methods: The study utilized a qualitative‐constructivist perspective, which seeks to capture the essence of a phenomenon through a close examination of people's individual perceptions and experiences in light of the broader social‐political relations in which they are enmeshed. The sample included 30 community social workers in the public social services in Israel. All participants that were included in the study (26 women and 4 men) were active frontline community social workers (i.e., their core task as social workers is to carry out community-based interventions) and their overall years of experience ranged from 1 to 25 years, with an average of 5.66 years. Participants ranged in age from 26 to 50, with a mean age of 37.96. Data were collected through in-depth interview with participants. Informed by an inductive approach to data analysis, all data were coded thematically.

Findings: Findings show that community social workers experienced a wide range of interrelated negative emotions, including helplessness, frustration, disappointment, and anger. In response, findings expose that workers developed four distinct coping practices: (1) emotional distancing, which involved community workers suppressing their emotions and detaching themselves from them; (2) sharing of emotions with colleagues, friends, supervisors and managers; (3) self-soothing techniques in which workers frequently reminded themselves of the magnitude of the pandemic and told themselves that they do not have control over it; and (4) politization, which involved confronting the negative emotions by becoming involved in political activity that, among other things, challenged the policies and rules that the government launched in response to the pandemic.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings echo Foucault’s notion of “technologies of the self,” which refers to how individuals act and respond to the power exerted upon them so as to create a specific form of subjectivity. At the practice level, findings underscore the need to recognize the importance of emotions in community practice at the frontlines of the social services.