Abstract: Self-Care Is Not Enough to Battle Burnout Among Social Workers: Mixed Methods Research (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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149P Self-Care Is Not Enough to Battle Burnout Among Social Workers: Mixed Methods Research

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
HeeSoon Lee, PhD, Associate Professor, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH
Cassidy Dawson, Undergraduate student in Social Work Program, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH
Background and Purpose: Human services professionals, such as healthcare or emergency service workers, handling clients’ traumatic events are particularly vulnerable to developing secondary traumatic stress (STS) or job-burnout (Bride, 2007; Shoji et al., 2015). Being exposed to STS influences one’s professional lives, including poor professional judgements; low job satisfaction; high turnover intention (Bride & Kintzle, 2011; Figley, 1999) and chronic lack of self-care (Figley, 2002). This study examined the relationship among STS, job satisfaction, and self-care strategies of human service professionals. Quantitative research questions include (1) What traumatic events were experienced? (2) Are STS and job satisfaction related? and (3) Do low and high job satisfaction groups experience different STS levels? Qualitative research questions consist of (1) What is the main cause of your stress? (2) Did Covid-19 have any effect on your job satisfaction? (3) Is there any agency policy regarding self-care? and (4) What motivates you to stay in the field?

Methods: This study utilized a mixed-methodological design to explore human service professionals’ STS, job satisfaction, burnout, and self-care options at the individual, organizational, and policy levels. Two phase explanatory-sequential approach was employed, following up the quantitative results with qualitative data: (1) quantitative data collection of STS score and job satisfaction, and (2) in-depth semi-structured interviews to explore the lived experiences of job burnout, motivation of job retention, and self-care options and policies among social workers including any desire for self-care training. This study used a purposive sampling via social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) for the phase one and for phase two social workers were recruited separated from the survey of phase one.

Results: Through the online survey, 92 human service professionals in education, social work, and criminal justice were participated in the study. Mean age of participants is 34.93 years old (SD=11.39), white (90.2 %), female (83.7%), and five + years of experiences (53.9%). HSPs regardless of settings are directly and indirectly experiencing traumatic events, such as multiple death in different reasons, abuse (e.g., physical, sexual, and emotional), and neglect. There are correlations between job satisfaction and STS total (-.559**) including three subscales (e.g., avoidance, intrusion, and arousal). Independent samples T-test indicated that lower STS score is related to higher job satisfaction, and high STS score is related to lower job satisfaction. As a result of intensive interviews with eight social workers, five themes are emerged, such as the high job stress with unrealistic workload, loss of initial passion as a helping professional, not clear self-care agency policy, self-prescribed self-care techniques, and inconsistent impact of COVID-19.

Conclusions and Implications: Although there are some study limitations, such as lack of diversity in gender and ethnicity and recruitment difficulty due to their busy schedule, findings suggested that understanding the impact of STS on job satisfaction is critical. Strategies in reducing STS and increasing job satisfaction include more support and supervision by experienced trauma specialists, reasonable distribution of the workload, and self-care training in the organizational level as well as accessible policies to provide adequate time off with social workers.