Abstract: Covid-19 Employment Patterns & Protection By Sector: A Statewide Study of Licensed Social Workers (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Covid-19 Employment Patterns & Protection By Sector: A Statewide Study of Licensed Social Workers

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Hospitality 2 - Room 444, 4th Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Molly Calhoun, PhD, Assistant Professor, California State University, Chico, Chico, CA
Ruth Soffer-Elnekave, MSW, PhD student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St Paul, MN
Jessica Mendel, MSW, PhD Student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Jacob Otis, BA, Student, University of Minnesota-twin cities, St. Paul, MN
Mingyang Zheng, PhD, Assistant Professor, Radford University, Radford, VA
Jessica Toft, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota
Background: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, social workers have been on the frontlines, mitigating the public health crisis that has disproportionately affected historically marginalized communities. Despite problematic access to protective equipment, altered practice modalities, and intensified isolation among client populations, social workers upheld their commitments to serve individuals, families, and communities - even while struggling with the pandemic themselves. As the pandemic wanes, little is known about pandemic employment and protections across sectors. The purpose of this paper is to understand the impact of COVID-19 on employment, protections, and working conditions of licensed social workers in different sectors (public, nonprofit and for-profit) across the state of Minnesota.

Methods: This paper reports on the COVID-19 findings from a large-scale exploratory study of all licensed social workers in Minnesota (N=14,469). Over 2,800 took a survey including 2,528 direct-line workers and 283 in organizational management. The online survey via Qualtrics examined the impact of the pandemic on employment, working conditions, and workplace safety from the perspective of frontline workers and organizational management including supervisors and administrators. Analysis included inferential statistics and thematic analysis of responses to open-ended questions which asked how their work life had changed since the pandemic began.

Results: Across the pandemic, licensed social workers in Minnesota not only stayed employed (76.25%), but another 15.2% reported increased hours. Just over half of direct-line participants reported requirements to have in-person contact (51.5%), with less than half in manager positions reporting that employees had to have in-person contact (45.3%). Social workers in private for-profit practice were significantly more likely to have to work in-person compared to public and private non-profit sectors. Additionally, although managers reported adequate workplace protections (92.3%), there was a significant difference in the reports of direct-line workers’ feelings of adequate protection (81.9%). All participants described changes in work such as new virtual service delivery, increased workload and telehealth practice, increased severity in client symptoms, and stress and social work burnout, particularly in the medical and school settings. Finally, social workers reported significant changes in organizational policies and procedures.

Conclusions and Implications: Throughout the pandemic, employment patterns in Minnesota illustrated that social workers were essential to the public through maintaining in person contact and working increased hours to meet the demands of client systems. This essential work occurred despite not always having adequate protection particularly for social workers in private, for-profit practice. Additionally, while managers felt direct practitioners had adequate protections, fewer direct practitioners reported the same. Ultimately, participants reported major changes on the organizational, worker, and client levels including increased workloads, more symptomatic client systems, and more stress for practitioners themselves. The findings from this study are timely as we begin to understand the impact and outcomes of a global pandemic and explore future programmatic and policy decisions regarding employee protections and the essential roles social workers play particularly in a prolonged crisis, and in its aftermath.