Questioning Your Career as a Social Worker? How to Determine Whether You Should Stay or Go

Social services are essential to helping the most vulnerable members of society, and this is what makes them so important. Many people are attracted to social work because of their desire to help others and give back to their local community, but it’s no secret that these jobs can be incredibly challenging at times. With so many people relying on these services, it’s not uncommon for social workers to feel overwhelmed with their caseloads, not to mention having to handle sensitive and sometimes upsetting situations that can take a toll on your emotions.

In any job, it isn’t until you have been working in your role for some time that you can see whether it truly is the right fit for you, and this is just as true for social work. You may have started your career as a social worker feeling optimistic and passionate, but perhaps now, after a few years are beginning to question whether or not this is the right path for you. You might be feeling emotionally or physically drained or fed up with your job for other reasons. If this does sound familiar and you have been contemplating whether or not to change careers, consider the following points before you make any big decisions.

Why Did You Choose This Career in the First Place?

A good place to start when you are feeling this way is looking back on the reasons why you chose a career in social care in the first place. It can be easy to forget what your motivations were after years on the job, particularly if you have been going through a difficult time that is making you want to quit and start fresh in a different role. Although this career choice might have proven slightly more challenging than you expected, you need to decide whether the rewards that this job offers you outweighs that. For example, how does it feel when someone you have worked with gets the help they need? Is there a sense of team spirit with your colleagues in your department? What have been the highlights of your career so far, and does thinking about them make you feel better about your job when set against the downsides?

Looking back on what led you to social work could be a good way to help remind you of what drew you to this line of work, and how important your role is to help those who need it the most.

Are You Experiencing Burnout?

As well as thinking about what attracted you to a career as a social worker, you should also think about your current situation and how this is impacting you. Burnout is a real issue that impacts workers in all professions, but in a role that can come with high pressure, such as social work, you might find yourself more susceptible to this problem. With big caseloads and a lot of people relying on you for help, it can be easy to start putting your needs aside for the sake of others and the expectations of your job. While doing a little overtime here and there might not do much harm, if you are not managing your time effectively and allowing yourself the necessary breaks to recuperate and enjoy your life outside of the office, this can quickly result in feelings of discontent and generally low moods. This could be a big reason why you are questioning your career choice as a social worker, and it’s important to recognize when you do need a break.

Consider arranging to take some annual leave as soon as you can, as taking some time away from work and the office could help you to feel more refreshed and gain a better perspective on how you truly feel about your career. You should also make sure you are practicing good self-care at home to keep your mental and physical health in good form. Look at these self-care tips for social workers and see if they could help you start to feel better about yourself and help you feel more in control both in your work life and outside the office.

Are There Other Factors in Your Life Impacting How You Feel?

If you are dealing with challenges in one area of your life, it can be easy for them to spill over and start impacting how you feel about other things. Whether you are worried about finances, having difficulty with personal relationships, problems with your health, or anything else that is causing you to feel stressed and upset, these issues could end up making you start questioning your career choices as well. Before you decide on your role as a social worker, first consider whether the problem isn’t your career choice, but rather another problem that could be contributing to the pressures you are feeling at work in some way or another.

If other problems need your attention, first focus on resolving them and then see if you are still unhappy in your role as a social worker, as this will give you a better indication of whether you are truly dissatisfied with your career.

Is It Where You Work, Rather Than What You Do?

In an ideal world, all working environments would be positive and make you feel excited to go in and do your job every day. However, this isn’t the reality, and the fact is that there will be certain places that are better to work in than others. Toxic working environments can be caused by various factors. It may be that the other team members you work with aren’t welcoming or make you feel uncomfortable and unsupported in your role. Another reason you might dislike your place of work is due to poor management, or perhaps there aren’t enough progression opportunities, leaving you feeling stuck in the same place when you truly want to move up the career ladder instead.

When you do work in an environment that is making you feel negative, this can easily make you start seeing the job itself in a bad light and question whether you want to continue with this career path. This is why it is important to ask yourself whether what is making you unhappy is the job itself, or rather the working environment that you find yourself in. If it is the latter, then looking for employment in the same role elsewhere might be the better solution to help you fall in love with social work again.

If You Did Change Careers, What Line of Work Would You Want to Get into?

Changing careers can be the right decision if you’re truly unhappy in your current line of work, but you do need to think carefully about what your next choice will be. If you are interested in exploring other careers outside of social work, what would you prefer to do? You will also need to think about your current skills and how transferrable they will be to a new role, and whether or not you will need to pursue a degree or other educational/training programs to make that transition. When you have already put in time and energy to train for your current social work role, you need to ask yourself whether you would be willing to start again from scratch to pursue a career in a different field.

Alternatively, if you are happy to stay within the social services sector, you might want to think about how you could transition into a different role in this field rather than continue to work as a social worker. Perhaps moving towards something more in education, welfare, housing, or healthcare would be a better fit? In any case, it is important to weigh up your options and make sure that you are doing plenty of research before you make any big decisions regarding a career change.

How is Your Financial Position?

Money isn’t everything, but no one wants to find themselves worrying about their finances if it can be avoided. If you are thinking about quitting your social worker career and moving on to something new, you must consider your current financial position and whether or not making a change like this is viable for you at this time. You may find yourself having a decreased income when you switch to a new role, particularly if you are having to start at an entry-level position again. Furthermore, if you need to study for a degree or pay for another educational qualification for your new career, then this will also impact your finances. This will not only be due to the expense of your course, but you may also need to reduce your working hours to part-time to make time for your studies.

Always take the time to look at your finances and calculate whether or not you can afford a reduced income to make the change in the career that you are interested in. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a difficult position later on.

Would You Be Willing or Able to Relocate?

Another thing to keep in mind when considering a career change is your ability and/or willingness to relocate for another job. Although there might be opportunities for you where you currently live, being open to moving elsewhere can help to widen the search when it does come to applying for positions. It could also mean that you can find better-paying roles, as some companies might offer better salaries than others. There may also be a higher demand for a certain role in a particular area, such as a city, rather than in a more rural setting, for example. This could also be something worth considering even if you aren’t sure about quitting your job as a social worker but are still feeling dissatisfied with your current place of work. Not everyone will be able or willing to move for their careers, but this is always something worth thinking about if you want to explore different opportunities and find more satisfaction in your role.

What Does a Career Mean to You?

Some people are happy to work in roles that allow them to pay the bills and maintain a comfortable lifestyle, and indulge in hobbies or other activities to allow them to explore their passions outside of the office. While this works perfectly well for many people, others want to have a career that challenges them and allows them to work in a role that reflects their core beliefs and passions. Both have pros and cons, but you do need to decide what a career means to you and what you want to get out of it. If you were attracted to social work before, it is likely because you wanted to do something that gave you a sense of purpose, and helping those in need is important to you. This might not be true for everyone, but it is a profession that you do need to be passionate about to find it satisfying and to help you get through the many challenges that come with this line of work. Even if you do choose to move to a new career path, make sure you have considered what a career needs to be for you to stay satisfied and happy at work.

Choosing to change career can be one of the best decisions you ever make, but it should not be made impulsively. Working as a social worker is challenging, and it is understandable why someone in this line of work might begin to question whether or not they made the right choice, particularly if they are going through a difficult period at work. If you are a social worker who has recently been wondering if this career is the right fit for you, make sure to ask yourself the questions listed here to help you think about your current role in more detail, and what making a career change would truly mean for you in the long term.