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How Social Workers Balance Professional Development and Social Obligations

How Social Workers Balance Professional Development and Social Obligations

Social work is a varied career where no two days are the same. It is often demanding and challenging, while also being highly rewarding from making a difference every day. In social work, there is always more to learn and many opportunities for career progression. However, these do take time, which in busy lives can feel hard to manage.

As well as the demands of the career, many social workers have other social obligations such as children to raise, a household to run, an elderly or infirm family to care for, and voluntary positions, while continuing to maintain social activities and hobbies. While maintaining this and developing a career can appear an impossible juggling act, there are some strategies that will make it easier to have a flourishing career and meet all other obligations.

Set realistic goals

Nobody can do everything every day, but with good organization, social workers can still achieve plenty in both personal and professional life. One way to become organized is to set realistic goals for social obligations and priorities in professional development. These might be set on a daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. Social workers can then organize their lives accordingly.

Seek help (or pay for it)

Social workers should remember they do not have to do all childcare and household tasks themselves in order for them to be done. They may have family and friends that can help. Loving grandparents and other family will often be delighted to take the children off their hands, freeing up time for other obligations or professional development.

It can also be helpful to have an arrangement with families of similarly aged children. If, for example, at a busy time while studying, they look after the children after school, then once training is completed one can return the favor.

It is also beneficial to pay for help. A babysitter, cleaner, or gardener can all help meet the social obligations of the family and home while leaving time for professional development. And when this development results in a better-paid job, this investment of time will pay off.

Online learning

Online learning tends to be more flexible in nature, allowing students to fit it in around the rest of their professional and social obligations, such as in the evening or at weekends. A quick internet search of courses to aid social work professional development gives many results, so before embarking on online study make sure the course is accredited.

Social workers should also look for other ways that a course can save time. A good example is the advanced standing MSW online at Keuka College. Designed for those who already have a bachelor’s degree in social work, it can be completed in as little as 1.7 years and provides field placement services to help students secure quality placement sites in their local area, freeing up time for them to concentrate on their studies.

Online learning does not just mean formal learning. There is a wealth of online publications and blogs that one can use to enhance their knowledge. By subscribing to these or setting up alerts on topics of interest, it will not be necessary to spend time hunting for them. They can be easily accessed at any time, allowing the use of time that might otherwise go to waste, such as while waiting for a doctor’s appointment or when traveling by public transport.

Flexible working

The way we work is changing and does not have to mean 9–5 every day. Social work covers a diverse range of careers so it is worth looking at which jobs will fit in with one’s lifestyle. If managing work, professional development, social obligations and still having a bit of time for oneself is becoming impossible, it is worth talking to a supervisor about whether work can become more flexible.

A social worker could, for example, work part-time if finances allow this. It might also be possible to complete some admin and office-based work from home. Even if only able to work from home one day a week, that is a day when the time one would have spent commuting to and from work can instead be spent on study or household tasks.


While many professional and social tasks require full attention, not all of them do, so it may be possible to multitask. Many essential household tasks are quite routine and mundane, giving no reason why one’s mind cannot be occupied elsewhere. A student could, for example, watch a webinar or video that will enhance their professional expertise while doing the ironing, or listen to a podcast while weeding the garden or walking the dog.

Good planning

Ultimately much of the balancing of social and professional responsibilities will come down to effective planning and good time management. At home, this planning needs the entire family on board, while at work, social workers may need the cooperation of colleagues. When planning the day or week, do not forget to organize breaks. Breaks refresh the mind, making social workers more effective when they do return to work and social obligations, and preventing the burnout and exhaustion that will slow them down.

Be flexible

Over a social worker’s lifetime, it is certainly possible to achieve a good balance between work, professional development, social obligations, and time for oneself. But that does not mean they have to achieve a perfect balance every single day, week, month, or even year.

Workplaces are becoming more flexible, understanding the need for people to balance their home and work life. Greater equality should also mean that household tasks no longer fall into rigid gender roles, allowing both partners to make time for their professional development.

With online courses now reaching the same standards as physical learning, one can often study at a pace that fits in with their professional and social obligations. While meeting all goals may sometimes seem like an impossible juggling act, it is likely with good planning, support, and flexibility, it is possible to make it work.

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