Resilience and Social Work

This text has been translated into Persian. To  study it, visit the Iranian Social Workers Site  

What is emotional resilience?
Emotional resilience relates to an individual’s ability to manage environmental difficulties, demands and high pressure. It is the ability to withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges, emerging strengthened and more resourceful (Walsh, 2008). It is sometimes described as “inner strength” or  “bouncing back” .

Being resilient does not mean that a person never experiences trauma or distress, nor does it mean that someone does not feel emotional pain or sadness. Rather, it is the process of adapting to these difficult times, learning from  experience and developing an increased ability to anticipate and cope with  adversity  in the future.

Although resilience closely related to emotional intelligence and emotional literacy, it is  not a trait that  people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and  actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. There are many factors that contribute towards resilience, of which the most significant is quality of relationships (Luthar, 2006)

Strong and supportive links with others that foster trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help to build a person’ s resilience. Several other circumstances are associated with resilience, including:

* the capacity to make  realistic plans and take steps to carry  them out

* having a positive view  of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities

*  possessing skills in communication and  problem- solving

* having  the ability to manage strong feelings and impulses

(American Psychological Association, 2011)

Social work and emotional resilience

Social work can be a very rewarding career. It can also be highly stressful. The values of the profession. The societal context of the work, the distressing circumstances of service users and the organizational  culture of social care may all contribute to a challenging work environment.

Social workers may often understand and promote resilience well in terms of the people they works with, yet be less aware of their own resiliency needs. This is not only an issue for individual workers – it also impacts on the wider organization and the profession as a whole. Social workers tend to  report higher levels of  work – related stress and burnout then many other occupational groups (Lloyd et al, 2002) and this has  contributed to  growing retention  problems in the profession (LGA, 2009). Curtis et al (2010) estimated that the average length of time a social worker remains in the profession in the UK is just eight years.

The danger with high staff turnover is that it  can lead to  a less  efficient and effective service. A constant influx of new workers  and the  loss of  more experienced team members requires supervision  frequency, and additional mentoring and    coaching (webb and Carpenter, 2011). This can affect team and individual morale, resulting in a lack  of consistency that affects service delivery and – ultimately – outcomes for service users.

The development of emotional resilience has  gained  prominence in recent social work reforms. Continuing professional development  should support social workers to “become more confident,  emotionally resilient and adaptable to the changing demands of social work” (Social work Reform Board 2011). The Professional  Capabilities Framework sets  out rigorous criteria for  the recruitment and training of student social workers, in order to  help build emotional resilience right from the start of a career.

The emotionally resilient social work team

It is  empathy – with  the client / service user – that enables social workers  continue to  strive within their organizations to offer effective and  professional  services. A recent review noted that  what  parents wanted from formal support services that are provided in the context of  identified child abuse was a move from “unequal  and adversarial relationships to ones that are more collaborative and cooperative” (Barlow and Scott. 2010)

Such complex relationship management is harmonious with becoming more emotionally resilient, because workers need to   balance organizational demands and service user expectations with his  or her  own values and abilities. This can create pressure on workers  and  a supportive team culture is necessary to help  them to navigate these responsibilities.

Grant and kinman (2011) identified certain inter and intra personal qualities which predicted resilience in student social workers. These include emotional intelligence, reflective ability, empathy and social competence. Although this study highlighted these individual qualities, it also stated that encouraging  critical reflection, mentoring and peer support with effective supervision arrangements promotes emotional well – being.

Beddoe et al (2011) provide a useful framework to identify the factors contributing to the development of resilience amongst social work practitioners: supervision

  • Factors that reside in the individual
  • Factors linked  to organizational contexts
  • Factors linked to educational preparation and training

Healthy organizations will nourish the resiliencies already present in workers (such as problem-solving skills) while providing supportive frameworks to discuss and develop others.

A key mechanism for this is supervision.


The positive role of supervision

Supervision is a professional conversation which should promote learning and reflective practice.(DFE,2012)

In Webb  and Carters “systematic review of intervention (2011) it was identified that supervision is a major factor in  staff retention. Dickinson and Perry (2002) found that the perception of supervisor support, as well as support  from peers at work, predicted intention to remain employed – while low supervisor support and low co – worker support were significantly related to  the intention to leave. These research messages indicate that both  one  – to – one supervision and team supervision can promote well-being, team morale, effective case management and efficiency in service delivery. These are all important factors in fostering emotional  resilience  within individuals and team.

However, research also suggests that it  has to be the right type of supervision.  While sessions commonly comprise line management, case discussion and continuing professional development elements, supervision that spends too long on administrative  practices and risk management, or is  authoritarian in approach, may be counter – productive (Beddoe , 2010)

In supervision practitioners should have time, and a safe environment, to  reflect and  learn both from their  own experiences and from wider research messages. It is crucial that  a worker can express stresses openly in supervision, without fear of  judgement. A healthy supervisor – supervisee relationship can greatly aid the development of emotional resilience.

How can organizations help promote effective emotional resilience?

Laming in 2009, noted a concern that reflective social work practice was at  risk due to  an overemphasis on process and targets, resulting in a loss of confidence amongst social workers, Sine then there has been much positive  change regarding this, particularly with the work of the social work Reform Board, alongside Munro (2011) who emphasized the importance of supervision and reflective  practice.

Since individuals and teams do not operate in a vacuum, but are always part of a wider organizational context, this also needs to support (or, at least, not hamper) the development of emotional resilience. It is   the responsibility  of those in senior leadership roles to create a workplace climate that facilitates resilience (Hiebert, 2006)

It is mangers, at both team and whole service level, who must ensure workplace demands are reasonable and that employees have the appropriate skills  and knowledge for dealing with the demands they face. Similarly it is a manager’s responsibility to set out clear employee expectations. With an explicit link between employee actions and outcomes. It is also a manager’s role to motivate people (and    help them to self-motivate).

Managers who practice ‘transformational leadership’ – a leadership style shown by research as linked to a range of positive staff outcomes, including job satisfaction, motivation, commitment to the organization and achieving beyond expectations (Hodson and Cooke, 2007) – will be an intrinsic part of a positive workforce that supports emotional resilience.

The qualities of transformational leadership can be grouped into three categories:

  1. The ability to know others

This relates to trustworthiness, concern for others’ well-being, accessibility and the encouragement of critical thinking

  1. The ability to know one’s self

This relates to transparency, integrity, the ability to take difficult decisions, skills in analysis and the ability to inspire others.

  1. Knowing the organization

This relates to a focus on achievement, the ability to network, the skill to unite people, a respect for learning and a sensitivity to the impact of change.

(Hodson and Cooke, 2007)

The combination of reflective transformational leadership (at both team and senior level), effective supervision arrangements within a positive working environment, manageable workloads, supportive management systems and access to opportunities for continuing learning. Will help to ensure social workers are able to provide good and responsive services for children, adults and families. By creating these conditions. Employers will help provide a setting in which social workers choose to work and remain (SWRB, 2010).

Compiler: Fateme  Mohammady

This text has been translated into Persian. To  study it, visit the Iranian Social Workers Site


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