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:
- The ability to know others
This relates to trustworthiness, concern for others’ well-being, accessibility and the encouragement of critical thinking
- 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.
- 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