Being on display

Susie qualified as a social worker in 1999. After 12 years she took on her first management role as a Child Protection Co-ordinator in Sheffield City Council. Susie recalls leaving frontline social worker for quite negative reasons. This was mainly due to the long hours that Susie was expected to work including every weekend. Despite feeling  confident as a social worker and a sense of knowing what she was doing, this changed when she became a manager. During her transition, Susie describes feeling exposed and a sense of responsibility towards herself and others. This is reflected in the image that she has selected – a gold-fish swimming in a bowl.

Goldfish bowl

“When I moved into chairing meetings, I felt like I was on display as the chair of the meetings, I needed to know the procedures inside out and everyone looked to me for direction. After about a year I developed confidence in chairing meetings and knew the procedures inside out and so I felt less vulnerable, but initially I felt on show and vulnerable, despite quite a lot of experience in frontline practice.”

Previous research has conveyed job change as a sign of burnout (Curtis et al, 2010; Russ et al. 2009). However, Susie’s experience concurs with Chiller and Crisp (2012) who found that changing jobs can be regarded as a means of moving away from direct practice but remaining in the profession. Social work can be an emotionally draining profession and moving into management can involve a distancing from what can feel like the relentless long hours involved in the job. This can imply that assuming a managerial role can be a proactive means of self-care and self-preservation from the emotional impact and exhaustion of direct practice. As the focus of the work shifts, managers are more likely to be office-bound and placed in situations (such as chairing meetings) that can lead to moving from a position of confidence to vulnerability. As Susie’s story confirms, a sense of confidence in the new role returns with experience and the passing of time.

Susie has gone onto manage a child protection team in Derby City Council where she works part-time. She is also a part-time senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University.

Chiller, P., & Crisp, B.R. (2012) Professional Supervision: A Workforce Retention Strategy for Social Work? Australian Social Work, 65(2): 232-242.
Curtis, L., Moriarty, J. & Netten, A. (2010) The expected working life of a social worker, British Journal of Social Work, 40(5): 1628-43.









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