How to set boundaries in social work

From complex caseloads, to battling staffing shortages and dealing with compassion fatigue, being a social worker can be overwhelming and emotionally taxing at times. However, setting healthy boundaries with clients and colleagues can really help mitigate the likelihood of burnout and general stress. Below, our industry experts share top tips on how to protect your energy and set boundaries in social work. 


Don’t be a people pleaser


Saying yes to every request will soon land you in a pile of extra work and zero capacity left to complete it. We appreciate that it’s not always easy saying no, especially if you’re a newly qualified social worker – but the earlier you learn to protect your boundaries, the better off you’ll be for it in the long run. Carrying an increased caseload will not only be harmful to your mental health, but also put service users at risk of negligence. After all, you can’t be in five places at once (although it would help with staffing shortages!). Your service users deserve to receive the best version of you, and that simply isn’t tangible if you’re being overstretched. 


Use your breaks


It’s so important for both your mental health and your concentration levels to take a lunch break every day. Get out in the fresh air when you have the opportunity or go and make a cup of tea, anything to get a change in scenery. This will help you to recharge and in turn, better meet the needs of your service users. 


Avoid getting over involved with clients


If you find yourself investing more time and emotional energy in the client than yourself, then something needs to change! Your mental wellbeing should always be the priority and although it is your job to care for clients, it is important to care for yourself too.While you should still be caring and approachable, make sure to set clear boundaries to protect yourself from emotional burnout. Use your professional judgement to maintain the balance and ensure that neither you or the end user is at risk. 


Here’s a few tips for maintaining clear boundaries: 


  • Limit physical touch that could be misconstrued as a violation of power e.g. hugs. 
  • Avoid seeing the client outside of work hours.
  • Don’t share personal contact details such as personal mobile or social media accounts.
  • Share minimal details about your personal life as this blurs the line between professional relationship and friendship – and certainly don’t discuss your problems. 


Ultimately, being firm but fair with your boundaries as a social worker is key to protecting your mental health and will ensure that service users are getting the best you each time!


Here at Social Personnel, we champion the career growth of our candidates and are here to offer advice and support all year round! Give us a shout at [email protected] or a call on 0203 8929 340 for further info. 

carlette Isaac

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