Navigating helping relationships amidst heavy workloads: An institutional ethnography of social workers’ accounts

Hagit Sinai-Glazer*, Julia Krane

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Summary: One major effect of the demise of the welfare state on public social services is increased heavy workload which leads to stress, burnout, and compromised well-being among social workers. Less explored are the ways in which heavy workload shapes the helping relationship between social workers and clients. Extrapolating from the narratives of 14 Israeli social workers who participated in an institutional ethnographic study, this paper offers a nuanced understanding of the toll that heavy workload takes on the helping relationship. Findings: Results showcase heavy workload as a ruling relation, an organizational reality outside the control of social workers and clients. The damaging effects of heavy workload on the helping relationship as well as on the social workers were apparent: social workers expected to slice themselves thin and deal with frustration and guilt in the face of an organizational reality that deters them from investing in their clients the time and energy required to cultivate helping relationships. Application: The helping relationship has been paramount to social work throughout the history of the profession. This research contributes to this longstanding focus with a renewed understanding of the helping relationship in public social services as a political and public encounter between social workers and clients, one that is governed by extra-local relations of ruling. Heavy workload is one such ruling relation that organizes the helping relationship. As such, this organizational reality can be reorganized to eliminate, or at least reduce, the toll that heavy workload takes on the helping relationship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)931-950
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Social Work
Volume21
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Social work
  • qualitative research
  • social service
  • social work practice
  • social work research

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