Flexibility Vs. Setting Boundaries in Social Work

For the past month, I’ve been going into work on Saturdays because there is simply no way I can get things done during the regular work week.  Now, I’m not overdoing it; I’m taking Monday’s off to make up for it.   With all the construction and chaos going on in the building, it’s pretty impossible not to succumb to the myriad of distractions that are placed on my path.  Plus, for a couple more weeks, I have to share office space with a two colleagues and its getting juuuuuust a tad too crowded.  It’s hard enough sometimes with my phone ringing non-stop, last-minute admissions, or co-workers bursting into my office handing me the  latest crisis project (“Mrs. Elderkins is out of Depends, can you call her son?”).  But now, I have the added disruption of whatever crisis is taking place in the work day for my two office mates.  So yeah, Saturdays are becoming my most productive days at the office.

While there isn’t much more I can do to gain control over my work day for the time being, I’ve been thinking a lot about establishing better boundaries.   I am a fairly laid back person by nature and there isn’t a great deal that I’m faced with that I can’t handle, but every now and again, I fear my easy-going attitude makes my work life a bit crazier than it needs to be.   I sometimes find it hard to balance my desire to be there for residents, colleagues, and clients and my goals for the projects I want and need to accomplish.   When I first started out as a social worker, I used to think work-day interruptions were the norm.  After all, we’re typically dealing with people who are frail, in need of various types of  assistance and reliant on a system that often appears set up to fail in the first place.  Plus, people, along with their needs, can be unpredictable. How can I possibly schedule human need into my work day?

But now I’m starting to think I have to work a little smarter.

Slowly, over the past several months, I’m learning to be a little greedier with my time.  Just because I’m the only case manager, doesn’t mean that every time someone needs something, it is necessary I drop everything.  Every need is not urgent. Some are more important than others, and I like to think that as my experience in this career grows, I’m getting better at deciphering the needs that don’t have to be addressed ASAP.   Phone calls can go straight to voice mail when I’m in the middle of something else.   Chatty family members who show up at my door at 4:45pm, as I’m shutting down the computer and organizing my desk for the next day, can be politely told that I have to go and that we can meet at a scheduled time later in the week.  The door to my office can be closed for an hour each day so I can catch up on paperwork.

Being a social worker is all about being flexible, no doubt about it.  Things happen that aren’t planned and your whole day can turn around in a matter of five minutes.  Real crisis’s can crop up five minutes before you’re ready to walk out the door. It’s what happens when you’re in the field of working with people.

But without setting a few boundaries and promoting respect for your time,  the most rewarding part of our jobs–helping others–becomes a dreaded chore.

What do you do to set boundaries in your work place?




1 Comment

Filed under career, self-care, social work, social work skills, the social work soul

One response to “Flexibility Vs. Setting Boundaries in Social Work

  1. You are absolutely right! I’ve had this problem when I taught my classes and would sub for everyone elses classes. In the beginning I didn’t mind, but after awhile I knew I needed to set some boundaries. I think after I got a case of burnout, I knew I had to be better with time and saying “no.”

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