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6 Challenges of the Human Services Worker

It’s hard being a human services worker. The role today comes with many of the same challenges our predecessors faced, with a few newer additions.

Let’s take a few minutes to understand these challenges and how human services professionals can work to overcome them.

Challenges a human services worker will face

While the following may not be comprehensive, it provides an overview of the challenges and struggles human services workers face in today’s market (some are not new but worth reviewing all the same):

  1. Low pay – Organizations still piece together budgets and depend on grants and other funding sources that aren’t stable year over year, especially within behavioral health or when serving the underserved and often struggle with salaries.
  2. Compassion fatigue/burnout/emotionally draining work – We see these issues arising more and more, especially when working in child welfare, with a high cost/complex population of individuals with multiple chronic conditions. A human services worker can experience and hear things day after day that are challenging, painful, and difficult.
  3. Workload – It seems that even as caseloads get higher, staff numbers go down, which often results in a “do more with less” atmosphere.
  4. Scope of practice – Professionals have more responsibilities than ever before. The shift to integrated care and whole health management means you have to know much more regarding how to conduct assessments, screenings, and interventions, remain up to date on best practices, and how to coordinate care with other providers.
  5. Technology – We have seen an increasing use of technology in everyday tasks. This extends beyond EHRs as we start using health apps, telemedicine, and other risk management tools to help us better monitor client status, provide services, and predict crises or health challenges. While these tools are exciting, helpful, and often elevate the quality of care provided, it can be intimidating at times to adopt new methods of doing your job.
  6. Well-informed patient/client – Most people do research online before coming in for an appointment, often bringing others with them to advocate, ask questions, and help. Today’s healthcare consumer knows more about medications, treatment options, and best practices. Often, they and/or family members demand specific types of interventions.

There are likely many more challenges not featured here. Nonetheless, it’s worth looking over and seeing how we feel we are doing. And more importantly, how we can improve for the future.

How to address these human services issues

While not all of the human services issues we’ve addressed can be readily addressed, there are a few that your organization can start making headway on today. Let’s review how you and your organization can address some the challenges human services workers face.

Provide person-centered services

Let’s talk about the last point in the above section: the well-informed person who you serve as a human services worker. In the past, the model was healthcare-professional-as expert who knows everything about conditions, treatments, and the “best” course of action.

In today’s healthcare world, we have shifted to person-centered, well-informed consumer of services. You as the professional are no longer leading, but rather helping guide the way, supporting, evaluating options, consequences, thinking things through.

You and the person you serve are a team, collaborating, communicating, researching, and determining what should come next. The next time someone walks into your office with a smart phone, a health app, and a slew of questions from the research they did, relax, take a deep breath, and dive in together as a team.

This isn’t a situation where you must prove yourself as the professional with the degree who knows more. This should be a collaborative working relationship to help the patient better manage their health, prevent crises, and live a happier, healthier life.

Learning how to learn

Today’s healthcare professionals don’t have to know everything to ensure the best outcomes for the people they serve. They need to instead know how to recognize gaps in their knowledge and skill sets and take the proper steps to bolster them.

When a clinician says to a patient, “I don’t know the answer, but we can figure it out together” with someone they’re supporting, they’re role modeling and teaching them skills to do this on their own. They’re teaching self-sufficiency and better self-care skills, while instilling confidence and hope.

Empowering the people they serve to arm themselves with knowledge should become a routine aspect of every human services worker’s methods.

The human services worker role can be difficult at times, but it’s also one of the most rewarding jobs in healthcare. And the rewards are all the more gratifying when people are given the power to supplement the care they receive with their own efforts and awareness.


Human Service’s Social Dilemma: How You Can Prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Read Relias’ Research Brief, Human Service’s Social Dilemma: How You Can Prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to help you approach DEI at your organization. You’ll learn concrete steps and strategies on how to: 

  • Assess your current organizational DEI culture
  • Focus on relevant topics for DEI training 
  • Implement DEI initiatives at all levels within your organization 

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