Celebrate Your Social Workers: How to Motivate and Retain a Multigenerational Staff

Social workers perform a vital role in helping individuals access services and resources they need. They act as advocates for safety among children, youth and families, and become licensed and impromptu counselors or legal assistants. They take on the duties of providing health care in clinical settings, temporary companionship or guardians for at-risk individuals, and secretarial-type work during endless applications and appeals for services.

Meanwhile, they must continue to manage an ever-growing caseload and lead their own lives outside of the workplace.

Their jobs, duties and roles are not always clearly defined, and it can be hard for social workers to put down their work when they go home for the evening. But, they are an essential part of how people in the U.S. live and grow across every known demographic. In fact, 707,400 social workers take on the challenges of public welfare, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The profession is expected to grow 11% over a 10-year period—more than the typical 7% occupation growth rate. Despite leading organizations and societal change, social workers face staggering turnover and burnout rates. Every year, March is Social Work Appreciation Month and a chance to celebrate these heroes.

What Is Social Worker Appreciation Month?

Showcasing social workers is part of National Professional Social Work Month, explains the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). The month is a chance to focus on the profession, acknowledge the contributions made to individuals, families and the communities they serve, and for organizations to create special events or activities to show their social workers they are valued and essential to the organization’s success.

Every year, NASW creates a theme to describe how people and social workers can come together to make the nation safer, healthier and happier. For 2020, the theme is “SOCIAL WORKERS: GENERATIONS STRONG.”

At Relias, we do our best to take care of the professionals who take care of the people you serve. Our mission is your mission:  Relias strives to measurably improve the lives of the most vulnerable members of society and those who care for them.

The Challenges of Being a Social Worker

The job of the social worker is varied and all-encompassing. Your client isn’t just the person you serve, it’s the family, the community and society at large. Social workers can and do work with all types of individuals, families and groups from birth to death and every stage in between.

You can find social workers in every setting: medical, behavioral, outpatient, inpatient, community based and schools. Social workers can be the employee assistance program (EAP) in a business or an advocate in the courtroom. Social workers work all shifts, holidays and are often on-call when not at work.

The job is interesting, challenging, emotionally draining and rewarding. There are the highs of making a difference and the lows of struggling to make even an inch of progress. Like many of the human services and helping professions, salaries for social workers tend to be lower than other college-educated professionals. For example, the average starting wage of college graduates has risen to approximately $51,000, explains the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in their 2019 salary survey. Yet, the annual wage of a social worker involved in individual and family services—two key aspects of social work—is $41,080 on average.

This year, as we enter a new decade, NASW is using the theme of Social Workers: Generations Strong to spotlight social workers from various generations, use new tools to educate the public about the invaluable work that social workers do, and encourage social workers to uplift the profession by joining organizations that benefit social work. If you would like to join the conversation, reach out to your local NASW chapter to add your voice.

Because of lower salaries, there are high burnout and turnover rates in the profession, which continue to rise. Often, the need to make a living wage and feeling underappreciated result in burnout or the decision to change careers. Moreover, social workers must often work evenings, weekends and holidays to meet with people in need due to scheduling conflicts and the working hours of parents and people in need. Consequently, it can be difficult to keep personal or familial responsibilities while providing services as a social worker.

Think about what this means for social workers’ safety and their mental or physical health. They may encounter violent situations or witness the resulting traumas of abuse. Yet, court proceedings can move slowly, and at any time, at-risk individuals could end up in the same circumstances that first warranted wellness checks. It is not hard to see why turnover is a real problem facing managers and organizations in the behavioral health industry.

Social Work Month 2020 Theme: Generations Strong

This year’s theme highlights the fact that social workers have been working for generations to improve the lives of every single American. Many of the myriad benefits Americans enjoy today—including more access to health and mental health care, a minimum wage and Social Security—are because of the work of social workers and others. Social work is also a profession that allows people across many generations to make a profound, positive impact on the lives of millions of people every day. You will find social workers from The Silent Generation and Baby Boomers to Generation Z who are doing the hard, often unsung work to make our nation and the world a better place.

To make this year’s National Social Worker Appreciation Month continue all year, be a champion for the profession and use these tips below to help support and recognize social workers across generations within your behavioral health center.

  • Learn each generation’s characteristics and coaching and training needs to better manage them
  • Redefine your jobs for new care models and populations
  • Improve your patients’ and clients’ care experiences
  • See your intergenerational staff as an advantage to becoming a more agile organization
  • Keep your eye on the prize when you are constantly challenged to do more with less

Final Thoughts

March is a special time to showcase your support for social workers and the essential roles they play in your organization. However, beyond Social Work Month, social workers need and deserve recognition, appreciation and development into the leaders of tomorrow. Elevate your social workers this month and all year long.

For more information on supporting your social workers across multiple generations, download the free white paper, Intergenerational Diversity: Leading the Teams That Will Transform Healthcare. Within, you will find practical advice on how to motivate, retain and promote your intergenerational staff.

Jeanine D’Alusio

Senior Content Marketing Manager

Jeanine spends her days writing for the Health and Human Services industry at Relias. Before her career in marketing, she worked extensively in human resources and learning and development. Jeanine has more than 10 years of nonprofit experience, including as an HR Director at a multiservice behavioral health and community services organization. Jeanine is also a licensed massage therapist who enjoys helping her clients feel better in her spare time.

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