Workforce stats show social work field is growing

The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the social work profession will grow by 25 percent from 2010 to 2020, a faster-than-average rate for all occupations.

“Employment is expected to increase in health and social service settings. In addition, particular attention will be given to increasing the current inadequate supply of behavioral health workers,” said Tracy Whitaker, director of the NASW Center for Workforce Studies & Social Work Practice.

This was one of several insights Whitaker provided at the National Network of Social Work Managers’ 23rd Annual Management Institute in April, held in San Diego, Calif. Whitaker was joined by Janlee Wong, executive director of the California NASW Chapter, in exchanging information about the latest transformations involving the social work workforce.

Each year, the NSWM Management Institute invites social work managers of varying levels from across the country to participate in the educational gathering. The institute focuses on leaders in human services, providing high-quality education, best practices in social work management and peer networking.

NASW was a co-sponsor of the conference, called “Human Services in Transition: Sustaining Impact in a Changed Economy.”

Whitaker told attendees that opportunities for social workers are anticipated to expand in several areas, including aging, criminal justice, services for veterans and military personnel and health. For example, as the population ages, social workers are likely to be increasingly used as care managers and care coordinators.

Whitaker explained that social work managers also will likely face challenges in coming years related to recruiting and retaining social work staff, managing a multigenerational workforce and assuring safety in the workplace for their staff.

Whitaker also identified several opportunities for social workers to promote the profession in the midst of these changes. She recommended that social workers advocate for the profession as consumers and ask for assistance from those who have social work degrees.

“If you need services for an aging family member, for example, state your preference for a social work case manager,” she suggested.

Another step in the right direction is to support the passage of the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1106/S. 584), she said. “Its goal is to secure federal and state investments in professional social work to enhance societal well-being."

Social work macro practitioners are needed to advocate for the profession as well. “You can help by raising social work salaries when you are in administration positions,” Whitaker told the managers in attendance.

Workplace bullying

When it comes to social work trends, social workers are often cited in media reports as experts in addressing bullying as it relates to school children. But who is looking out for bullying targets who are adults? The University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice’s Alumni Council hosted “Bullying Across the Lifespan: Targeting the Bully” in late March. It featured speakers who discussed the issue of bullying not only as it occurs in the schoolyard, but also in the workplace and for the elderly.

Whitaker presented, “When Did a Paycheck Become a Blank Check? The Epidemic of Workplace Bullying” at the event.

She said there have been demands for increased productivity over the past 20 years, while at the same time companies were downsizing.

“During the mid- to late 1990s, the culture of the U.S. workplace shifted dramatically,” Whitaker

explained. “Companies became smaller and more impersonal. The era was marked by a singular focus on ‘the bottom line,’ while minimizing the contributions of employees."

The healthiest of workplaces have stressors, but for many people work is a toxic experience filled with daily humiliation and exploitation, Whitaker said.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is "repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; or work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done."

Targets of workplace abuse have experienced symptoms ranging from clinical depression to sleep disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder — and even suicide. Companies where bullying is tolerated also suffer consequences, including higher turnover rates, increased use of sick leave, reduced employee productivity and poor company image.

Workplace bullying can be a problem for social workers as well. Based on a random mail survey sample of social workers in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area, Whitaker said of the 111 cases, 64 participants (58 percent) met the criteria for being targets of workplace bullying.

“This means that nearly 60 percent of the sample had experienced at least one of the bullying behaviors more than once,” she said. In addition, women were more than twice as likely (67 percent) to be identified as bullies as were men (33 percent).

Whitaker offered some suggestions for those who may be the target of workplace bullying, including looking for other opportunities, resisting negative messages and documenting patterns of behavior.

“As more people are affected by bullying, we see the need for guidelines and policy that address workplace bullying, just as there are laws to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace,” she said. “People and organizations are being damaged by workplace bullying. It’s a serious and harmful phenomenon.”