Secret Social Worker: work-life

Lila Halliday gives her tips for achieving work-life balance, with 37 a key figure

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At one stage in my career I was working 60-70 hours a week. During this period we had a damning Ofsted inspection. There were failures at every level of the organisation and I was part of that. I had sacrificed all that time and energy to fail. What had I worked so hard for? This prompted an internal overhaul of my attitude to work-life balance. So here are my top tips for achieving it.

Learn to achieve what you can and accept what you can’t
Most people start a career in social work to make a difference, and make a difference you can. However, injustice and bureaucracy are unavoidable truths and you can’t fight it all. Learn why things are the way they are and how possible it is to change them. If it’s not within your remit to make that change, learn to work within them, instead of getting frustrated and trying to fight it all. Sometimes things aren’t fair and you just have to suck it up and do what you can.

Ask yourself what would happen to your work if you just left it forever
Of course you are important to the people you are supporting and those relationships are everything in social work but if you took some time off or disappeared completely, their lives would go on and they would be supported by your colleagues. Take your annual leave! Have a sick day if you’re sick! I have known social workers to throw up in the office bin and continue working. No one needs you in that state.

37 is just a number but it’s an important one 
Go home at five! Plan your diary and make the most of your times outside your 37 work hours. Unless there is a crisis you should not be working late. Doing so regularly, even with the most supportive of families waiting for you at home, takes its toll. You cannot support families and neglect your own. And I know there will be social workers enraged at reading this but there is a lot of research out there about how productive you can be for extended periods of time. Just try leaving at 5pm and see if the world ends.

Stop writing so much!
In support of the above, stop writing so much! Writing is important but too many words miss the point and end up serving no purpose and it’s wasting your time. The social workers I know who write the most tend to be the most anxious. They’re afraid of missing something but it’s better to write a little of everything than a lot of one thing.

Invest in your friendships
It’s hard being friends with a social worker sometimes – we are very unreliable when it comes to weekday social events. It never ceases to amaze me that people actually plan things for Fridays! But you need friends outside of work to talk about something else. If you have arranged something with friends, make it clear to your colleagues and managers that you can’t work late and even if you’re exhausted, go! In the end people stop inviting the eternal flake and you end up working in the evenings because you have nothing better to do.

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