Sit Down for Social Work
I’d like to use this blog to announce my new campaign called Sit Down For Social Work! As a force for change I expect it to meet with overwhelming success. Why? Because unlike most campaigns it demands very little of me, as campaign organiser, and almost nothing of you as a participant. There will be no banners, no placards, no name badges, no marches, no calls on the government, no shouting – in fact, shouting will be very much frowned on. Instead, there will just be five minutes for a cup of tea.
Such an idea is novel, I think, in social work. But even so I anticipate overwhelming support. Who doesn’t like tea, after all? But if tea isn’t your, erm, cup of tea, then you could just as easily participate with coffee, hot chocolate or even just a can of fizzy pop.
This is, after all, an inclusive campaign. We won’t fall out over such trivialities as your choice of beverage, and although we may go on to make demands for biscuits and maybe a cake if it’s someone’s birthday, we won’t consider such things essential to our plan.
And what is our plan? Quite simple. It’s for you, me, and every social worker to take five minutes every day to sit down and do nothing. To proudly do nothing. And to do this on work time and to do this together – managers as well – just for five minutes.
Too many people are martyrs to the cause, slaving away from early doors to well after closing time with barely a moment for lunch, and for what? For the chance to be given even more work. And what’s more, this self-flagellation slowly, insidiously becomes the norm. We work extra, unpaid hours. We work lunch breaks. It’s just what you do. And anyone who tries breaking from this damaging practice is labelled: ‘Not a team player.’
And the next thing you know everyone is calling in sick because they’re exhausted, worn out and fed up
We’re just not made for this sort of punishment. You need downtime. I’m no psychologist, but I know a worn out shell-of-a-person when I see one, and I’ve seen plenty loitering in social work departments, most of them trying to remember their password to log back onto the IT system. Others are putting coffee back in the fridge and the milk in the bin. After years of relentless stress – and can you think of a more stressful job than social work? – their minds have turned to mush and their sense of judgement is all to whack.
And who carries the can if they make a mistake? No newspaper headline every reads: ‘Exhausted social worker finally fumbles a case…’
So let’s agree that it’s in everyone’s interest, not least in the interest of our clients, that we take things easier. Flogging ourselves to death doesn’t help anyone. In fact, we’d probably get more done if we only eased up a little. Five minutes every day would give us chance to recover, to compose ourselves, and help drop our stress levels from ‘critical’ to ‘slightly less than critical.’
Which at least would be a start
If this idea takes off in the way that I hope, then as campaign coordinator I will also launch some additional initiatives to further bolster our cause. Namely:
- Take a Lunch Break for Social Work
- Leave on Time for Social Work
- Have You Used Your Full Annual Leave Entitlement? (For Social Work)
Sit Down for Social Work, then, is just the start and I expect it to achieve great things. In short, I expect to save the profession. A big claim? Absolutely. But it stands to reason that if the workforce is tired and burnt out than the answer is to simply slow down. Why has no-one thought of this before?
Well, perhaps they have – with mindfulness. But mindfulness is tricky to get right. You sit there emptying your mind of thoughts but all the time wondering: ‘Am I even doing this right?’ It takes loads of practice to perfect the technique.
But Sit Down for Social Work demands no practice at all. I’m expecting we’ll be naturals at drinking tea. What’s more, like I said at the start, there’s no need for fancy banners, t-shirts, placards, speeches or seminars. All you need is a kettle, a comfy chair, and five minutes to share together as a team.
Many people will scoff and say they haven’t the time. But just look at what’s happening to us. We haven’t the time not to. So do yourselves and everyone else a massive favour – and Sit Down for Social Work.
MATT BEE qualified as a social worker in 2007 and has worked for local authorities, NHS Trusts and charities across adult services. As a freelance writer, he writes for Community Care, Professional Social Worker and the Guardian’s social care network. Occasionally he tweets: @MattBeeWrites