Social work became an emphasis in modern society beginning in the late 19th century. Until formal educational classes in this discipline were offered by Columbia University, family and elder-care interventions were typically handled by doctors, teachers, and other professionals in similar industries. Since those early days of practice, organizations across every spectrum, including public service, private companies, and charitable businesses work together to ensure that the families in each community have the resources needed to stay safe.
Although social workers are not always viewed in a positive light because of their power to intervene in family structures, it is their work that helps us all to live in a safe society. These professionals manage issues of abuse and neglect every day, looking for ways to help households heal while teaching them new coping mechanisms and strategies. They work to protect the rights of everyone, including those with mental health concerns, to ensure that the best possible life is available to one and all.
One of the first women to ever receive a Nobel Prize was a social worker. It is still difficult work to do today because you are often seeing people in their worst of circumstances – and without the authority to intervene as a law enforcement official.
If you are thinking about breaking into this profession, then these are the pros and cons of being a social worker that you will want to consider.
List of the Pros of Being a Social Worker
1. Your position allows you to make positive changes for families in your community.
Social workers are sometimes the last line of defense for a family trying to stay together. By offering resources to parents or guardians who struggle to make ends meet or cope with challenging situations, it becomes possible to keep more households together rather than apart. You’re going to find yourself working long hours, sometimes as an on-call specialist, and spending more time with other families than your own. When you can see progress being made; however, the work always feels worth the effort.
2. You will encounter different situations every day as a social worker.
Social workers rarely do the same thing every day. There are a variety of responsibilities to fulfill, ranging from safety meanings, health planning issues, administrative work to document family contacts, to emergency interventions where you care for those who are hurting. You will visit the people or families with whom you work at least once per month – and perhaps more, depending on local policies.
There are even days when you will directly supervise visits between family members so that you can encourage healing, rebuild relationships, and get closer to a goal of reunification. There might not always be a lot of love for social workers, but it is a job that offers numerous rewards if you look at the positive side of what you do.
3. Your opportunities for career growth are numerous in social work.
Becoming a social worker might not be for everyone, but it does offer several different paths toward career advancement. There are some jurisdictions where you don’t even need a four-year degree to break into this field. You can then look for management positions in time over other social workers, transition into administrative roles where you supervise the quality of the data, or even become a cabinet-level director in the position if you pursue a career in public service.
When you get into the upper levels of management as a social worker, the degree requirements become very specific. Some positions require an MSW (Masters of Social Work) to even apply, which means your competition levels could be minimal.
4. You can start being a social worker in a variety of ways.
Social work requires more than an ability to intervene as a child protection investigator. There are multiple career paths available to you in this field, allowing you to help a specific population for which you are passionate. Health-based social workers might help women find assistance for their pregnancy, teach safe-sex practices, or administer government welfare programs. Elder-care social workers ensure that individuals get to the doctor on time, receive their medication, and whatever other forms of assistance are necessary. You can also work with foster children, handle adoptions, or a variety of other family-based needs.
If you are passionate about helping the families in your community begin creating a path toward success, then this career field will be very rewarding now, and in the years or decades to come.
5. Your working environment is often safe and comfortable.
There are times when you will need to visit a family at their home to inspect the living environment for the individuals under your care, but this is the only task which will typically place in a situation which could be potentially dangerous. Most social workers spend a majority of their time in a standard office environment, often working in a cubicle as they manage their administrative responsibilities.
When you are not in the office, then you will find yourself visiting schools to speak with children and their teachers. You might go to a hospital, nursing home, or assisted-living facility to review the conditions experienced there for your patients. Some family meetings happen at coffee shops or restaurants.
6. You can earn an above-average salary as a social worker in the United States.
Social workers in the United States typically earn more than what their state-based median wages are, especially if they begin working in the public sector. The average wage is about $55,000 per year when comparing all types of career paths, with school-based social workers earning above $60,000 per year on average. Even if you find employment as an entry-level professional with no experience, working with individuals or families to help them find the services they need will bring in more than $40,000 annually.
Because most social workers receive employment through the public sector, there are excellent retirement benefits, healthcare options, and other perks that add value to the job as well. You will typically earn two weeks of vacation each year, a similar number of sick days, and still receive holiday pay in many situations.
7. Your job will bring you an immense level of satisfaction each day.
Despite all of the challenges that social workers face every day, this career option provides one of the highest satisfaction rates in the United States for any career. Almost all employees who work in this field for more than 12 months give their job a 5-star rating. Even on your most difficult day in this job, you can look back and see that the work you did had a positive impact on someone, a family, and your entire community.
8. You will have access to plenty of jobs in the future.
The job outlook for social workers in the United States is very positive, with the overall profession seeing a 15% increase in the need for positions across the country. If you focus on health-based work in this career, then that figure rises to more than 20%. Although there may be differences in pay based on your geographic location and whether the work is public or private, you will have a high level of job security if you decide to pursue this field for your career.
List of the Cons of Being a Social Worker
1. You will struggle with the personal interactions you have at times.
It is challenging as a social worker to not take the words or actions of the people with whom you work personally. Every situation where you must intervene to protect a child, a senior citizen, or someone from a vulnerable population segment creates an opportunity for the abusers to target you instead of their family member or friend. This issue can head to high levels of compassion fatigue.
When you are always helping people who are in a high state of stress, then the amount of tension that you encounter with each situation can eventually work to burn you out. It is imperative that you find a healthy coping skill at home to avoid problems with apathy, isolation, or alcoholism.
2. Your work is almost always engaging with a worst-case scenario.
Your job as a social worker is to engage with people when they are in a potentially dangerous situation. If you are a child protection officer or investigator, then you might be charged with the removal of kids from a home. Healthcare-based positions might need to find resources to separate seniors from the caregivers if the care is ineffective. Even when you work with adoptions, the child going into a new family either had their parents or guardians pass away or abandon them entirely.
When all you get to see is the darkness of humanity, it can be a challenge to bring yourself back into the light.
3. You can encounter dangerous situations that could be life-threatening as a social worker.
Violence against social workers is an inherent risk of this procession. The problem that you will face in this career is that you are sent alone and unarmed into dangerous neighborhoods that some police officers wouldn’t enter without a service firearm and a partner. Attacks on a social worker are not even an automatic felony.
Teri Zenner, who was 26 when she was killed in Kansas, was on the job doing a home visit. Her client attacked her with a chainsaw and a knife. KT Sancken wrote of her experience in The Guardian trying to find a 13-year-old girl that the mother did not want, finally tracking her down only to receive a voicemail with a death threat. People who abuse others have few qualms about taking their feelings out on you when you try to intervene.
4. Your authority may not allow you to intervene in some situations.
Over 30% of social workers and a similar number of police officers say that they are powerless to approach children who they suspect are being neglected by their families. Acute abuse receives an immediate response, but chronic abuse remains hidden by those who wish to cause harm.
About 1 in 10 children in developed countries will experience neglect during their childhood. Around 50% of the cases that you will see in child protection as a social worker will involve chronic issues with abuse. 1 in 5 social workers sees more cases in their current year of work than they did in the previous 12 months. When you encounter problems like these, it may not feel like you are making a difference.
5. You will likely carry a caseload that reduces your effectiveness.
The average social worker can manage about 20 cases at a time in most situations. If you work in the field of child protection, that number drops to about 12-15, depending on what it is that you must investigate. Because of chronic understaffing, budget cuts, and issues like administrative mismanagement, you might find yourself carrying 50 cases instead. When you must take on an additional case before closing out another one, then it spreads out the amount of time you have to make a positive impact. At some point, you get spread out too thinly.
6. Your schedule will become unpredictable and irregular.
Social workers can sometimes work a typical 8-5 schedule, but it is not a guarantee on any given day. Because your job responsibilities involve resource management and protection for families, you must maintain a flexible personal schedule. That means instead of taking your kids to soccer practice, you might be called in to manage an emergency intervention. Your family often takes the brunt of this commitment. That is why over 40% of marriages in the field of protective services and social work eventually end in divorce.
7. You will be doing a lot of paperwork every day.
The one primary complaint that social workers have about their responsibilities is the amount of paperwork that is necessary to complete their jobs. Every family contact, phone conversation, interview with school officials, and professional interaction during a case requires a note of some type describing what you did. Then you might need to report this information to your supervisor, their manager, and those in senior leadership all at the same time.
Because there are multiple levels of supervision governing the average social worker, it is not unusual to receive conflicting orders or advice. That is why it is to your advantage to review the best practices in your office to ensure you complete your work in the right way.
Verdict on the Pros and Cons of Being a Social Worker
The pros and cons of being a social worker show that this career requires a desire to sacrifice. You must often give a little of yourself to help others, and then your family must be willing to do the same. It can be a challenge to find a work-life balance in this field, which means you must manage your schedule wisely and make time for your loved ones.
The work is very rewarding, but there is also a high risk of burn out in this profession. If you do not take care of yourself, then it is impossible to take care of others. If you can manage these potential issues in your life, social work is a career that is definitely worth considering.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.