7 keys to a sustainable long-term career in social care

Whether you’re considering a career in caring, or you’ve been in the sector for a few years already, it’s important to have strategies in place to help your work remain sustainable for the long haul.

Most of us are drawn to caring roles as we find deep satisfaction in giving hope to others, helping them through difficulties in order to live their lives to the full.

Altruism is a wonderful thing, and seeing the difference our work makes to others is so rewarding. But if we forget to take intentional steps to ensure we’re also living happy and fulfilled lives, we could find ourselves in danger of burnout, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue… or a combination of all of the above…

Qualities like dedication and determination are essential – but without being paired with the following vital strategies, constantly giving to others in your job day after day can lead to both physical and mental exhaustion that makes us no good to anyone!

So for a sustainable approach to work in social care, check out the following tips…

  1. Prioritise peer support

Peer support is a well-known model for many of our client groups, and the same goes for care practitioners.

Especially when work demands can often seem overwhelming, regularly making the time for an intentional coffee break or phone call with our colleagues can actually help us through a career in social care over the long run.

After all – an hour a week to connect, laugh, troubleshoot problems, and remind each other that we’re not alone is a lot more time efficient than a drawn-out recovery from compassion fatigue and burnout.

So if it’s been a while since you and your colleagues caught up to support each other, why not reach out to them this week? Read more on this topic in our previous post here.

  1. Make sure you’ve got adequate supervision

Regularly engaging with clients’ experiences of trauma is certainly a challenge – but did you know it’s also considered a significant occupational hazard in our industry?

It’s normal to be affected by our clients’ experiences, particularly since the social care sector is full of people with high levels of empathy!

But without adequate supervision we could be at high risk of developing what’s called vicarious trauma.

Clinical (not just managerial) supervision is important to provide regular, ongoing guidance in how to cope with the emotional demands of the job – particularly so in clinical work where we’re required to regularly engage with clients who are struggling.

Being affected by vicarious trauma can look like not thinking clearly, making mistakes, getting confused, feeling distracted, overwhelmed, hypersensitive, and more.

This can affect not just our work performance but our relationships and family life too – so for a sustainable, long-term, fulfilling career in social care, don’t skimp on clinical supervision – it’s a must!

  1. Practice self-care

There are so many excellent resources out there covering various approaches to self-care – so here are a few handy ways to get your head around the essentials.

A particularly useful acronym that covers the basics is PLEASE:

  • treat any Physical iLlness you may have
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Avoid mood-altering drugs (including excess Alcohol), and Administer any medications as prescribed
  • Sleep at least eight hours every night if possible (or day for the shift workers among us!)
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes each day (or as much as you can).

These points are also summed up in this gorgeous poster made by New York’s Buffalo University, who have also put together a helpful online self-care starter kit.

  1. Accept help from others

This point cannot be overstated. Accepting help from others – whether they be team members in your workplace or family and friends outside your job – is an essential part of coping with life – social care worker or not!

As with any physical burden, sharing the load is equally important when it comes to managing the emotional toll of working in care.

So take the time to debrief and troubleshoot with colleagues. Say yes to some extra time to yourself if a friend or family member offers to pick up your kids, groceries, or whatever it may be.

When your paid job is caring for others, it’s essential to allow yourself to be cared for so that you don’t burn yourself out.

  1. Have fun with your friends and family

Socialising is a great way to blow off steam, have a laugh, and lighten your mood. There are also plenty of other benefits to our physical health.

You probably see it in your clients – the same goes for us as well!

So if you want to live longer, enjoy greater physical and mental health including a lower risk of dementia, prioritise time together.

Whatever that looks like in your life ­– whether it’s a regular family board/card games night, time out to get brunch with your parents, date night with your partner, going for a walk with friends, something else, or a mix of the above – your stress levels and work performance will thank you!

The most important thing is creating fun shared experiences with our loved ones to increase our sense of connection and enjoyment of life. 

  1. Do small things for yourself every day

A tangible way to look after yourself is to prioritise small activities that are fun, not just necessary.

If our work hours are dedicated to caring for clients and the rest of the day is a series of jobs to keep the household running, even those with enormous hearts are bound to run out of steam eventually!

Depending on what you find enjoyable, the mere fact of taking even as much as 10 minutes a day reminds us that we are worthy of living our lives to the fullest, too!

So whether jigsaw puzzles, playing an instrument, poetry, sudoku, artmaking, qi gong, or something else entirely is up your alley – carving out that little bit of time each day to do something you want to do – not just need to do – can really boost your sense of self and boundaries. 

  1. Consider seeking professional support

Whether it’s a regular check-in or just seeing someone during particularly stressful periods, it’s always worth considering enlisting professional help to support you in maintaining balance.

No matter how rewarding it is, it’s important to remember that caring for others professionally is hard work. So don’t be worried if you’re struggling!

Just as our clients seek our care for various reasons, it’s completely appropriate to seek out other carers’ expertise in a clinical setting.

A sustainable career in social care starts by recognising that – just like the people we help all day at work – we are equally worthy of rest, relaxation, and recharging.

So whether you’re new to the sector, considering making a career switch, or you’re an industry veteran, consider how you’re going with these five steps – and how you can further integrate them into your daily routines, to ensure you can continue caring well into the future.

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