Empathetic workers may feel more stress
Do you ever feel like you might be too emotionally involved in your work? If so, you might be at a higher risk of suffering burn-out from stress.
Findings from a recent study by researchers at the University of Bedfordshire showed that social workers who felt more empathy towards their clients also suffered more stress, anxiety and depression. Those who showed higher levels of stress were also less able to reflect on their work objectively.
300 social workers took part in the study, which spanned a period of three years.
The results have raised questions about the emotional relationship social workers have with their work.
Due to the often emotive nature of social work, having the ability to empathise is important. Rather worryingly, many trainees said they thought any expression of emotion in practice would be ‘unprofessional and undesirable’.
Louise Grant, Bedfordshire’s senior lecturer in social work, believes that although empathy is important, a balance has to be found between empathy and the effective processing of feelings.
“What we need is to develop social workers who not only have high levels of empathy, that alone isn’t enough, but are also able to process those feelings and be able to reflect on them,” she explained.
Gail Kinman, professor of occupational psychology, added that in order to survive in such an emotionally demanding profession, social workers must be able to contain their emotions without completely detaching themselves from their experiences at work.
The department at Bedfordshire has started inviting experienced social workers to talk to trainees about how they deal with complicated emotions and difficult situations. In addition to this, students have the chance to attend mindfulness and reflective writing classes to help them deal with the stresses and emotions of social work.
The findings from this study can apply to all professions. Not being able to effectively manage your emotions at work increases the likelihood of stress and anxiety in everyday life. It is important to find ways to separate your working and home life, and to teach yourself to switch off once the working day is over.
To find out how a counsellor could help you, please visit our page about Stress.
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