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15 July 2021

Separating your personal and professional life as a social worker

Emily Noble is a fellow and Frontline programme principle practice tutor. She delivered a session, to fellows on the importance of self-care.

Emily Noble is a fellow and Frontline programme principle practice tutor. Through the Frontline Fellowship, she recently delivered a session to support social workers build their resilience and focus on self-care – at a critical time for those dealing with the consequences of the pandemic.

I decided to deliver a session through the practice network because I wanted to support other social workers where separation between our personal home lives and the things we were seeing and hearing in our work lives became impossible during the pandemic. We have all had to change our work patterns and routines during the last 18 months and I wanted to create some space for exploring what this means for our resilience as social workers – especially with more disruption to our routines on the horizon with changing restrictions.

I began my career as a social worker working with looked after children and their families. I went straight into a pressured environment where life changing decisions were made. Being very newly qualified and not used to influencing those decisions, I really felt that pressure.

As a mum of young children at the time, I remember thinking that for their sake, I needed to build my resilience to help me manage the tough environment I was working in every day. It was important I was doing a good job for those children and families that I was supporting too.

One day, somebody pointed out to me how other professionals who work in trauma, such as paramedics, police officers and fire fighters, wear uniforms. Changing from their uniform, or leaving their uniform at work, is an important ritual to end their day.

That is something that really stuck with me. Social workers do not wear uniforms. However, I made a change that day where as soon as I stepped into my own home, I would put on a different set of clothes to relax and see my kids in. It was my effort to create separation between the difficult things I was doing, seeing and hearing at work. Following this, I began to seek out books and resources on resilience and how I could build this in myself – several of which were referenced in the session I developed.

There is a narrative in social work which is, “I haven’t got time to look after myself because I’m busy, stressed and my caseload is too high.” There is truth to this and there are system wide challenges which need to be addressed. However, there are things we can do individually do to be proactive, build good habits, and prioritise self-care, even when time is a limited and precious resource. The stakes for ourselves, our families, and the families we work with, are too high if we don’t.

While personal routines cannot replace the importance of manageable caseloads and good support in the workplace, an accumulation of good habits can help us become more resilient for the difficult aspects of the job. The ways we can do this are not rocket science; it can be as simple as making time to pack a healthy lunch to nourish our bodies and minds for the day or having a screened off area to work in at home, so we can make that distinction between work and home life. These personal resilience strategies are highly individual, and I wanted to create a session which provided space and resources to help social workers to think about what this could look like for them.

The Fellowship’s practice network gave me the perfect platform to run a session on just this. It gave social workers ideas to take away and build into their day-to-day, and some of the feedback I have received is, “I am working more intentionally with my team or my supervisor” and “It’s really changed the conversation that we have about self-care from something that was quite superficial, to something that feels much more meaningful”.

I am proud that the learning from the session has reached more than just the social workers who attended. I hope that a year down the line, they will be able to continue to share what’s changed for them. Because for me, a sign of the success of the workshop will be that, yes, they found it helpful, but they have shifted their practices and developed routines that help build resilience and prioritise self-care.

Are you a fellow? Interested in running a session for the practice network? Get in touch with the Fellowship team via