Social work: professionals facing emotional exhaustion

In social work, one in three professionals faces emotional exhaustion, according to a study by the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (archives). Keystone / PATRICK STRAUB sda-ats

This content was published on April 29, 2021 – 10:53


The field of social work in Switzerland has been strongly affected by the corona crisis. Nearly every third person (31.3%) faces a high risk of emotional exhaustion, even more than every second person (55.6%) in French-speaking Switzerland, according to an empirical study.

Nearly 80% of the social workers surveyed nevertheless said that they were in good or very good health, compared to almost 90% in 2017, which represents a deterioration. By 2020, a quarter of professionals said their health had deteriorated, a phenomenon that is particularly common among trainees.

Nearly 30% of respondents complained of general weakness, lack of energy and fatigue, an increase from 6.6% in 2017. Other types of complaints increased by six to 12 percentage points during the year in which coronavirus appeared.


In addition, “communication between professionals and recipients has developed significantly,” AvenirSocial, the Swiss professional association for social work, said in a press release on Thursday. The reasons: an increase in demand from the recipients as well as changes in processes and working conditions, which lead to a lot of extra work.

Almost half of the respondents perceived a negative change in communication with the recipients. And more than a third said that communication between colleagues and with superiors had also changed in a negative way.

AvenirSocial therefore asks the Association and the cantons to make more resources available for the practice of social work. “Social workers have reached their limits. Additional burdens would be unsustainable and must be avoided. More resources are needed, in terms of staff and financial resources,” commented Co-Secretary-General Annina Grob, quoted in the press release.

Remote work, the least of the problems

Between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, 3,507 people participated in the study from the Department of Social Work and Health at the University of Applied Sciences in northwestern Switzerland on behalf of AvenirSocial. However, if the study provides “worrying” results, it indicates that a large proportion of professionals are in good control of developments in digital technologies and the reorganisations that result from them, such as teleworking.

During last spring’s semi-lockdown, 94.7% of social facilities remained open, according to the survey. And 97% of the participants respected the restrictions and hygiene rules. The vast majority of the rest justified their non-compliance with the rules with the fact that it was not possible to keep their distance in connection with their specific daily activities.

Appointments have been canceled but need help

The frequency of contact with clients has decreased in all areas of social work, but to varying degrees. The decrease was strongest in the area of ​​social assistance (more than two thirds of the respondents noted a marked decrease in contacts), and it was least marked in the homes for special education (a decrease of slightly less than 20%).

About half of the professionals observed that patients were increasingly canceling their appointments, more in professional integration and least in health. However, the demand for benefits has risen sharply since the beginning of the health crisis, strongest in social assistance (+ 80%) and least in the field of disability (+ 40%). The reason: With coronavirus, the problems of the beneficiaries have increased sharply.

The workload intensity varies from field to field. According to the survey, it is highest in child and adult protection: Nearly a quarter of professionals complain about a large workload. They are half as likely to complain in the areas of childhood and adolescence, substance abuse counseling, and professional integration.

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