Thursday, March 25, 2021

Leadership Bullies

Holding the position of a supervisor or leader is a topic that is important to me. I have previously discussed my experience in other blogs about the supervisors I have worked with. It has had a significant impact on me and my work experience as a Child Welfare Social Worker. I believe the role can be an honor and should not be abused.  I also do not believe the position is for everyone.  

A person should have the ability and willingness to modify their communication styles when relating to employees individually. Everyone is not the same in personality and demeanor.  So, all staff should not be treated the same.

Initially, I could not imagine being a supervisor in my agency.  I thought you had to use the power given to bully, manipulate and set employees up for failure. This is because of what I experienced in the agency.  Some supervisors were verbally abusive, threatening, unsupportive, unavailable, and often treated all staff the same.  There was no flexibility in their supervision styles. The easy-going and compliant staff were treated the same as the staff that was insubordinate or challenging. This experience caused added stress in addition to all the other job tasks. 

However, I had the opportunity to work with a supervisor who was inspiring and supportive. Their style of supervision included the ability to be flexible and manage staff according to the situation. I learned it is possible to be respectful to your employees while being an authoritative figure.  This supervisor was compassionate and wanted to help staff practice self-care and to better serve their clients. They were able to balance a variety of skills that were needed to be a good supervisor.  This involved being knowledgeable about the job, listening to staff's needs, effective communication, being available, and teaching advocacy.  The supervisor was also well organized and unbiased.  This made the job pleasing, and as a result, I felt more comfortable navigating through the other bureaucratic obstacles.

This supervisor also encouraged and motivated me to obtain a higher college degree and to follow my dreams.

Supervisors need to recognize their employees' diverse personalities and how it is possible to be flexible in their leadership styles when relating to employees. It must be understood that when appropriately supervised, it is possible to have fantastic working relationships and minimal tension.  This can be done when supervisors cautiously manage the behaviors instead of the personalities of the workers. This is done by accepting personality differences and not letting them affect the leader's ability to supervise. Overall, leadership flexibility can produce productivity and reduce burnout as well as job turnover.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Thriving in the Midst of Stress


During my second year of employment with the agency, I was managed by a verbally and emotionally abusive supervisor. The supervisor was demoralizing and introduced themself as "A Control Freak" and " A Bitch." They were also boisterous when addressing staff. This supervisor usually delegated several tasks with short deadlines. This was overwhelming. I felt that I was being put in a situation to fail. I began to second guess my ability to do the job. I felt pressed to seek other employment outside of the organization to get relief. But was told by a co-worker to, "Hang in there!" The supervisor was not supportive and continued to assert power by threatening to give out negative performance evaluations stating, "Because I can."

I spoke with upper management and asked to be reassigned due to the supervisor's unprofessional behavior.  I was told the request had to be in writing and that I could not state anything negative about the supervisor. I managed to get reassigned to another supervisor.

My new supervisor was incredibly supportive. This supervisor was a great leader and worked with each staff member by considering their independent ability and knowledge. The supervisor was compassionate, authentic, encouraging, and inspired staff to go back to school to obtain their Master's Degree in Social Work. While in the MSW program, I learned about leadership styles and working in the public sector. It was brought to my attention that public child welfare agencies utilize business strategies. They treat the employees like robots assigning multiple tasks. I was able to put a name to the nonsense I experienced at the job. It is bureaucracy.

The organization functions much like a business more focused on hierarchical abuse of power. They are concerned with dictating job functions for monetary reasons. The agency shows a lack of care for social workers. They just want the job done. After seeing how statistics were heavily involved, I realize the focus is more on numbers than working with families.  They monitor a social worker's performance through measured and firm guidelines, data-driven processes, administrative intimidation, high caseloads, and little to no self-sufficiency. It has less to do with the actual hands-on work done with the families. I also realize that the job's humanitarian aspect, which drew me to social work, is a minuscule aspect of the job. It is also apparent that without outstanding leadership, you can quickly drown in this organization.

The one outstanding leader I had ended when my supervisor left the field. As a result, I gained a new supervisor who was prone to dictating instead of providing support. When needed, this supervisor was never available and did not have much knowledge. When able to ask questions, they would always have to seek the answer from upper management. They would only make themselves available when they needed to relay or retrieve information to the higher-ups. The supervisor was also not a good listener and only wanted to be heard.

Another drastic change that occurred was on the administrative level. This change included noticeable bias, much micromanaging, verbal abuse, and intimidation. This was worse than when I started with the agency.

Overall, these changes led to burnout and feelings of defeat. Once again, I found myself seeking to flee the organization for the sake of my health and well-being.

I remember a fellow social worker once told me, "They say they're about the well-being of the children, but what about OUR well-being?" To be honest, I am not sure either is a priority to them.

A previous supervisor once told me, "This job is not for you; you better get out before the pay gets good." Looking back, I wonder if I should have taken heed of this warning. After more than a decade, I am still in the same position.

There must be a solution to this madness… but what?

Do not get me wrong, working as a social worker and helping families can really be rewarding. It is gratifying when you help children remain safe, return home to their families, or be adopted into a loving and caring family. This makes you feel good holding the title. To me, helping people is not a task. It comes naturally.

Saturday, March 6, 2021


I am a social worker and have been employed with a government child welfare agency for over 20 years. During my employment with the agency, I experienced a lot of barriers. These challenges included poor leadership, high caseloads, lack of support, extreme paperwork, and other job-related issues. I have also witnessed a lot of turnovers and staff go on medical leave due to the job demand and stress.

There were times when I wanted to quit my job. The stress of the job and lack of support became overwhelming.  However, those rewarding experiences kept me at the job, I enjoy helping children to stay safe. Also, connecting them and their family's with resources and services to promote reunification. When families succeed I feel gratified knowing that I have made a difference in their lives. 
In the meantime, I want to share my story and find a way to create awareness for those who plan to start a career in social work, including with a government agency. I want to connect with others to create an environment where we could discuss issues related to social work and possible solutions. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

A Rough Start in Social Work


My first year as a social worker was an adjustment period. I was proud to have the position and felt good about the families and children I served.  It was rewarding knowing that I was making a difference in the lives of children. I also enjoyed giving their parents the resources and encouragement needed to heal their families. I am not saying that I could make a difference in every family I encountered. However, I felt that my job was still important and could change the lives of many families.

There was still a lot to learn in this position, and I remember a co-worker telling me that it takes at least 5 years before you know the job thoroughly. I thought to myself, "Wow, I have a long way to go." 

I learned that having a supportive supervisor and management team can make or break you in this position. My first supervisor was a Training Supervisor whose staff consisted of newly hired social workers. I learned a lot about my duties and what was expected. But I also learned that this supervisor appeared to have his own agenda and set of rules.

In one example, I worked with a family who had successfully accomplished their goals to reunify with their children. Although I provided my supervisor with proof of the family's progress and change, my supervisor continued questioning their ability to parent their children. This was my first experience of stress on the job. This family did everything possible to change their situation to ensure that they could provide their children with a safe and stable environment. However, my supervisor still questioned their abilities and disapproved of their children being returned to them. I discussed my frustration with some veteran social workers. I was told that the supervisor is from "The old practice of social work." My co-workers advised that supervisors were so scared to return children home and reunification was not a priority in previous years. This was due to the large crack epidemic.  I was told that my supervisor still holds that mentality. The supervisor feared the approval of any children returning home to their families because the supervisor feels that families cannot change. Another co-worker explained they experienced the same thing from this supervisor. They stated that once I am moved out of the training section, I would obtain much more relief working with another supervisor.

The co-worker was correct because once I was promoted from the training section, I got a supportive supervisor who understood that families can change.

My new supervisor was incredibly supportive and understanding. The supervisor demonstrated concern for the families and wanted them to succeed. The supervisor offered support by volunteering to go with workers out in the community to meet with families. The supervisor listened to the family's needs and tried to connect them to appropriate services and resources.

I witnessed this supervisor's ability to adjust to any situation regarding each worker's demeanor and handle a matter accordingly. The supervisor was flexible and change leadership styles as needed to get the best out of the staff. 

This supervisor made me feel proud to be a social worker. I thought that I was making a difference in the lives of children and their families. It also made me believe this was my purpose in life.

Why is it so Difficult Identifying our own Strengths?

I became a social worker because I enjoy helping others, seeing people happy, and succeeding. My beloved mother always loved helping others....