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British Journal of Social Work (2010) 40, 1553–1572

doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcp049 Advance Access publication May 6, 2009

The Social Work Profession and Subjective Well-Being: The Impact of a Profession on Overall Subjective Well-Being
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John R. Graham* and Micheal L. Shier
John R. Graham PhD, RSW is the Murray Fraser of Community Economic Development and Professor, Faculty of Social Work University of Calgary. Micheal L. Shier BSW BA, RSW is a graduate student in Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.
* Correspondence to John R. Graham, Ph.D., RSW, Murray Fraser Professor of Community Economic Development, Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2N 1N4. E-mail:

This research analyses social work practitioners’ workplace experiences of their subjective well-being (SWB), the social scientific concept of happiness. From an initial survey of 700 Canadian social workers, thirteen respondents with the highest SWB scores were interviewed. Respondents reported that their high SWB scores were partially a result of available practice opportunities associated with the profession, their ability to recognise professional boundaries and limitations, the role of specific practices that are associated with the profession of social work, social work principles and respondents’ perception of their professional self. The conclusion considers implications for workplace practices, social work education and further research. Keywords: Subjective well-being, social workers, workplace, professional affiliation, education

Accepted: April 2009

A great deal of research on the experiences of social work practitioners has focused on the detrimental effects of the profession—exploring such phenomena as worker burnout (Sowers-Hoag and Thyer, 1987; Kim and Stoner, 2008), high stress (Donovan, 1987; Coyle et al., 2005), and low

# The Author 2009. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.

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pay and low morale (Jones and Novak, 1993; Carniol, 2003). But little scholarship considers the reverse side of this: what might be positive in a social worker’s life. Subjective well-being (SWB) is an idea born out of the social sciences that represents how one evaluates his/her life and includes measures of life satisfaction, a lack of depression and anxiety, and positive moods and emotions (Diener, 2000). Given that SWB is related to job productivity, socially desirable behaviours and both mental and physical health (Cummins, 1995, 1998; Diener et al., 1999), the lack of attention it has received in social work is a significant oversight. In 2006, a large survey on SWB was distributed to a randomly selected sample (n ¼ 2,250) of Alberta College of Social Worker members (ACSW) (N ¼ 5,500), in Alberta, Canada. The instrument comprised sixtyseven items followed by a section about demographic information. A portion of that instrument was the twenty-eight-item Social Worker Satisfaction Survey. This survey was developed and initially validated on a sample of social workers (Graham et al., 2007) and aims to measure the SWB component of professional satisfaction. Findings from that instrument revealed that the most important factors related to the profession influencing social workers’ SWB appear to be connected with the organisational environment in which they work, satisfaction with professional associations and satisfaction with workload. The results from the distribution of this sixty-seven-item survey are currently under review. The present article is based on a sampling of thirteen social workers (eleven female and two male) who were among the highest-scoring cohort from that 2006 survey. Interviews explored the survey’s conceptual findings with greater depth and ethnographic nuance. They provide compelling evidence that professional and workplace issues may have a strong impact on social workers’ experiences of SWB. This relationship, as the conclusion points out, has important implications for workplace practices, social service administration, human resource practices, social work education and further research.

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Literature review
SWB is a long-standing social scientific concept that captures how people evaluate their lives, and it has been shown to be related to both affective state (the emotional state in a particular moment) and affective disposition (the predisposition to a particular affective state over a period of time), but is independent of these constructs (Carter, 2004). Many variables can come to influence SWB, and it has emerged as a hot topic in research in recent years. Among the factors shown to influence SWB are dysfunctional thought processes (Judge and Locke, 1993), personality (Diener et al., 2003; Hayes and Joseph, 2003; Gutierrez et al., 2005), religiosity (Poloma and Pendleton, 1990), self-esteem (Schimmack and Diener, 2003), relationship harmony

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(Reid, 2004) and goal attainment (Kehr, 2003). The determinants of SWB are varied and include factors such as age, race, sex, education, income, social relationships and employment (Keyes and Waterman, 2003). Individual SWB depends on achieving satisfaction in numerous domains, including health, finances, leisure and work (van Praag et al., 2003) and, given the dominant role that one’s occupation plays in modern identity, it seems quite probable that occupational factors have a significant impact on SWB. Indeed, occupational congruence and work setting congruence have been related to SWB (Lachterman and Meir, 2004). Given the implications that SWB, which supports productivity, life satisfaction, socially desirable behaviours and positive physical and mental health (Keyes and Waterman, 2003), can have for workplace productivity, absenteeism (Jones et al., 1991) and staff attrition, it is surprising that little attention has been given to how occupational groups can enhance the SWB of workers. Special consideration has been given recently in both policy research and the media to the changing nature of work. Workplace tasks, demands for greater technical skills, the rapidity of workplace change and, for some, the increasing number of work hours characterise a variety of recent issues that have caught the attention of scholars (Ayoko et al., 2003; Snow et al., 2003; Hodson, 2004) and policy analysts operating outside of the academy (Torjman, 2002; Jackson, 2003; Mendelson, 2004). The social services sector is a particularly prescient labour market that is characterised by employee burnout (Sowers-Hoag and Thyer, 1987; Kim and Stoner, 2008), high stress (Donovan, 1987; Coyle et al., 2005), a low-paying and female-dominated workplace (Carniol, 2003) and higher rates of turnover (Service Canada, 2008). Evans et al. (2006) found that, of mental health social workers in the UK (n ¼ 237), 47 per cent were distressed. Likewise, Siebert (2005) found of American social workers (n ¼ 1000) a 39 per cent current burnout rate and a 75 per cent lifetime burnout rate. The social services sector is also a very important part of any economy (Industry Canada, 2008). Beyond contributions to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, the sector also provides resources, support and counselling to many, including a community’s most vulnerable and disenfranchised populations. A robust literature identifies difficulties in the social services workplace. Writing more than fifteen years ago, two leading British social work scholars lamented ‘administrative, and financial changes’, which ‘have pushed social work into an increasingly antagonistic relationship with clients and have left it demoralized and without a clear sense of direction’ (Jones and Novak, 1993, p. 195). Social work scholars in other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, including Canada, offered similar expressions of grief (Jones, 2001; Carniol, 2003; Graham et al., 2008). Indeed, the profession, for many, continues to face an increasingly impoverished client group with fewer resources and growing uncertainty about its legitimate role beyond direct service work

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Table 1 Workplace factors contributing to job satisfaction Work Environment Characteristics Perceived autonomy Role conflict Role clarity Decision authority Workplace flexibility Impact on others Intensity of work Task significance Task variety Frequency of career changes Difficulty seeking employment Team work Social Support Organizational constraints

Sources: Carpenter, 1999; Carpenter et al., 2003; Jayaratne et al., 1995; Kadushin and Kulys, 1995; Monroe and DeLoach, 2004; Spear et al., 2004.

(Jones, 2001; Carniol, 2003; Graham et al., 2008). Related to these negative conditions, burnout has become a significant concern in the social services. Burnout is characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced feelings of personal accomplishment (Halbesleben and Buckley, 2004) and can result in impairment and attrition. Job satisfaction has been conceptualised as a leading construct to consider in relation to burnout, stress, or turnover within the social work workplace. Table 1 illustrates the many ways in which job satisfaction can be influenced generally and in regard to particular roles. Many of these factors only consider work environment characteristics. While work environment factors are significant and need to be addressed to enhance job satisfaction and decrease the turnover of qualified social workers (Gleason-Wynn and Mindel, 1999), job satisfaction has been shown to also have connections to overall life satisfaction. A possible reason may be the mediating impact of core self-evaluations (Rode, 2004). Together, both may influence the overall subjective well-being of individuals. But, with the exception of one exploratory article (Graham et al., 2007), no research to date has examined the relationship between social workers and SWB. As a corrective, the present article provides compelling evidence that happy social workers are positively influenced by available practice opportunities associated with the profession, realising professional boundaries and limitations, specific practices that are associated with the profession of social work, social work principles and respondents’ perception of their professional self.

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The following research is based on one-to-one interviews conducted in 2007 with social work practitioners in Alberta who were registered with the ACSW. The province of Alberta has nearly 5,500 practising social workers who are registered with and regulated by the ACSW, under restricted scopes of practice defined by the province’s 1999 Health Professions Act. To maintain registration, each social worker pays an annual

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fee and completes professional development credit requirements. Social workers operate at many levels of the government, in many provincial departments, and in nongovernmental and civic agencies across Alberta. The size and nature of the profession within Alberta make this province an excellent template for considering SWB in the social work profession. The province of Alberta has a population of over 3.3 million and, with two cities of over 1 million each, Alberta is Canada’s centre of the oil industry and has a rich economy based on that resource and on other mineral extractions, manufacturing, services and ranching cattle. Participants were purposefully selected from among respondents scoring the highest SWB of a pool of 646 surveyed in 2006 on subjective well-being in the social work workplace. Contact was made with a purposive sampling of the twenty-five highest-scoring respondents on the basis of SWB. From that cohort, a total of thirteen respondents agreed to provide interviews (eleven female and two male). Of the 13 participants, all held university degrees in social work, the majority were over the age of fifty, there was a wide range of years of practice, respondents worked in government, non-profit and private practice, and all but one worked in urban settings. With regard to recruitment of participants, while completing the initial survey instrument, a part of the informed consent process involved asking respondents if they would be willing to consider participating in a follow-up interview. If potential respondents were willing to participate in such an interview, they were asked to fill in the contact information at the end of the survey instrument. Respondents scoring the highest levels of SWB were then contacted based on the information they provided. For purposes of ethics certification, recruitment of these respondents followed a telephone script. All procedures and practices related to the research project were approved by the University of Calgary’s Conjoint Faculties Ethics Review Board. Data collection utilised standard ethnographic techniques (Patton, 1990; Seidman, 1991; Holstein and Gubrium, 1995). A member of the research team conducted interviews either in person or over the telephone (depending on the availability of the research participant). Interviews lasted approximately two hours. Following a semi-structured open-ended interview guide, respondents were asked questions that sought to identify aspects of their personal life, work life and the profession of social work that have an impact on their overall SWB. With regard to professional factors that impact on SWB, respondents were specifically asked: What aspects of the profession impact on your overall subjective well-being? What aspects of the social work profession ensure that your subjective wellbeing is provided for? What aspects of your professional life result in high levels of SWB and what negatively impacts on your SWB? Interviews were digitally recorded and then transcribed.

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Utilising the transcriptions and the research notes throughout the interview process, data were analyzed using qualitative methods. Analytic induction and constant comparison strategies (see Glasser and Strauss, 1967; Goetz and LeCompte, 1984) were utilised to detect patterns within the transcribed interviews in relation to personal, work-related and professional factors that were described as impacting on respondents’ SWB. Specifically, the researchers read through all the interviews with the objective of identifying common themes, after which the themes were then coded and data were searched for instances of the same/similar phenomena. Finally, following this process, data were then translated into working hypotheses that were refined until all instances of contradictions, similarities and differences were explained, thus increasing the dependability and consistency of the findings. All members of the research team collaboratively worked on this stage of research to maintain the credibility criteria of the study. Respondents indentified several categories in which the profession has direct impact on their overall SWB. The availability of practice opportunities, having a clear understanding of professional boundaries and limitations, specific practices associated with the profession of social work, principles associated with the profession and the perception they had of their professional self were all identified by respondents as impacting on their SWB. These categories are discussed in turn.

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Available practice opportunities impact on my SWB
Different roles in practice

Some research has delved into how social work’s multiple roles in practice impact on practitioners (see, e.g. Jones et al., 1991). The scope of practice opportunities (i.e. counselling, teaching, research, community development, advocacy, etc.) provides social workers with a range of possible professional activities. This available range has been found to challenge traditional conceptualisations of the meaning of work for social work professionals (Mor, 2000). Some respondents in this study saw different roles in practice as a significant contributor to higher levels of SWB. One respondent, describing factors impacting on her SWB, noted how pursuing the social justice component of the profession improved her work-related SWB:
Trying to figure out how to make the connections to make sure these people that are in places of importance understand what’s really happening. The power and control struggles, the inequality, and getting lawyers and teachers and police, [people] that are in a very important role, [not only] doing their best with the knowledge they have, but mak[ing] sure that they can do better.

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Another saw that the ability to work with different client groups presenting different core problems impacted on their SWB in positive ways:
I’ve always felt that shifting my counseling focus every six to ten years has really kept me healthy and revitalized. I’ve seen colleagues that have continued thirty years with the same employer and I think they tend to get more jaded or burnt out.

Beyond the identification of a range of roles with particular clients or the ability to work with diverse client groups, other respondents described the importance of different professional opportunities that are available external to their work environment. According to one respondent:
Doing work in different levels like working with committees. [Through that work] trying to figure out what my abilities and strengths can offer through different levels—not just workplace but the community overall.
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The diversity of practice was significant for most respondents as contributing to their higher levels of SWB and, for some, provided a sense of overall balance. One respondent captured some of these ideas:
I think to find periods of my professional career [or] professional life where I felt that balance sometimes. I usually attribute it to when I can find some diversity, when I’m not just stuck in one area of work, when I can do some teaching, private practice and something else or some diversity in what my day is [or] what my responsibilities are.

Professional opportunities

Social work practitioners have a range of practice opportunities based on community and agency settings and the type of work with which they are engaged (Kosberg, 1999). Opportunities tend to be depicted as those areas that the profession can positively contribute to a social problem. Alternatively, some respondents illustrated the relationship between professional opportunities (like teaching, conducting research, presenting, working in inter-disciplinary contexts) and an improved sense of SWB. For some, social work’s inter-disciplinary nature was associated with high SWB. Describing a change in work focus and working in an interdisciplinary capacity, one respondent expressed this interconnection between professional opportunities and SWB:
I thought . . . I was going to cruise for a year or two (laughs) but now I’m excited again by the similarities in Cultural Development and Recreation program development and with Social Work and community work, it’s all community work. It’s interesting and challenging to bring a Social Work perspective to Culture and Recreation actually. It is kind of fun too.

Respondents also described professional opportunities in the areas of teaching, presenting and research as favourably influencing their SWB. With regard to presenting, one respondent stated:

1560 John R. Graham and Micheal L. Shier I think just some development and training. Taking in workshops, annual conferences, the ACSW Conferences. I think it [has been] three years in a row we have run workshops out of the ACSW Conference. A colleague, T, and I have done workshops.

Another respondent highlighted opportunities for teaching as impacting on overall SWB:
An opportunity was presented to me about two or three months ago to teach a Social Work class at the university in September. Your initial thought is ‘I’m so busy how am I going to do this’, but then it’s bringing that decision back to ‘this is something that has always been an interest and I prayed about wanting to explore different opportunities and see what direction my life should be in’, and I really believe that doors are opened and shut intentionally.

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Profession extends beyond work

Underlying the previous two categories is this realisation that professional factors extend beyond the workplace. This range of practice activities and professional opportunities that are available demonstrates how the profession of social work is more than just work. Literature tends to focus on the interrelationship between the profession and people’s personal lives, how the profession interconnects work and identity (Dewane, 2006). In contrast to the literature, respondents repeatedly emphasised the connections between their work life and their professional life, as each represented different aspects of life. Often, the focal point is achieving a sense of balance between the two—and having a favourable impact on SWB. As one respondent explained:
Well I think that what has enhanced it is again variety and balance, you know I was trained as a clinical Social Worker and that’s my primary responsibility but I’ve also always done a lot of extra things within my career like teaching, research, and committee work—which I think enhanced the clinical . . .. Not just focusing on your day to day activities here with families but really having those other pieces as well.

Another respondent similarly described:
When I do outside things I don’t get less work, I just have to be creative in finding ways to do more work. Doing presentations [and] being involved in multidisciplinary committees and policy development I love and I know that [they are] areas that I put on my learning plan. So I’ll pursue those areas knowing that they don’t take away time from my core description. But it gives me energy and passion and it enhances my well being so I can do my job more effectively.

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Understanding professional boundaries and limitations improves my SWB
Professional limitations

Social work education and training highlight professional boundaries and understanding the limitations of professional practice (Johnson et al., 2000). Our respondents showed how recognition of professional limitations (whether rooted in the social worker or in the external environment) can positively impact on SWB. One respondent described this with regard to levels of frustration within practice:
The biggest thing that I see with the students that I have here and my employees is that they get frustrated with the process and frustrated and angry because people aren’t doing what they expected they would do, or say the things that they expected them to say or the project fails or whatever. That’s what I know about Social Work, is we don’t have any control. So you can take that for granted, and that’s ok.
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This should not suggest that respondents accept inequality in society without question; or that they do not challenge their own personal limitations. Our research does, however, provide insight into how social workers attach meaning to the world around them. Scholarship finds that a sense of controlled reaction to situations improves overall SWB (Klonowicz, 2001). To that end, understanding professional boundaries helped some respondents deal with some challenges of practice and influenced the way they reacted to particular situations. For example, one respondent described how they maintain well-being:
It is a lot of hard work, but we all believe that the end result will be absolutely worth it. So staying committed to that process and going through the uncomfortable conversations and the hard work, believing that at the end we’ll be very glad that we pursued it.

Personal work choices

Work choices have been directly related to overall subjective well-being (Lachterman and Meir, 2004). How do social workers determine appropriate work choices? Within social work education and training, practitioners are taught to seek appropriate practices based on client needs, within agency mandates, professional values and ethical guidelines, and all the while reflecting on and monitoring professional limitations. Several respondents told us how important it was to their SWB to undertake these practices of reflecting on work and identifying personal limitations. For example, some respondents commented on when a particular area of work was no longer healthy, and attributed the changes they made as a result as contributing to their overall SWB. One respondent said:

1562 John R. Graham and Micheal L. Shier ‘That’s it, I need to end that phase of my professional life’. Go do something else that was more rewarding; that I felt good about, I felt I was contributing and I’ve not regretted it.

Other respondents discussed how they were able to select areas of practice that would not have negative impacts on their personal well-being. For example, one reflected on choices of practice and the type of work that they were doing during a period of emotional hardship; a period in which their SWB would have been negatively impacted on further if they were conducting counselling work:
So I think it was good that I wasn’t in doing a lot of direct counseling and therapy with clients because I was able to look after my own emotional needs and still do this kind of community development job. I think it would have been much harder if I had a heavy crisis oriented client list.

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Practices that are associated with social work impact on my SWB
Identifying and utilising supports

Social workers are challenged to identify supports for several reasons. Some relate to supervision and collaboration (Austin and Hopkins, 2004) and others relate to the process of reflective practice and mutual-aid within the profession (Brashears, 1995). Respondents described two components of supervision that were key to their perceived SWB: mentorship and having other people with whom to discuss ideas. Identifying these supports was considered important for personal reasons and, while some respondents suggested the use of professional supports, others recommended seeking friendships among peers. One respondent, as an example, purposely sought out support, in a manner similar to what a practitioner would suggest to their client. This respondent, dealing with the experience of having breast cancer, stated:
I found myself a mentor because when you’re in Social Work you tell clients to find out who their supports are. So I had to practice what I was preaching . . . I remembered one of the parents from my kids school she had gone through a similar [experience]. I phoned her up, and the minute she heard she says, ‘I will come with you to the doctor’s appointment’, and she went.

For this respondent, having that support impacted on their emotional state positively when dealing with this personal crisis. Similarly, another respondent, describing possible positive impacts on SWB, sought professional supports in a time of personal crisis:
I knew when that occurred I needed to connect with professional help. I saw a psychologist for a period of time. So it is knowing that you need something and finding the right people to support those needs

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Related to the work environment, it has been found that social supports help minimise the probability and effects of practitioner burnout (Koeske and Koeske, 1993). In some instances, social workers seek out support from their supervisors (Garrett and Baretta, 1995) and, for others, there are professional development activities. But, as one of our respondents told us, SWB could be enhanced by positive peer relationships with social work colleagues:
So that we can vent . . . I mean you always need someone to vent with because things happen and not every one here, I’m the only Social Worker here, and so often sometimes when you have a different vision of something people don’t see it that way. You have to call a Social Worker and say ‘What do you think of this, can you imagine’, so I do that.
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Others identified the need for social work mentors to maintain SWB. As one respondent stated:
Mentors in a sense that you can talk about your practice, talk about your life and talk about your research, your interests professionally, your teaching, when you’re struggling with teaching or struggling with a student or struggling with a particular situation.

Professional development

The role of professional development opportunities within organisations directly influences social workers’ skill acquisition (Lariviere and Danylo, 2002) and job satisfaction (Marriott et al., 1994). For all respondents, provincial registration mandates annual evidence of professional development. Several identified how professional development requirements improved their overall SWB. As one respondent stated:
It all fits into the learning, like reading, I find when I work; having clients it gives me a focus on some of the things that I’m interested in reading . . . . We have a lot of books. I always think ‘Well I know they’re here’ and sometimes I’m more inclined to read things because it’s very helpful in terms of working. I’m glad I have that, I’m glad I have my reason to read some of these things.

Social workers undertake self-improvement behaviours related to professional development based on a desire for greater professionalism (Poulin, 1994). Similarly, respondents viewed the need for learning and professional development in high regard, which consequently impacted on their overall perception of the work they were doing and their role within that work. One respondent articulated the relationship between this professional requirement and maintaining well-being in work-related situations where they may not have all the answers:
I think it’s just choosing to be fully present in where I am. Knowing that I’ve got a ton to learn. I think what is a big motivation is that I still feel that it’s a journey and there’s lots of learning and growing and development that I still have to achieve.

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Connecting within networks

Social workers engage in activities that involve triangulating amongst services and identifying resources for the client population (Freddolino et al., 1985). By triangulation, we refer to that process in which social workers negotiate between multiple services and benefits within and across systems. Respondents identified how they utilised this framework of interconnectivity to maintain or improve their overall SWB. Some described the importance of working as a team. As an example, one respondent stated:
I think in general in Social Work it’s important to work as a team. In order to make that reality for me I try to connect with my co-workers and my supervisor and other stakeholders that I would normally deal with at least once a week or on a daily basis. I’ll just make a point of connecting with as many workers as I can throughout the day.

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Social work principles contribute to my high level of SWB
Social work perspectives and values

Social work education strengthens practitioners’ identity of the profession and may increase practitioners’ abilities to achieve social change in practice (Haskett, 1990). A few respondents identified a particular set of values and worldviews associated with the profession that impact on their overall SWB. For some, they utilise this framework not only in their own life, but also when interacting with clients and engaging in work-related processes. As an example, one described the role of self-determination in contributing to individual happiness:
People come in thinking often that they’re going to find out what is ‘wrong’ with them . . . . The other thing I’ve learned over the years is once people understand that they’re in charge of their own life that each of us is responsible for our own happiness, once they catch that then they take off in therapy.

Another described how perceptions associated with the social work profession aided them to maintain high levels of SWB:
I guess, it’s part of having a healthy attitude around the fact that again, if you relate it back to Social Work, we’re not always in balance. We have things that happen in our lives certainly I have, but it’s taught me a lot about who I am and the areas that I need to make sure I nurture and take care of.

Others identified a connection to their SWB with their professional perspectives and the subsequent positive impact on their personal life. Still others described the role of the values and ethics in the profession and the subsequent positive impact on SWB, and the interrelationship with their personal life. For example, one respondent expressed:

Social Work Profession and Subjective Well-Being 1565 I think when people have a separation this is who I am personally, this is who I am professionally, when those are very different and different values or different ethics I think that would be hard. I mean for me it’s almost a continuation of what I believe in my personal life to be important, you know, carries over into my professional life, the way I treat people the way I want to be treated.

Reflective practice

Reflective practice has long been important to social work education, training and practice (Mishna and Bogo, 2007). Respondents described the role of reflection within their practice as positively impacting on their SWB. For example, one respondent, commenting on ways in which future practitioners could maintain high levels of SWB, advised:
My advice to them would be to be authentic, to be reflective and become aware of their own woundedness and put time and attention into healing whatever woundedness they have. Then to speak their truth, to really celebrate their uniqueness and the gifts they bring.

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My perceptions of my professional self impacts on my SWB in positive ways
Meaningful practice

How we construct meaning greatly influences the nature and extent of our SWB (Compton, 2000; Ryan and Deci, 2001). Not surprisingly, some of our respondents identified the importance of meaningful practice to their SWB. One respondent described a situation of uncertainty with their work as contributing to lower levels of SWB when they began in their present role. For this respondent, the meaning of their work was related specifically to the acceptance of other professionals within the work setting:
Looking back when I started working here I had so much independence because I was the first Social Worker. I don’t think my colleagues really knew what to expect . . . there was a little bit of time where I really wasn’t sure if this was meeting everybody’s needs. What did everybody think? Probably to some extent I still wonder about that.

Another respondent described how meaning is developed based on what other practitioners are doing and how that is related to their work:
I went to a workshop this morning with M, he’s in town and just hearing him talk about some of his ideas, it reinforces that your practice method is the one you want. My chosen practice method is akin to his and what he proposes that we should be doing.

These excerpts suggest that meaning in practice can be similar to the concept of validation. Both realisation of the usefulness of one’s work and the recognition from others contribute to higher levels of SWB.

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Identity as a social worker

Many respondents felt that the identity of being a social work practitioner can be a significant contributor to overall SWB. The identity of a social worker extends beyond work-related tasks (Miehls and Moffatt, 2000), to include an entire way of being and relating to the world, as our findings have demonstrated. The values, principles of practice and the range of opportunities available to social workers all intersect in this common identity and influence overall SWB. Respondents were specific about this influence of identity on their SWB. One described this relationship between being a social worker and working at a particular place:
As soon as it becomes just a job take stock and take a look at your options. Most of us in Social Work have so many skills and so many faculties that we just don’t give ourselves credit for. Take the lead, take the plunge, do something different when you’re feeling crispy around the edge or before you start feeling crispy around the edge.
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The above quotation also highlights how scope of practice and the many opportunities that are attached to the profession of social work may also contribute to SWB. As another respondent stated:
I turned sixty five this July and I see myself continuing to work part time for as long as I can find work or find things that excite me. I don’t see myself retiring in the sense of sitting somewhere and just playing golf or going fly fishing. I see myself by continuing to be active in some way.

For this respondent, being a social worker is not just a job, and the development of social worker identity beyond their present work environment provides personal meaning.

Previous scholarship identifies unrealistic expectations (Lev-Wiesel, 2003), social undermining (Gant et al., 1993), personal accomplishment at work (Koeske and Koeske, 1993), role conflict (Um and Harrison, 1998) and emotional dissonance (Nelson and Merighi, 2003) as having direct impact on burnout and stress within the workplace for social workers. Social support is a primary construct understood to help improve these feelings, among others (VanderZee et al., 1997). For social workers, though, social support is not sufficient to balance out the experiences related to and feeding stress and burnout (Himle et al., 1991), and it is not the only predictor of higher scores of psychological well-being within the workplace (Ben-Zur and Michael, 2007). But how might positive aspects of a social worker’s professional role be harnessed in order to improve such workplace circumstances? As the current article points out, rather than looking at the workplace through the prism of burnout and like negative experiences of the workplace, it is useful to highlight the impact of SWB because we can

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consider the multiple aspects of the profession and how they relate to satisfaction and overall happiness. Focusing specifically, for example, on work environments potentially places limitations on addressing the situation of burnout, stress or turnover in the social work workplace. Respondents here provided useful insight into how, potentially, social work principles, social worker identity formation, range and scope of practice opportunities, and connection with the profession can contribute to happiness. Further research is necessary to consider how each of these factors can lessen negative experiences within the workplace and improve job satisfaction. The findings from this study are, therefore, important. First, they demonstrate a limitation in our present understanding of the work contexts in which social workers practise. Our research, moreover, provides promising indications that the profession itself, and the professional roles practitioners take on, may positively, rather than negatively, influence SWB. A second point relates to increased workloads. Many respondents took on projects or tasks that would fall under the scope of social work practice, but respondents noted that these increased workloads did not necessarily decrease their SWB. Indeed, it is as much the nature of the work and the latitude that s/he has in the job that is as potentially important as sheer workload. The entire question of workload is provocative, requiring further research to determine what the extra work entails. If it is something that falls within the scope of social work practice but not necessarily more work of the same as a person is regularly paid for (i.e. tasks related specifically to their job), then increased workload may have the reverse effect on SWB than expected with an increased workload. What our study found, though, is that diversity within the scope of practice of the profession is important for respondents. The range of activities associated with the profession, types of work and the levels of work involved with social work practice all help to facilitate high levels of SWB. A third finding involves the question of work – life balance. Respondents provided evidence that it is not necessarily the case that there needs to be (whether formal or informal) a balance between personal and work-related activities. Rather, many respondents felt a strong connection between their personal and professional life, and this relationship appears to have a positive impact on SWB. Recent literature describes the impact of personal crisis on an individual’s professional role (Rice, 1999). But here, respondents described the happiness experienced as a result of the profession, and that impacted, in some cases greatly, on that individual’s well-being within their personal life.

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The implications of this research could be considerable. Social work practices, including the administration of social service agencies, as well as

1568 John R. Graham and Micheal L. Shier

Human Resource (HR) policies, might be better aligned to the principles of SWB outlined in the present research. Simply challenging and restructuring work environments may not be sufficient to deter rates of turnover or attrition and intercept experiences of worker burnout and stress. Realising the multiple factors associated with SWB for social work practitioners provides useful insight to employers (private or public) for creating positions that capitalise on the range of practice areas in which social workers may excel. Furthermore, employers could create connections within and across systems linking practitioners together and recognising the reciprocal influence of SWB upon practice, life and professional identity. Further research could consider how available practice opportunities, connection to the profession or social work education might be situated such that they enhance SWB; or how SWB might be understood, moreover, as a vital link to enhanced connections to the profession and to training. Also, scholarship could be undertaken to highlight how these relationships might be studied, measured and integrated with human service and educational systems. Social work education could consider more explicitly the positive aspects of SWB as a conduit to improved professional opportunities, connection to the profession and greater access to post-degree professional education for practice. These insights could be integrated into many parts of the curriculum that address practitioners’ professional use of self, and the interconnection between the profession to that of a practitioner’s work and personal lives.

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The following research was possible thanks to the funding received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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