Bored with lining your boss's pockets? Want a job you feel is doing some good in the world? Join the club. According to the Institute of Business Ethics (IBE), UK workers are increasingly turning their backs on the corporate world and opting instead for a position which they feel is socially useful.
"We're seeing an increased dissatisfaction with supposedly `prestigious' careers, whether they be in the professions, media or corporate finance," says clinical psychologist Oliver James. Social work, he says, provides the social rewards that such people are looking for and an escape from the "loadsamoney" culture they are beginning to loathe.
One of the reasons is that you don't have to compromise being highly qualified and skilled in order to make a difference. Indeed, a vast body of knowledge is gained and used, covering psychology, sociology, social policy, law, human development and diversity issues. "Social work is a highly skilled occupation," says Neil Thompson, author of Understanding Social Work. "Good practice relies on intellectual skills, analysis, reflection and adoption a critical perspective."
A further attraction for ethically minded job-seekers is that social workers work holistically. "Service users have complex and varied needs and as the person who provides essential advice, support and professional care, you can make a real and perceivable improvement to their lives," explains Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of Social Workers. As a social worker, your client is at the centre of your job, he adds. "Social work is about protecting other people's interests and being committed to those rather than being image conscious."
At no time is this more manifest than Christmas and New Year, says Fiona Westwood, national officer for UNISON. "Whether you're working with the homeless, in residential care units for older people or children, or in mental health - among other areas - the challenges that service users face at this time of year can be severe. For those without, or away from, their families or home, for example, it can be a truly miserable and isolating time of year. For those with drug and alcohol problems, it can be particularly testing. And for those with mental health problems, it can really bring depression to a peak. So it goes on."
Therefore, Westwood says, December and January is a time that, as a social worker, you can help more than ever. "Yes, it brings greater challenges and the need to go that extra mile. But that's what social work is all about - caring as well as providing a service. Clients at Christmas can depend very heavily on their social workers not just for service provision, but that caring element, and ultimately that's what makes social work stand out from other careers and makes it so satisfying."
Claire Morrison works for Lincoln Women's Aid which operates a number of projects for women who have suffered domestic violence including a refuge, two women's centres, a counselling service and legal surgery. Christmas and New Year is their busiest time of year by far, she says.
"We tend to find there is a slight drop just before Christmas in people referring themselves or being referred to the service," Morrison admits. But referrals rise dramatically almost immediately afterwards."
Social workers are involved in Lincoln Women's Aid at a range of levels. "We have those who refer clients to us. We have those with whom we work alongside in trying to get the best results for a particular family. And we have some as members of our staff."
All of them, Morrison says, find the festive season demanding, but with that comes additional job satisfaction. "It's such a difficult time of year for the women and children who use our services because all the connotations around Christmas are about families all being together," she explains. But with help from social workers and other professionals who try their best to make it fun, with festivities, presents, parties and providing extra support, they can make a big difference in helping them get through it and move forwards on their journey to independence. …