Social work has evolved from a profession focusing on people living in poverty to one associated with governmental programming to one offering counseling and health-related services in nonprofit and private-practice settings.
But now there is an emerging trend: Social workers are moving into corporate America.
This is a good thing, and get ready to see more of it. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects nearly a 20 percent growth in social work jobs by 2022, with many of them in the private sector outside of what used to be the “normal” social worker’s environment.
Today’s worker expects corporations to be socially responsible. People are no longer just looking for a product or service. They also pay attention to how companies contribute to the greater good in society and in their employees’ lives.
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Communities expect corporations to give back in some way, and thus corporate social responsibility helps companies be successful.
Second, companies are moving toward more horizontal management and integration. That is, they are putting more emphasis on members of a company at all levels working toward a common purpose.
Communication and human connection are essential for success in this horizontal environment.
As corporations adapt to these new developments, I believe they will actively seek out professional social workers, much as the healthcare system has done.
Imagine if you owned a business and you had an employee who had been trained on human behavior, communication and conflict resolution?
What if this employee also knows about diversity and organizational structure, as well as the skills needed for invested listening and relationship building?
And what if this employee had a background in providing mental health services related to substance abuse, depression, anxiety and grief and loss? How could this employee contribute to the success of your business?
One of the better known roles for social workers in corporate settings is that of counselor in an employee assistance program, as social workers can address issues that employees may encounter such as depression, substance abuse and family issues.
Social workers are also good at understanding human behavior, interpersonal relationships among workers, and the challenges of dealing with different personality types and stresses. Both Motorola and 3M have employee assistance programs that have hired social workers.
Some organizations have found that social workers can help clients achieve better outcomes. For instance, an attorney’s office assisting clients with divorce and custody issues may find that they lack access to dependable transportation, child care or financial resources.
Social workers, in the role of resource coordinator and advocate, can help these clients with access to additional supports that will allow them to attend their legal appointments with more consistency.
The same can be true in medical, educational and other settings.
Other companies have found that social workers’ expertise in social justice fits well to meet their specific needs. Google, for example, has recently hired a social worker to review privacy and user policies and determine how to identify and address child pornography in Google searches.
Social workers can also play a vital role in the establishment of the structure and policy of an organization. Because social workers are trained in interconnectivity and the systems operating in people’s lives, they bring new perspectives on organization management.
For instance, they can help establish healthy conversations when organizations struggle with change or problematic dynamics such as bullying or harassment.
They can also help establish policy and practices for recognition and appreciation of workplace diversity as well as training employees. For instance, a Texas-based private corrections company hired a social worker in a regional-level human resources position.
We are still just scratching the surface when it comes to corporate social workers.
Cossy Hough is a clinical assistant professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin.