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Corporate Environment

Bringing Social Work Skills to the Workplace

Applying Valuable Social Work themes in a Corporate Environment

Last Updated On: April 17, 2022

March was National Social Work Month in the United States. Within the dotOrg team, we learned a great deal from Jessica Keaton, our head of Social Impact Engagement Programs, about her life as a professional school social worker and how she applies that to her work today. It is too good not to share. She compiled this article to outline the transferable skills and value of bringing someone with social work skills into your organization. This continues our series about the team and how we got here. I hope it’s both interesting and motivational for individuals looking to apply their skills from other professional backgrounds to roles and programs focused on contributing positively to society and the world. - Peter Wheeler

Acting with Intent

Traditional social work skills are not always valued in the corporate world. However, they should be! These skills allow for a greater connection and sense of belonging and will correlate to employee happiness, productivity, and retention. Consider how you can show up in an intentional and impactful way by implementing one or all of these tips from a social worker:

  1. Consider the microelements when zooming out for the macro. Small things make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. This can be as small as checking in on your colleague who looks like they’re having a bad day or asking for feedback with enough foresight to make suggested edits. A small action will create ripple effects that are ongoing in the team environment.
  2. Meet people where they are. Identify the starting line and build the foundation to keep moving that line forward. Working, solving, and creating solutions together will set your team up for the biggest success!
  3. Recognize different types of learning (or working) styles. Visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing learners. Incorporate various modalities into your meetings to set your team members up for success. Yes, the busy nature of a corporate does not always allow for advanced timing, but when you have that luxury, build in opportunities for your employees to shine. Send out the agenda and key questions a few days early for some people like to process their ideas, then share. Add a parking lot to your meeting to keep people on track. Ask that people limit their speaking time, so everyone can be heard. Small, intentional acts help all team members to be seen and heard.
  4. (channeling my best movie intro voice) In a world where zoom fatigue is trending, show others that you’re paying attention. Active listening allows you to reflect back on what you heard to mitigate any misunderstandings at the source.
  5. Advocate for others in the way you wish someone advocated for you. Let’s be honest; it can be hard breaking into a career field or even a higher role in a company. Lend a helping hand to someone. Take the LinkedIn connection call!
  6. Normalize failure because not all journeys are linear. They can look like a Mario Kart racetrack sometimes! The important part is to call out the learnings and commit to moving forward. This also helps build psychological safety and a growth mindset within your team, allowing you to achieve and innovate more.
  7. Everyone in the room is an expert. We are all experts in our lives and unique experiences. We bring different skills to the table that can be additive to discussions and brainstorming sessions. Great ideas come from everywhere when we listen and create space.
  8. Celebrate wins and recognize efforts! Take the time and space to celebrate your work together because there will always be another task! Take the space to refill your cup, then jump back in to get the next project done.
  9. Silos are dangerous: all systems need to be speaking with one other to know what is happening across; not many great things are created by one person. Speak to your colleagues to gain a slightly different perspective on a problem you’ve been looking at for too long.
  10. The whole child approach speaks to considering all the factors around a student while placing the student at the center of the intervention. We can take a whole employee approach to consider all factors of the workplace and an individual’s success within a role or company.
  11. Individualized plans: each client has an individualized treatment plan which meets their needs. Employees would greatly benefit from similar plans for their career trajectory and professional development. You’ll also entice them to stay longer when they can see their future selves growing at and with your company!
  12. Language and words are able to align or divide us as we work together. For instance, when working with students in schools, I was intentional about calling saying “student” instead of “kids” because the former is using intentional, empowering language—words matter. Make sure yours are lifting others up.
  13. Q-TIP: When I worked at an alternative therapeutic high school, my supervisor kept Q-Tips on her desk. One school day, a student escalated and threatened me. As I was debriefing the situation with her, I reflected with statements like, “I’m not sure where I went wrong in the situation. What do you think I could have said differently?” She casually handed me a Q-TIP, and I felt super confused and self-conscious that my ears were dirty! I sat there for a moment, looking at this object she had just handed me. After, what felt like three minutes, she said, “Quit taking it personally. Q-TIP! We have no clue what our students experience before they walk into our classroom. Their reactions are not always about something we did.” The same applies to our colleagues. We have no clue what they are bringing to work with them on a day-to-day basis.

Be intentional in how you show up. Intentional in how you interact with your colleagues. Intentional in how you interact with nonprofit partners - call out those power dynamics and work to counteract their impact! Intentionality is the key. No one deserves a half-baked approach. Show you care and why you care. You’ll be unforgettable!

Oh, and hire more social workers! I promise you that social work skill sets translate to your company far better than you realize! Imagine expert people managers, facilitators, crisis managers, human resources partners, stakeholder management professionals, project managers, skilled collaborators, and the list goes on! These are skills social workers use on a daily basis to meet the needs of clients, but your organization could benefit greatly from these skills as well.

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