One of the key benefits of a career in social work is that there are many different avenues a social worker can take. Every industry and market has some need for these professionals. The versatility instilled in Master of Social Work (MSW) students prepares licensed social workers for a variety of jobs. If you are pursuing this field because you want to help others, you might believe that a career in the corporate world is off the table. Recent trends in the private sector indicate otherwise.
The consulting firm McKinsey recently completed a study examining the ways in which companies plan to incorporate artificial intelligence in their day-to-day operations. This may not seem relevant to social workers—AI has been on the rise for some time, and robot mental health is hardly a field of MSW study.
But what is important, from a social work perspective, is that those same companies are increasingly seeking interpersonal capabilities and social skills in their (human) employees. To compensate for increased automation in certain facets of their operations, they are looking for emotionally intelligent individuals to fill other roles.
The emphasis on social emotional traits in corporate culture is reflected in university business programs as well. At the Wharton School of Business, getting into the MBA program now requires participation in a group interview where emotional intelligence (EQ) and social skills are assessed. At the Columbia University Business School, for example, candidates are screened for social intelligence, integrity, and community leadership.
As the demand for these qualities increases, social workers are well-poised to assume critical roles. With their training and backgrounds, social workers can teach companies a thing or two about purpose, ethics, humanity, behavioral health, social intelligence, and corporate self-awareness. They can also assist in the creation of a safe, respectful work environment and in the promotion of all employees’ psychological and emotional well-being. Social workers are the optimal choice to champion these causes, as their professional values—codified by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)—require them to advocate for these very principles.
While companies increasingly value behavioral intelligence in their employees, they also place a new emphasis on societal good, work-life balance, and social responsibility. This is beyond the province of most MBAs, but it is the exact wheelhouse of social work. A corporate focus on social and emotional intelligence correlates with the foundational competencies in which social workers are trained. Because social workers understand the operating systems in people’s lives, they can bring those insights to Human Resources departments and corporate practices.
History has shown that when corporations are too focused on profits, they can lose sight of their humanity—and of the individuals they serve. With many of today’s companies making frequent public missteps, the perspective of a social worker may be just what a board of directors needs. Bringing social workers on as employees can help keep companies mindful of individual rights, social justice and diversity. An example can be found at Google, where an MSW-trained social worker holds a position leading programs that empower women in tech.
Employers today recognize that many consumers and job seekers value relationships with companies that exercise corporate social responsibility (CSR). It’s no longer enough to provide a valued product or service; companies are expected to demonstrate corporate responsibility through their trade, marketing, hiring, and decision-making practices. Corporate social workers—particularly those trained in community social work, policy social work, and program management—are optimally qualified to help companies formulate and execute policies that exert positive social impact. They can also help corporations in their relationship-building with local communities.
Recognizing the need for professionals who understand human behavior, the corporate world has started placing social workers in vital roles. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, social work jobs are expected to grow by 16 percent over the next four years. Some of this growth has been spurred by employment opportunities in non-traditional social work positions, such as jobs with corporate, for-profit employers.
Social workers may pursue various roles in corporate settings. These include empowering and motivating employees, leading training sessions to improve interpersonal dynamics and teamwork, and coaching management on conflict resolution and communication. Social workers may also be employed in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), assisting employees with personal problems such as substance abuse, marital conflicts, child care, or mental health concerns.
In addition, social workers possess the skills to perform needs assessments. These may improve the operations of a company internally—identifying the necessity of stress management support, for example—or they can be applied externally, looking at consumer behavior. A business hoping to sell consumer goods or services to a diverse range of populations would certainly benefit from the insights of a social worker.
Most opportunities to practice social work in a corporate environment require graduate-level training. A master’s degree from a school of social work is required of clinical social workers (LCSWs), whose training qualifies them to practice one-on-one mental health therapy. Master’s-level training confers expertise in other areas critical to corporate practice, such as administration, management, advocacy, disability counseling, and occupational social work. Entry-level opportunities may be available to those whose highest social work degree is a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), but most advanced roles require you to complete an MSW program.
The bottom line? These days, hiring a social worker is simply good business. Social work in the workplace helps create a healthy business environment with a values-driven culture. It increases employee retention, motivation, efficiency, and more, and improves corporate communication, job satisfaction, and productivity. A worthy cause, if ever there was one.
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