I attended a school last week to speak to year 9 students studying Health and Social Care as a GSCE. The aim was to raise awareness of careers within social care, alongside some of the health teams. Many of the youngsters surprised me, knowing the career route they wanted to follow. Of course, there were some who wanted to travel and have jobs as they moved around, but it got me thinking about vocations versus jobs.
Let’s explore what this means within social care.
The pros and cons of having a vocation in social care
The pros of having a vocation
A vocation allows people to pursue a role that aligns with their values and provides a sense of purpose. You will find that people in vocations have a deeper sense of calling that goes further than just having a job, and there will be a desire to learn new skills and develop within their careers.
In social care, the vocation is the genuine commitment and sense of purpose to ensure the wellbeing and care of others. It is also the desire to make a positive impact for the people they are supporting and, for some, this includes promoting the image and awareness of the sector.
Having a role that aligns with your values brings personal fulfilment. People passionate about social care find a deep satisfaction in helping others, supporting people to achieve their goals, and knowing they have made a difference.
This sense of fulfilment means that people are more likely to have deeper, meaningful conversations, which leads to trust, continuity of care and rapport, and lasting relationships being formed.
The cons of having a vocation
As a workforce, we naturally want to support and care for people, and often do this to the detriment of our own health. We have this desire to please which can lead us to being ‘yes people’ as opposed to knowing our boundaries and saying no.
Social care is a very demanding field and comes with huge responsibilities. There is a lack of support in some organisations for frontline roles to deal with the challenging behaviour and trauma they witness, which can lead to poor emotional wellbeing, burnout and a sense of not feeling supported.
Of course, we all know social care is not the most flexible when it comes to shifts. Although there has been a push to improve our flexible working offering, it still does not lend to a good work-life balance. People passionate about making a difference will often cover shifts and have less time to rest.
I have previously discussed the importance of looking after the wellbeing of your care staff. The impact of our emotional wellbeing is increased when we lose someone we are supporting, either to death or because they move on to another service. Social care staff spend huge amounts of time with people, which forges close relationships and attachments. Historically, I have seen staff who develop compassion fatigue and without the right support, this can have a huge effect.
Pay is another factor that we need to consider. No one goes into social care to become rich; they go in to make a difference. So, when it comes to things like time off sick and paying bills, the frontline workforce is amongst some of the highest impacted.
The positives and negatives of having a job in social care
The positives of having ‘just a job’
Some would argue that having ‘just a job’ is a bad thing, however there are many positives from this approach, with one of the main things being flexibility at work. People can pick and choose from a range of roles within a range of different sectors and have a set amount of availability.
We know this approach can improve work-life balance: people who turn up to work, do the job and go home, often have reduced commitment to the people they are supporting, or the organisation they are working from. This, in turn, allows them to switch off.
There is less stress and emotional baggage, and more time to focus on their own wellbeing and personal time.
Careers are not for everyone. Those with no desire to embark on one can use the time they would have otherwise spent on training and development to focus on other goals in their lives, and we have seen from the younger generation that this is giving them a sense of freedom and spontaneity.
The negatives of having ‘just a job’
Of course, like the range of positives from having ‘just a job’, there are also some negatives.
Having less qualifications, less skills or less desire to climb the career ladder can hinder advancement opportunities when compared to those with the skills, ambition and desire.
While many people like the fact that they can choose the hours they work and experience a better work-life balance, if often comes at the cost of working short term contracts or bank/zero-hour terms and conditions. This can often lead to them finding themselves out of a job as they are not always needed. People seeking short term, bank or zero hours contracts may also be less entitled to some of the benefits the organisation offers to the full-time staff.
We have spoken about people who have a desire for a better quality of life. However, there are several people with childcare commitments, family commitments and more, who may want a career and vocation but do not have the ability to do so at the present time. For these people, poor mental health can increase as they will become frustrated that they cannot do more.
They may feel like they are stagnated because they want to progress and develop but are not able to. This could lead to resentment towards their colleagues who do have this opportunity. For this cohort of people, we will often see financial concerns as they are not able to build their financial stability or be promoted into higher roles, and this, again, can have a knock-on impact with their mental health and their ability to deliver the care needed.
Deciding between a vocation versus job
When considering if working in social care is the pathway to a vocation or 'just a job’ for you, neither of these are the right answer. Both have challenges and benefits, and this is the message we need to get across to the people working in our teams, to the younger generation coming into the working world, and to wider society to break down the stigma of what work life means.
The decision to have just a job or pursue a career vocationally depends on individual preferences, circumstances, and priorities.
The right answer is that it's never too late to pursue a career, but it's also never too late to stop your vocation to take a step back and look after yourself. It may be that you have to take on a job with no vocational plans to recoup, bring yourself back to a positive place, and overcome burnout in social care.
Whatever it may be, if it fits in with your current situation you can always restart your career and pursue that vocation when the time is right. People who have a job in the sector may still hold similar values to those who see it as a vocation. As with everything, it has to be about you - and no, that is not selfish!