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Understanding burnout amongst social workers in Masvingo, Zimbabwe.

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Burnout has emerged as a concern among human service workers such as social workers, nurses and doctors. This study was designed to understand burnout amongst social workers in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. This research was motivated by inadequate information regarding burnout amongst social workers, unlike other professions such as teachers. This study contributes to filling the knowledge gap about burnout amongst social workers. The study was designed to understand social workers’ experiences of burnout; factors that contribute to burnout; the coping strategies which social workers can use to cope with burnout; and strategies to prevent burnout. Literature was drawn from the macro-economic contexts of neoliberalism and new public management since they have a direct impact on social welfare organisations and on the psycho-social functioning of social workers on a day-to-day basis. The study was framed by the job demands resource model of burnout and ecological-systems theory. The job demands resource model was crucial in explaining the development of burnout that is through excessive job demands, and lack of availability of resources. The ecological-systems theory was also appropriate because I wanted to understand how social workers experience burnout and this theory helps to understand burnout from multi-systemic levels. A qualitative research method was used. In-depth interviews were conducted with fifteen participants from three non-governmental organisations with five participants from organisation C, four from organisation B and six from organisation A. The interviews were conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, hence the regulations which were put in place by the government were maintained. Due to this pandemic some of the interview sessions were diverted to individual zoom calls. With the participants’ permission, the sessions were tape-recorded. The material was analysed according to the descriptive research design. The themes that emerged related to factors that predispose social workers to burnout, which include: high workload, the influence of Covid-19, lack of resources and lack of organisational support, and top-down bureaucratic supervision that minimised autonomy on the job. The study concluded that high workload was the major factor which exposed social workers to burnout. Self-care measures and social support strategies emerged as burnout coping strategies that social workers can utilise. Based on the study findings appropriate recommendations are made at personal, organisational and political levels to deal with the effects of burnout and to prevent burnout. Recommendations for further research are also made.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.