Social workers' emotional labour with families in poverty: Neoliberal fatigue?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines the emotional labour of social workers serving families living in poverty. Based on in-depth interviews and focus groups, the study concentrates on frontline social workers' emotions when faced with increasing levels of poverty, growing caseloads, and neoliberal social policies in Israel. Findings highlight 3 interrelated aspects of the emotional labour of social workers involved with impoverished families: (a) the emotional flooding social workers experience in their professional routines, (b) the various practices of emotional labour they use to cope with the emotional backlash of their encounters with these families including emotional numbness, emotional Othering, and emotional splitting, and (c) confirmation of the harmful influence of institutional policies on their emotional well-being and ability to respond effectively to the increasing demands of their clients. Based on Hochschild's theory of emotional labour, we maintain that social workers' emotions should be studied in the context of a specific social, institutional, and political background.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-512
Number of pages9
JournalChild and Family Social Work
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In Israel, local municipalities, supported by funding from local and national governments, supply most welfare services. The national government regulates the delivery of services but the local welfare bureaus are sovereign in the development of services within this framework. The government committee established to eradicate poverty recommended reducing the caseload of those working with impoverished families. According to official assessments, the number of cases per social worker is four times more than the ideal workload (250–400 cases per social worker).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • burnout
  • emotional labour
  • neoliberalism
  • poverty
  • social services
  • welfare services

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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