Social Workers’ Experiences of Psychological and Physical Violence at the Workplace

Keywords: social worker, psychological and physical distress, social development, workplace violence, workplace aggression


Physical and psychological workplace violence perpetrated against social workers by clients and their acquaintances is a global reality. However, it is rarely discussed as social workers are trained to be client-centred, meaning that they prioritise the care and well-being of others above all else. In South Africa, the awareness of, and academic interest in, workplace violence and aggression are growing, particularly because employees are experiencing increased psychological distress and frustration. Despite this, there remains a dearth of research that investigates workplace violence perpetrated against social workers by clients. This qualitative study explored the experiences of 15 social workers and 3 key informants regarding workplace violence at a South African State Department in the Limpopo province. The study used interviews guided by a semi-structured interview schedule. Purposive sampling was used, and data were analysed using a thematic content analysis. The findings reveal that the participants understood the concept of workplace violence and had directly and/or indirectly been exposed to physical and more frequently psychological forms of workplace violence. Interventions and prevention mechanisms include increasing security in workplaces, training, counselling and education on workplace violence.

Author Biographies

Kgashane Johannes Malesa, University of South Africa

Department of Social Work- Lecturer

Roshini Pillay, University of the Witwatersrand

Department of Social work