Being a youth worker is an extremely rewarding job, in fact, has been the best job I have ever had.

In the past I have worked in some uninspiring jobs such as car body repair, aluminium die casting, Tele-sales and worked 12 hour shifts in a food processing factory. All the while, I maintained a connection with my local youth centre, but just never considered youth work as a career.

I have now found that nothing has given me more job satisfaction than working with young people, even when they have been completely off the wall, uncooperative, challenging and down right rude.

Don’t get me wrong, some evenings I came home emotionally drained, frustrated, angry or upset following a tough session. But I would never trade this field to work in another industry.


So what is the catch?

They say that every cloud has a silver lining and every gem has its flaws.

Within youth work practice, the most challenging part of the job I know that many youth workers struggle with, is working four evenings a week.

I came into youth work as a young man with no family commitments. As the years past, my family expanded and my time became very precious. So committing to four evenings a week became difficult. But how did I survive this?

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I would like to share with you seven tips you could implement to help you survive the four evening regime.

1. Enjoy the job

This is one of the most important factors to making working four evening less gruelling and I am always shocked when I meet youth workers who obviously don’t like working with young people.

This is an oxymoron.

As cold as it may sound, my advice to these people is get out as quick as you can. Not only for you own well-being but for the sake of the young people. They deserve better.

If you enjoy working with young people, then working four evenings is easy. I know youth workers who would work more if they could. I used to do four evenings for my employer and one evening voluntary supporting a local church group.  And I did it because I enjoyed it.


2. Make it enjoyable.

If you find that your passion for the job is dwindling, then look for ways to make it enjoyable. Find inspiration from other places. Speak to other youth workers to see what they are currently working on. Bring other people in to delivery projects. Challenge yourself and try new things, or re use something you delivered in the past that you really enjoyed.

I remember one occasion when I was caught off guard and I had not adequately prepared for a session. The core group of young people, mainly made up boisterous teenage boys, was already outside the centre, and I had nothing planned.

Now I must admit I have never been very good at Arts, however, we had a store cupboard in the youth centre loaded with arts resources. So I just pulled out a variety of items, laid them out on the table and let the young people in. to my surprise, the group came in the centre, had a look around, spotted the Arts equipment and ran straight over and got stuck in without any direction from me or the staff team. We all thoroughly enjoyed the session and I was impressed at just how creative and artistic some of the group members were.


3. Set goals for each session. 

Session planning is an integral part of youth work delivery. The session plan should be contributed to by the entire team before every session as this helps give clarity and direction to the team and also helps to monitor your progress.

Having goals for each session helps you to focus and that focus will make a three hour session fly by.

Although I do believe there is a place for spontaneity and natural development of ideas and projects, not having an initial plan in place can leave you open and left in a compromised position.

An example of some simple session’s goals could be:

  • Learn something new about ten young people in the session
  • Let the young people interview you
  • Share a skill or interest with the group and offer to teach them the basics
  • Ask a young person what their skills or interest are and ask them to teach you the basics

You get the idea. It does not have to always be a structured lengthy programme


4. Start your day later

This is something I put in place very early when becoming a full time youth worker, but I am still surprised to see youth workers coming in at9:30amand working through until10:00pm. This is unsustainable and will lead to burnout.

If I know I am working an evening I try to ensure my diary is kept clear and I don’t come in until 12:00pm and I encourage my staff to do the same.

If your organisation uses Outlook or an equivalent online diary system, one tip is to block out the time for the days you want to come in later and label it ‘Personal appointment’. This will stop people placing appointment in your diary.


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5. Let other agencies know your work pattern

This tip links to the tip above. If you have a lot of meetings scheduled with partners from other agencies, it is useful to inform them of your working pattern.

Often times, meetings are planned for 9:30 – 10:00am start, and the majority of partners who attend the meeting finish work at 5:30pm.

During the meeting, inform the group that your core hours are different to most, and if they want you to continue to contribute to the meeting, it would be helpful if you could agree a later starting time.

Any meetings I chair, which I know youth workers will be attending, I schedule for 2:00-4:00pm. This fits in nicely after lunch and also gives the youth worker time to prepare before the evening session


6. Consider a voluntary reduction of hours

This is not an idea solution for the employer as it does have an impact on staffing arrangements, however, it is important that employees have an adequate work – life balance that works for them and also takes the service requirements into consideration.

Most employers offer this option on a six month period, for a maximum of twelve month and it would be reviewed every three months.

I have recently had four full time workers reduce their hour for different reasons. Some have gone from 37 hours per week down to 27 other have gone down to 20 hours, after returning from maternity leave.

If this is something you would consider, you need to be aware that it will, impact your salary. 


7. Make the most of your free time.

Now I don’t think I need to say too much here, as I know youth workers know how to unwind. But I just want to encourage you to make the most of your free time.

Enjoy the time you have off work, as the job can get demanding and grind you down, especially in this ‘more for less’ climate.

Rest, play, socialize, travel, visit friends, read, blog, do whatever you enjoy, and make the most of it.

If you are a family person, then working four evenings can have a significant impact on your relationships, including your partner and your children. I have learnt to make plans in advance to do things together. Book a table to eat out, plan for family days out or activities you can all do together. Make the most of the small things like washing the car together or all helping out in the garden.

Whatever you do, ensure that you don’t squander the time you have to spend together.


If you have any more ideas of how to survive the four evening youth work week then please share them below in the comments section below.

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