Careers in social work are vast and varied. To create systems within the field, there are levels of social work that are accepted and understood by all social workers. These levels allow social workers to define their role and the larger system they’re part of. If you’re interested in social work but unsure what type of role you’d enjoy, consider which level of social work best suits your skills and interests.
The three levels of social work include macro, mezzo, and micro.
- Micro social work is smaller units like families or relationships.
- Mezzo social work describes medium sized systems like a community.
- Macro social work is the larger system and policy involved in social work.
Social workers might find their primary duties within one level of social work, but most social workers are part of each level in some way.
Micro-Level Social Work
Micro-level social work describes the small units or systems that a social worker’s primary duties exist within. At this level, social workers work directly with their clients in very small groups or one on one. This level is the most intimate of the three levels of social work.
If you’re interested in micro-level social work, you can expect to work with individuals and/or small groups like families. At this level, you might find yourself in roles like mental health counseling, crisis intervention or individual case management. You could be counseling a child through their parent’s divorce or working to find shelter for someone facing housing insecurity.
It’s especially important that you establish a strong rapport and sense of trust with your client at the micro level of social work. Due to its personal nature, you must be especially good at relationship building with your clients.
At the same time, deep relationship building can lead to a quicker rate of social work burn out. Social workers are no stranger to burn out but at the micro level, it's more likely. As you create an open line of trust with the client, their stressors and vulnerabilities can feel very personal. For that reason, it’s important to practice self-care if you’re regularly in the micro level of social work.
Mezzo-Level Social Work
Like the name suggests, “mezzo” is the middle level of social work. At this level, social workers can be found helping communities, schools, teams, or organizations. Their day-to-day life is less one-on-one communication than at the micro level but still includes personal work.
The levels of social work vary in size, but like the micro and macro levels, the mezzo-level of social work still leaves plenty of room for service and empathy. In mezzo social work, you could be in a school setting working with accommodation education for teachers or you might work in a hospital setting creating programming for patients. At the mezzo level, you’re very likely to also be in the micro and macro levels of social work on any given day.
At the mezzo level you are more likely to collaborate across organizations and with other professionals than you would at other levels of social work. If you’re open to some administrative work and organizing, working at the mezzo level of social work might be right for you.
Macro-Level Social Work
The last of the different levels of social work is the macro level. At this level, you’re involved in the policy and governmental systems that play a larger role in the lives of entire communities and regions. For example, social workers at this level work in policy advocacy, research, and administration roles.
At the macro level of social work, you’ll often have a role in shaping the policies that inform work at the mezzo and micro levels. Macro-level social work could also include roles in nonprofit administration and leadership.
If you’re interested in macro-level social work, be prepared to for roles in lobbying, research, administration, or analysis, and know that this means your interaction on the personal level will probably be limited. If you’d like to make a big impact and are content with very little client work, this might be the level of social work for you.
The Power of Social Work at Every Level
The three levels of social work collaborate together to create a more just and equitable society. They intertwine to tackle issues on every personal, community, and societal level.
If you’re wondering which level suits you best, consider your skills and interests.
- If you find joy working directly with people or groups, you might consider the micro level.
- If you think your skills are better suited for work behind the scenes to create a widespread difference, you should consider the macro level.
- If both options sound like something you’d enjoy, you should consider the mezzo level.
Whichever level you land in, know that your impact will be felt across the levels of social work. Your day-to-day work may be within one level of social work but you can expect to work in the other two throughout your career as well.
Understanding your role within the larger context equips you to make the most significant and lasting contributions to society. When the different levels of social work collaborate and play to their own strengths, the world becomes a better place. All social workers can agree, the goal is to serve others with empathy, understanding, and commitment regardless of the level they exist within.
Wondering which level suits you best? Find a social work career that fits your passions and goes beyond stereotypes about the profession — take the Beyond the Stereotypes: Finding Your Own Path With an MSW to see your options based on you!