Dowsing The Flames Of Burnout



08/26/2009 - Agree to Disagree

08/19/2009 - It’s Lonely at the Top

08/13/2009 - Heroes of the Front Office

The house is quiet. Even all eight of the animals are sleeping, while I’ve been up half the night thanks to my cold medicine … don’t you just love when antihistamines and decongestants combine? Everyone is blissfully sleeping, while I sit here on fire. I’m wallowing in the topic of burnout.

While I have been developing presentations on compassion fatigue, I realize that the term burnout has become widespread in our profession and in fact is much better known than its uglier cousin, compassion fatigue. So we’ll start with burnout. Few of us want to admit that our hearts are tired, although we’ll come to that soon enough.

For now, what exactly is burnout?

The general feeling of exhaustion that develops when a person simultaneously experiences too much pressure and has too few sources of satisfaction. ( Figley & Roop, 2006)

Burnout comes from the place you work. Burnout is a result of frustration, powerlessness and inability to achieve work goals (Kearney et. al., 2009). It centers on six work-related factors: workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values.

When we experience burnout, we become emotionally exhausted, feel cynical, depersonalize or detach from our job, and our work performance suffers.

Hmmm, none of this sounds good for the individual affected, or for the practice. Yet look around and you’ll see it; the newer staff member who hangs up the phone and curses the client for not wanting to pay an exam fee to have her pet seen for a possible emergency; the senior technician who can’t seem to connect with clients on an emotional level anymore; and the assistant who moves slower and slower as time goes on, when he manages to show up for work at all.

While it has been shown that younger caregivers report more stressors and fewer coping strategies, no one is immune.

Sometimes the practice owners and management team are also burned out, so they cannot even recognize the glowing embers that fill the practice. They are actually part of the solution.

Fortunately, the sense of work satisfaction is the antidote to burnout.  Besides attending to the six work-related factors above, it has been proposed that creating a sense of hardiness in our employees and developing good social support networks among our team members can dowse the flames of burnout.

Hardiness is characterized by control, commitment and the ability to identify change as challenge (Figley, 2002). These are traits we cultivate in our team members when we allow them to participate in assigning their work duties and developing personal and professional goals, and be a part of the change process in our practice. Sounds like we might be on the right track with the ever-popular “buy-in” that we aim for.

We talk about “teamwork” and “team building activities” almost to the point of nausea, but it’s true that these elements of hardiness can be enhanced and sustained by positive collegial support. Those who have more time to sustain relationships seem to be less at risk for the negative effects of caregiving. It’s important for these people to have positive relationships. Let’s work together to put a stop to burnout, before we’re all burned up.

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