“It is rather strange to me that all of us in this room came into this field because we love people, we love to help, we want to make a difference in their lives, and yet, suddenly, we all feel defeated and left with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and, sometimes, even worse than our own clients.” Paul uttered these words with frustration in his voice, as the rest of the group stared at him in disbelief and then at one another and at Rodis, the consultant and group facilitator.
A long silence filled the room. Rodis broke the silence by asking, “What has Paul been showing with his statement?” Guerline, with an angered tone, “Well, Paul is right, except that it is nothing strange. Sometimes I wonder if I was really made for this field. I have been thinking about going back to music, and even that I don’t even feel I have the drive for.”
“It is easy for us to just blame ourselves, make ourselves responsible for something the whole system needs to look at. I just disagree with you, Guerline. When you first started here, you were that joyful and passionate clinician and advocate, staying up late to finish your notes, connecting with your clients on the phone, even on weekends, when we used to go for our run in the park. Have you forgotten all of this; how could you say you were not made for this field? Something happened, but the entire agency needs to be examined, if we really are going to get to the bottom of it,” retorted Tiffany, with her voice raised.
In the first article of this series entitled, Preventing Burn Out: Self-Care for Clinicians and Advocates: 4 Reasons Why, I explained why it is crucial to prevent burn out and promote self-care from the perspective of the patients and clients and from that of the clinician or advocate. The four reasons described where:
- Being present for our patients or clients;
- Responding in lieu of reacting;
- Being able to engage; and
- Career gratification.
In the second article of this series entitled, Preventing Burnout: Self-Care for Clinicians and Advocates: 5 Additional Reasons Why, I described the five following reasons:
- Maintaining or restoring your intrinsic motivation;
- Being and remaining a source of inspiration for others;
- Increase show rate;
- Increase productivity; and
- Decrease liabilities.
These nine reasons in total were from the perspective of the patient and client, the clinician and advocate and from that of the agency. This current article focuses solely on the agency perspective. Discussed below are two more reasons why agencies should work towards preventing burnout and promoting self-care.
Decrease staff conflicts
“I used to be that go-to person, and the experience brought me great pride. However, for the past few months, the front desk staff and my co-workers have been telling me how impatient and ‘different’ I have been, and they have been asking me, ‘Are you okay.’ I never thought the work could have such an impact on me. I could not pinpoint what has been going on, until now, through this group,” stated Albert, sadly.
He went from being a source of inspiration for his co-workers and other staff to a source of complaints for Sylvain, the clinic director. "He has changed…He has been impatient with the front desk staff, and I even heard him arguing with Sabrina in front of his clients,” reported Stephanie to Sylvain, who wondered what might be going on with Albert. Albert had come highly recommended from the HOPE ACT team, and, until recently, he had been a role model at the clinic. Sylvain has been planning to meet with Albert, but to no avail. As a clinic director, he, too, was overwhelmed with intake screenings, high-risk rosters, productivity tracking, treatment plans needing signatures, and discharge summary reviews. And, in addition to all of this, Sylvain was responsible for handling client complaints and staff conflicts. “I feel so tired,” Sylvain said to Rodis.
It becomes a cycle that only gets worse, if not properly addressed. Your team of colleagues can often become one of the motivating and gratifying factors of work. Conflicts among staff affect co-workers and the patients and clients, as well as the supervisors and administrators, and the agency, as a whole. Considering your agency, as a whole, would you like to decrease staff conflicts? It all starts with addressing burnout.
Decrease number of sick days
“I had never believed in calling out sick. I used to wake up, get out of bed and get ready for work, believing I was truly making a difference. At times, my supervisor would scold me, asking why I kept forcing myself to be at work, even when sick. I just felt it was the right thing to do. I had the end in mind, a commitment to my clients and to my agency, and I could not let them down. But things are different now. I drag myself to work every single day, and a simple flu or a migraine flare just knocks me down. I have been calling out sick these past eight months more than I had in all previous years combined, and my doctor does not think there is anything wrong with me.”
These were Guerline’s words, some of them she articulated several times in this group, but still conveyed sadness each time.This sadness was partly explained by the fact that everyone else could identify with her. “I have been calling out sick more often as well. I have been feeling sick most days lately and it’s really annoying,” supported Tiffany. Another part of it is related to Paul’s opening statement, at the start of the group, “Suddenly we are all feeling defeated…”
Excessive number of sick days can lead to decreased productivity, increased staff conflicts, and a decrease in revenues for the agency. As agency leaders, we all should be concerned. The good news related to this, however, burnout is closely linked to the number of sick days taken, and decreasing the number of sick days therefore starts with decreasing burnout.
“Well, Paul is right, except that it is nothing strange. Sometimes I wonder if I was really made for this field. I have been thinking about going back to music, and even that I don’t even feel I have the drive for.” “It is easy for us to just blame ourselves, taking responsibility for what the whole system needs to look at. I just disagree with you, Guerline. When you first started here, you were that joyful person, staying up late to finish your notes, talking on the phone with your clients, even on weekends, when we used to go for run in the park. Did you happen to forget this; how could you say you were not made for this field? Something happened, but the whole agency needs to be examined, if we really need to get to the bottom of it,” retorted Tiffany, with her voice raised, in response to Guerline’s statement.
And so, did we. From an agency perspective, there are a total of five reasons why burnout should be addressed and self-care should be promoted. They include:
- Increase show rate;
- Increase productivity;
- Decrease liabilities;
- Decrease staff conflicts; and
- Decrease number of sick days.
“It is rather strange to me that all of us in this room came into this field because we love people, we love to help, we want to make a difference in their lives, and yet, suddenly, we are all feel defeated and left with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and, sometimes, even worse than our own clients.” Paul uttered these words. It is, indeed, strange.
As leaders, administrators and decision makers, we can either continue to make our staff the excuse or the scapegoat, calling them “lazy” or “always sick” or “millennials;” or we can make the right decision, even when it is a difficult thing to do, to address and prevent burnout in the workplace and promote self-care for all. As the former New York Chapter President of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Robert Schachter, once said, “As agency leaders, we are ethically bound to inform our staff, upon hiring, of the risks of trauma and burnout associated to this work; and we are responsible to help them address it and promote self-care.”
Addressing burn out and promoting self-care is a win-win for agency sustainability, long-term financial viability, reducing staff turnover, and enhancing agency recruitment. Would you like to take the initial steps towards addressing burnout and promoting self-care for your staff? Please contact us, and we will help you get started. Until soon.
Your friend and colleague,
Dr. Sidor is quadruple board certified in psychiatry, with board certification in General adult, Child and adolescent, Addiction, and Forensic, psychiatry. He also has additional training in public psychiatry, in several treatment modalities, in addition to his teaching, supervision, mentorship, and management, experience. Some of his passions are public speaking, leadership, business, and research, in addition to program development and project management. His overall goal is to empower all health care professionals throughout the United States and globally, towards ensuring the continuity of excellent patient care, while balancing the need to take care of themselves. Dr. Sidor is the main instructor for the SWEET Institute, and he is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. He is also the past-Medical Director for CASES (Center for Alternative Sentencing and employment Services), and he speaks and writes fluently in six (4) languages—French, English, Spanish, Creole, and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese and Italian.
- Webster L, Hackett RK. Burnout and leadership in community mental health systems. Adm Policy Ment Health. 1999;26(6):387–399.
- van Dierendonck D, Schaufeli WB, Buunk BP. Burnout and inequity among human service professionals: A longitudinal study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 2001;6(1):43– 52.
- van Dierendonck D, Schaufeli WB, Buunk BP. The evaluation of an individual burnout intervention program: The role of inequity and social support. Journal of Applied Psychology. 1998;83(3):392–407.
- van Dierendonck D, Garssen B, Visser A. Burnout Prevention Through Personal Growth. International Journal of Stress Management. 2005;12(1):62–77.
- Toppinen-Tanner S, Ojajärvi A, Väänänen A, Kalimo R, Jäppinen P. Burnout as a predictor of medically certified sick-leave absences and their diagnosed causes. Behavioral Medicine. 2005;31(1):18–27.
- Taris TW. Is there a relationship between burnout and objective performance? A critical review of 16 studies. Work & Stress. 2006;20(4):316 – 334.
- Siebert DC. Personal and occupational factors in burnout among practicing social workers: Implications for research, practitioners, and managers. Journal of Social Service Research. 2005;32(2):25–44.