Preventing burnout in long-term care (McKnight’s LTC News)

Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:


Preventing burnout in long-term care

In my recent post, “Stuff I won’t do for residents and why your staff shouldn’t either,” I wrote about the need for individual workers to set appropriate boundaries around caregiving in order to retain the ability to give without burning out. In this article, I examine more closely the symptoms of burnout and ways facilities can reduce its likelihood — which is particularly important given the link between burnout and turnover.

Employers find burnout reflected in high levels of absenteeism and tardiness, extended sick leave, and an increase in worker’s compensation claims. Employees might notice symptoms such as stress-related medical conditions (for example, ulcers or headaches), reduced job satisfaction, feelings of depression, anxiety, cynicism, boredom, discouragement and loss of compassion.

One study found that burned out staff were more likely to be accepting of resident abuse (Shinan-Altman and Cohen, 2009).

What is burnout?
In my research, I came across a number of definitions of burnout. Some definitions, like this early description by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, focus on the role of the individual:

Burnout is “a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that has failed to produce the expected reward.” People most likely to burn out are those who are the most “dedicated and committed to their positions, have poor work boundaries and who have an over excessive need to give.”


Other explanations of burnout focus on the environment, such as this one by Pines and Aronson (1988): Burnout is “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.”

It’s probable that most burnout is due to a combination of a stressful work environment and an individual’s difficulty balancing self-care with their commitment to their jobs.

Techniques to reduce burnout
The good news for management is that many of the causes of burnout can be addressed by the organization, whether they are due to the environment or rooted in the individual.

1. Training workers, including enhancing the initial orientation process and providing ongoing education programs that go beyond mandated courses, can address many factors that contribute to burnout. Studies suggest the following:

Orientation classes should provide clear job expectations and address ways to prioritize job tasks in order to reduce time pressures.
Managerial staff such as nurses and department heads would benefit from skills training to better help them supervise and manage their teams.
Team building efforts can improve relationships with coworkers and reduce professional isolation.
Training staff on how to manage aggressive behaviors reduces the stress of working with a verbally and physically aggressive population.

2. Scheduling issues are another area where management can make a significant impact on burnout through:

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Preventing burnout in long-term care


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