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Burnout in social care

Mark Topps reveals the signs and causes of burnout and ways you can tackle these to best support your team's mental health and your own wellbeing.

A close up shot of a young man wearing a black jumper, with their eyes shut and their left hand pressed against the left hand side of their face.
Mark Topps
Mark Topps
Regional Business Manager
Published on:
11/3/2022
· Last Edited On:
9/6/2022
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8-minute read

Part of our ‘Let’s talk about…’ mental health and wellbeing series

Burnout is a condition experienced by workers and other professionals, in which they develop depression-like symptoms as a result of aspects of their role.

In this column, I’ll be looking at some of the signs of burnout and what you can do to prevent this in yourself and your teams.

Signs of burnout

In 2019, burnout was recognised by the World Health Organisation as an ‘occupational phenomenon’, with common signs being:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Mental and/or emotional exhaustion
  • Feeling tired, drained and having no energy
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feelings of deflation
  • Having a negative view of life
  • Self-doubting decisions and choices
  • Feeling alone.

Causes of burnout in social care

I could list a lot of things here, but want to draw particular attention to the pandemic.

COVID-19

When COVID hit, we were plunged into a world of the unknown, trying to juggle the fine line between work and home life. Many of us had to pick up additional shifts to cover our colleagues who were self-isolating or on leave and do longer hours to plug the gaps.

We’re still feeling the impact of this now, especially in the wake of mandate vaccinations and the impact this has had on staff retention and morale.

There simply aren’t enough staff and it’s no shock that many of our colleagues are going on sick leave to recuperate from trying to fill the shortfall.

Other factors

Many other factors can also lead to burnout, including:

  • Financial concerns
  • Working from home
  • Concerns around job security
  • Isolation
  • Physical health
  • Sleep
  • Relationships.

It’s crucial we know how these elements and others can play a part in our mental health and stress levels.

Ways you can tackle burnout

It’s vital we start by supporting ourselves, because if you can’t care for yourself, how can you care for someone else?

Here are some steps you can take:

  • Know your limitations and that it’s okay to say no (e.g., not picking up that extra shift you’ve been asked to cover)
  • Talk about burnout and remove the stigma
  • Eat a balanced diet (three meals a day, avoiding high sugar foods) and stay hydrated throughout the day
  • Get plenty of sleep (I know this one is easier said than done, especially if you have children!)
  • Keep active
  • Learn how to identify and manage stress
  • Know what makes you happy and do more of that
  • Know what makes you unhappy and do less of that
  • Utilise support that’s available from your employer or via the NHS, alongside wellbeing apps
  • Unplug during non-working hours.
"If you can’t care for yourself, how can you care for someone else?"

Support your teams

If you’re an employer, here are some steps you can take to support your teams:

  • Identify all the factors contributing to staff burnout and discuss available support.
  • Develop a good workplace culture:
  • Make sure the voices of the workforce are heard.
  • Show staff that they’re valued (remember, this doesn’t always need to cost money)
  • Focus on developing a workplace focused on wellbeing
  • Celebrate good practice
  • Talk about burnout and remove the stigma
  • Speak about support on a regular basis
  • Put wellbeing plans into place, this can include:
  • Wellbeing policies
  • Adding wellbeing support into supervisions
  • Supporting staff to make their own wellbeing plans
  • Counselling support/signposting services
  • Offer hybrid working (if this is possible for your service)
  • Upskill staff to become mental health champions, who can drive change in the workplace and support their colleagues.

If you’re not sure how to start a conversation, take a look at these resources by Mental Health UK.

Put yourself first

It’s important that leaders and managers put steps into place to ensure that people are protecting themselves. If not, we’ll see the impact on our teams and staff retention, both of which will be very damaging for those we support and will put more pressure on staff that are left standing.

Remember, take care of your own mental and physical health, because without yours, you won’t be able to support others and do the job you love.

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