Burnout Prevention in Human Services

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The Individual Human Services Workers Role in Burnout Prevention Casey L. Sheppard
Saint Petersburg College

Human service professionals face a wide variety of complex and often distressing problems as a regular part of their job. Because of the excessive amount of stressors related to work in this field, the profession often takes its toll on ill-prepared workers in the form of burnout. For the purposes of this document, a definition of burnout put forth by Dr. Christina Maslach and Dr. Michael Leiter will be utilized. In their book The Truth About Burnout, Dr. Maslach and Dr. Leiter define burnout as,” the index of the dislocation between what people are and what they have to do. It represents an erosion in values, dignity, spirit, and will -- an erosion of the human soul” (Maslach & Leiter, 1997). Multiple factors contribute to a person arriving at a place of professional burnout. Many of these factors are beyond the control of the individual. Some of these are management styles, financial compensation, society’s view of workers in the human services field, and employer expectations. However, the worker can influence and even control many burnout factors. Those factors, and how the individual human services worker can manage them successfully to prevent burnout, will be the topic of this paper. Human services workers, more than the members of most job groups, entirely involve the emotional, intellectual, and physical aspects of themselves in their work. Due to the variety of skills and knowledge required of them, workers know there is always more to be learned, practiced, and applied to provide the best possible outcomes for the client. The fact that human beings are the central common ingredient in this work guarantees the need for emotional intelligence in social interaction, with customers, personnel from other agencies, and coworkers. Human services workers must have well developed sensitivity to both verbal and nonverbal communication, and they need to possess nurturing skills. Another required form of emotional intelligence is the ability to accept one’s limitations, and the setting and maintaining of healthy boundaries in all areas of life. Intellectual skills are required for documentation, time management, treatment planning, and successful attainment of required academic degrees. Staying aware of new approaches to treatment through ongoing formal classroom education, membership in professional organizations, and reading academic journals are also intellectual requirements for the successful worker. The physical demands of the work may go underappreciated, as they are subtle in their nature. Long hours of sitting, working at a computer terminal, the need for accurate listening at all times, and interruptions in biological patterns of sleep and rest due to professional responsibilities arising at the least convenient times, all take their toll. Because emotional, mental, and physical stressors affect the entire person as a regular part of their professional life, it is vital that a worker seeking to prevent burnout be prepared with skills to address each of these stress factors.” It is important to note, though, that no matter how one breaks down the dimensions of self-care, in the end, all of these different aspects are interconnected. Failure to take care of oneself in one realm can lead to consequences in another” ( Wilkerson, Ray, Guilbride, H & Clingerman, 1995). Professional self-care is the term currently in use to express the skills and activities that are burn out preventers. The focus of self-care is on management of those factors within the control of the human service worker. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) makes clear in their policy statement that self-care as realized by education, self-awareness, and commitment is key to a social workers ability to preform his/her job duties in a professional and ethical manner. NASW goes on to express the need for numerous policies to...
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