Runnin' on Empty


*Read the 1st part of this topic:  Preventing Burnout


Burnout is quite real, and goes farther than just having some workplace stress. 

If you think of Time as your biggest commodity (psst....it is), and your talent, energy, effort, intellect, as your "Tool Kit", then what we all want is to spend our Time investing or using our tools in ways that are satisfying and fulfilling. Right?
Right.

Burnout is the process of spending too much Time doing things that don't properly utilize your unique Tool Kit. 

There are parts of my job that are AMAZING, and then there are parts that are stressful and not-so-great.
Constantly changing employer expectations are not so great. Seeing clients severely reduce, or completely discontinue, needed therapy services due to funding issues is not so great. Working for/under incompetent people is not so great. Striving to meet unrealistic funding source requirements is not so great.

But stressors will come and go, and in an ideal scenario: the impact of this stress does not exceed the enjoyment and satisfaction the job provides.

When those scales tip out of balance (stress/fatigue/frustration has exceeded any benefit of the job), THIS is when you have entered burnout territory. And it's critical not just to recognize you have entered into burnout, but to do something about it.

Come on, we're behavior people. Action steps are just what we do. :-) 

According to the my brain (aka in my opinion), there are 2 main culprits for why burnout not only happens but may even go unnoticed for weeks..months..years. I see both as systemic issues that contribute to the rapid turnover common to this field:


Issue #1: You - Yup, you. Did you fall into the harmful way of thinking that once you became certified, you now wear an invisible cape and can solve all problems? Or, did you enter this field thinking you could be ALL things to ALL people? Both assumptions are incorrect, and inevitably harmful because of the let down that will occur when you realize that you actually are not without flaw. Like many other caring/serving professions, such as teachers, social workers, etc., ABA professionals often place unrealistic expectations on themselves to be perfect, to know everything, and to be able to help everyone. That just isn't possible, and placing impossible to acquire expectations on yourself just sets you up for failure. It is crucial to know/establish your professional identity, and discover how you can best use your unique gifts in this field. ~ If you have no idea what I mean by professional identity, this training video may be helpful~  Do you work best with younger or older clients? Which parts of the day are you most productive? What type of staff personalities do you mesh well with, and which types are like combining oil and water?? As providers/practitioners, we are all different, with varying strengths and weak areas, and sometimes what feels like professional burnout can really be the result of a client that needs to be referred out, a lack of support or training for your role, or a company that doesn't need/is unwilling to recognize what you have to offer.

Issue #2: Your Employer - Many, not all of course, but many, ABA employers have systems and procedures in place that actually can encourage professional burnout. When employees feel isolated from colleagues and distant from ownership/management, or when unrealistic caseload expectations are presented as being non-optional, staff will try to rely on their smarts and training to get them through these challenges. But sometimes, it isn't the staff that needs to change, it's the system that needs to change. How well does your employer evaluate staff for signs of professional burnout? Are boundaries or guardrails put in place so that staff are not experiencing excessive driving, highly variable scheduling, regularly dealing with resistant or uninvolved client families, or working 12 hour days 6-7 days a week? Does the work culture intentionally promote cooperation, teamwork, and open communication? How much time is spent getting to know each individual staff so that cases can be matched based on expertise and experience level, not just based on availability? Can staff (no matter their position) directly access management to voice complaints, or even just vent? How are interpersonal conflicts addressed? If at all?? Or, do direct staff know that complaining about people higher up than them will lead to swift retaliation? All of these issues can lead to staff who feel devalued and unappreciated on a regular basis, and how effective can that person be in their position if they think what they do doesn't matter to anyone?



I see burnout as a symptom of a larger issue (think of how your body uses pain to signal to you that something is wrong), and that issue is usually a lack of Goodness-of-Fit. There are people perfectly content to wash dishes for a living, and there are people in high paying corporate jobs who are miserable. So this issue has to be about more than just what you do for a living.

Once you know what to look for, it is easy to see traits in yourself (or systems your employer has in place) that contribute to a perpetual state of job dissatisfaction and discontentment. 
The question at that point would be: what to do about it.


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