How to Spot & Prevent Caregiver Burnout
6 symptoms to watch for & 4 things agencies can do to build a supportive environment
by Elizabeth “Betty” Norman

Each day can bring new challenges for caregivers due to the demanding, stressful and emotionally taxing nature of the work. When daily responsibilities begin to add up and take a toll, caregivers can burn out. Burnout can intrude in personal lives, appearing while a caregiver is spending time with friends or family, or it can make its way into professional lives, impacting performance and quality of care. Burnout—a psychological response that’s defined as a “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress”—is different for everyone, but it’s very common. Here are six ways to spot it and four techniques to help your team cope.

Signs & Symptoms of Burnout

The symptoms of burnout could show up individually or collectively. It depends on the individual and how burnout manifests itself. Johns Hopkins Medicine lists six red flags to watch for:

1. Exhaustion & fatigue

Inexplicable exhaustion can be an indicator of burnout—it’s the “physical collapse” described in the definition. If there is no clear reason for exhaustion, such as a long day or a tough workout, it may be time to take a deeper look at what’s going on.

2. Difficulty resting

Tossing and turning or feeling unsettled when it’s time to turn out the lights or waking up still feeling tired can be indicators of impending burnout. When trying to relax, it may be difficult to ease workday stress and turn off thoughts of the day.

3. Loss of focus

Going through the motions of professional and personal life while distracted may result in careless mistakes that lead to accidents or injuries. A mistake made at home while cooking dinner may not be a major problem, but lack of focus while driving or performing tasks such as patient care can be a serious hazard.

4. Uncharacteristic angry outbursts

What would have been a minor inconvenience in the past may now result in an inexplicable burst of anger. This is a clear sign that a caregiver is beyond their capacity for stress. Lowered patience and increased irritability are warning signs of burnout.

5. Withdrawal

When a caregiver reaches burnout, the things they love, enjoy and once prioritized—such as spending time with friends and family or working out—become things they avoid. These pastimes become bothersome and may be identified as distractions from work. Caregiving may be the reason they’ve burned out, but it’s also the one thing they will continue to prioritize.

6. Depression

Depression—a persistent feeling of hopelessness and sadness that can impact sleep patterns, appetite, energy levels, concentration and daily behavior—feeds many of the other symptoms in this list. It’s more than a rough patch or feeling sad, and caregivers experiencing it may not reach out for help, so managers should watch for signs.

How Can Organizations Help?

relief line drawing

Caregivers need to be able to address the emotions behind their work. Providing quality, compassionate care requires them to care about their clients and patients. It requires they engage with patients, involve them in their care, and exceed expectations to enhance comfort. Compassion means caregivers will bond with their clients, which can make losing a patient difficult. While professionalism must be maintained, caregivers need to have an outlet for the emotion they experience when they suffer the loss of a patient they’ve been working with for an extended period of time. The loss of a patient or client isn’t the only reason for professional caregiver burnout—it can occur for a variety of reasons, such as emotional exhaustion, stress or lack of support from management or family members. Here are four potential ways to implement a support system for your team:

1. Create an open-door policy

This policy provides team members with an outlet when they’re facing a difficult time or believe they may be approaching burnout. Having someone to talk to may help staff members realize it’s time to address their stress levels and develop a plan to prevent burnout.

2. Host training sessions

Spottingthe signs and symptoms of burnout falls mostly to individuals. Caregivers know best if there are changes in their own behavior, sleeping patterns and ability to focus. Educating your team about the signs and symptoms and the steps to take can help them better identify and address the problem.

3. Form bereavement groups

When your team members lose a client, it can feel like they have lost a friend. They’ve been present for tough moments and cheered even the smallest triumphs. A loss can pack a punch and ignoring the emotion associated with it will not help the caregiver or their current clients. A small group session may provide the perfect outlet for your staff to express the pain of the loss and help them through the grief process.

4. Provide the resources they need

If a team member has reached burnout, they may need more significant resources than you can offer in the office. Provide them with a comprehensive list of therapists in the area. Add details about grief counseling groups that can be found nearby and notes on how to contact administrators. This would also be a great place to provide signs of caregiver burnout and details on what efforts could help them get through this tough time. Professional caregivers may try to push through burnout, but that will only exacerbate the problem. It can be hard for a professional to admit they might need more help. As a leader in a caregiving organization, you can create an atmosphere in which your staff can admit what they’re facing. By doing so, you’re helping your team, clients, patients and organization be better and stronger. Your organization may not be able to provide all of the recommendations above, but begin by trying one or two and see the difference it makes for your staff. Be the outlet they need, embrace their experiences and work together to continue providing compassionate care.