stress in social care

How To Manage Stress And Burnout In Social Care

by | May 3, 2018

The care sector is a challenging and tough place to work and it’s also well known that there is a higher than average level of stress than most other sectors.  There is lots written about stress in care but not quite as much action taken by organisations and individuals themselves to reduce it. So why is that? Well, everyone is busy, and it’s not often spotted until there is a serious issue. This, very typical reason is either an excuse or wellbeing is not as high a priority as many organisations claim it to be.

I want to offer some tips of what you can do to reduce stress and burnout in yourself and your care environment and focus on a few key areas; what stress and burnout actually is and what the overriding causes of it are, both at leadership and individual level.

I’ll also draw attention to safeguarding, compliance issues and the influence on performance and staff retention that stress has.  Finally, I’ll address what you can do about stress and burnout and how you can create a culture of wellbeing, calm and positive energy. This may sound a bit Zen but stay with me and we will make it a more an accepted norm than something you may think is from a hippy yoga retreat.

What is stress and burnout?

Stress can be both positive and negative, but we tend to think if it more in terms of negative stress. When we create anxiety and stress our mind and body can break down and not function as efficiently.

The positive side of stress is when it stimulates us to perform efficiently within our capacity and this links with very positive emotions like motivation and happiness.

Both positive and negative stress are very closely linked to emotions. So, question… Guess who owns your emotions… Yes you!  So, why do we let someone or something else influence them? “It’s out of my control” we say. Well actually, there is always choice and action you can take, along with developing your resilience and grit.

Why stress and burnout are often self-inflicted

Let’s take a look at some of the typical cause and effects of stress among social care workers and why it is often your own doing… Yes your own fault!  The reason I say this is because in almost every situation when I have worked with someone who was stressed or burned out, there was something that they could have done to either eliminate or reduce it.

There is also a spiral of factors that can link and create more stress and burnout.  In a negative scenario the mind and body will respond to pressure, both from yourself and from others and may come to a point where they may fail to operate efficiently or even breakdown. Pause for thought…

– What is currently influencing the force and pressure that you are being subjected to? Is it you?

– What are you doing that is building the pressure.

– To what extent are you self-criticising over issues and failure?

– If it’s not coming from you then is it a direct result of an external factor like workload, a boss or partner?

Why carers are a sucker for burnout

A common pattern we see within the care sector is managers and carers who take too much on. The people who seem to get burned out are the highly motivated individuals and team who go beyond what might be expected. It’s a fact that lazy people do not usually get burned out and tired!

So why do care staff?  Well there is a clue in the job title… they care. Combine that with a very natural character of putting everyone else first they will then leave themselves vulnerable to over-load and tiredness.

A few other common traits are that carers often have a clear understanding of what they must do. They may also lack the ability to ask for help, especially as they think it should be them helping others.

So, a combination of high motivation, self-neglect, everything is important except me and poor support is a sure way to get burned out. With burnout then comes a scenario of poor coping skills around things that might normally be easy to do, like dealing with certain difficult people or tasks.

Ingredients for a stress cocktail

This cause and effect is a spiral that can go out of control because once you start getting tired and stressed it can have the following impact:

  1. Problem-solving slows and becomes less accurate
  2. Intuition and senses of people and in an environment diminishes
  3. Lateral-thinking becomes very difficult and is neglected

The above combination then impacts on critical role-related performance areas such as safeguarding and compliance, tolerance, and other important people skills. And when this happens we get even more stressed and the spiral continues down until we find an intervention to recover.

The fact is almost all incidents of safeguarding or inappropriate behaviour will be traced back to human error with a large proportion being attributed to poor coping, negative attitude, stress and burnout.

Why leadership is the key to reducing stress

Leadership plays a massive part in this along with an organisational structure because far too often the leadership and culture fail to support and manage the energy and wellbeing of the staff.

At this point many of you will blame things such as a lack of resilience in staff or even bosses above you, so it may be worth reflecting on the following questions:

-Why is this really happening?

-What could I do differently?

-What is being done to increase the staff’s resilience?

-What wellbeing policies are being implemented to ensure high wellbeing and health?

I come across far too many organisations who talk the talk but continue to fail in leading people effectively or have an inadequate wellbeing system in place. Our research has found a correlation between a lack of focus on wellbeing and the retention of staff, which again leads to a burden on others and the negative spiral continues.

In essence; leadership, self-leadership (by all) and a good culture will be critical factors to stress and wellbeing.

Now we have opened up this topic try have a think about the points raised. Cause, effect, leadership, culture and retention and get a feel for the links that are directly impacting on your own organisation.

Look out for Part 2 where I will look at strategies to create a wellbeing culture and how to develop a robust staff force who think like leaders.

Curious about how you could spot stress or burnout in your employees? If you’re interested in hearing more about how the Judgement Index could support your organisation with hiring the right people, developing your teams, spotting future leaders and retaining talent then why not get in touch today?

Every company is unique and every client of ours is different, and after finding out more about you and your business we will bring the Judgement Index to life for you with a free sample or trial. Contact us by phone or email for more information.

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About the Author

Rob Coulthard

Rob is an experienced leadership consultant, trainer and coach and has delivered analysis and training workshops for a variety of organisations around the world. He fulfilled all his military ambitions during his 26 years in the British Army having progressed from boy soldier to a commissioned officer. In 2008 he was introduced to the Judgement Index and the concept of assessing values to predict performance and risk, for the benefit of individuals and teams. Having travelled to the USA to learn more he subsequently returned to the UK and founded the Judgement Index UK in tandem with his USA business associates. Rob now concentrates on facilitating dramatic changes in the organisations he works with, in staff retention, culture and quality of performance. He is a firm believer in generating responsibility at all levels, flexible charismatic leadership and good judgement. Rob is an experienced speaker, having delivered seminars and workshops for The Association of Project Managers Annual Conference, The Sports Analytics Conference at the Manchester University Business School, The Major Projects Association, The Defence Sector Exhibition and various care sector exhibitions including The Care and Dementia Show and Health Plus Care. Rob lives with his family in their old thatch cottage on Salisbury Plain and counts among his hobbies cooking, red wine and keeping the latter in check by physical training.

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