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Does talking to work colleagues about stress increase the risk of burnout?

Today’s post continues the series on the causes of job burnout and turnover of staff in OoHC and YJ roles. The last post reviewed the impact of trauma informed self-care on burnout. This study1 looks at the impact of job demands on burnout.

As with previous posts, this study reviews the causes of burnout in child welfare workers in the US, known as  child protection staff in Australian .

Job Demands and Resources (JD-R) model

The (JD-R) model is used to explain burnout. A demand is described as the physical, psychological, or emotional efforts required to fulfil job responsibilities. A  resource on the other hand is a physical, psychological, or social effort that facilitates the completion of work goals or the development of the employee.

Work-related burnout vs client-related burnout

The study distinguishes between two types of burnout:

  • Work related burnout refers to fatigue and exhaustion resulting from the amount of work required to be completed in limited time or with limited resources.
  • Client-related burnout embodies burnout specifically linked to work with traumatised clients.

I will focus on the results of client-related burnout as they are most relevant to residential care workers, YJ workers etc.

The Results

The study found that emotional/psychological demands of working with traumatised clients increased the risk of burnout – but the effect was relatively small. This implies that there are other factors, not measured by the study, that contribute to burnout.

Mitigating factors

Appropriate supervision and professional linkages, such as contact with professionals or agencies outside the work place, decreased client-related burnout. Surprisingly they also found that peer support can increase the risk of burnout:

Perhaps workers exacerbate their burnout symptoms by “venting” with a co-worker

Conclusion

I am not surprised that peer support may increase chances of job burnout. Too often such discussions follow the ‘aren’t it awful!’ approach or ‘management doesn’t support us!’. Both of these promote a sense of helplessness which increases the risk of burnout.

As with other studies, single factors, for example,  time pressure to complete required work, or a group of related factors, for example peer support, supervision , only explain a small proportion of the causes of burnout.

However, consistent with other studies, effective supervision was associated with less burnout.

Next Post

I will try and summarise the findings of the last three posts in to ‘what works’ to reduce job turnover and job burnout.

  1. He, A. S., et al. (2018). “Examining internal and external job resources in child welfare: Protecting against caseworker burnout.” Child Abuse & Neglect 81.

About graemembaird

I am a psychologist with a special interest in improving the outcomes of families, children and young people in the Out of Home Care and Juvenile Justice systems.
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