Foster care, Residential Care, Staffing issues

How to reduce burnout in OoHC & YJ staff (Part 1): Improve supervision

This is the penultimate post in the series that reviews the evidence for prevention of burnout in OoHC and YJ workers. This and the next post will attempt to summarise ‘what works’ in preventing burnout.

The results

The previous studies (click here and here) suggest that self-care and trauma-informed self-care strategies have a positive effect, but do not impact on burnout. In essence, they assert that:

  • adoption of self-care practices does not always result in reduced burnout
  • there is little evidence to suggest that encouraging staff to participate in such activities increases the participation rate in the activities
  • even if staff participation rate is increased, the results are still modest, i.e. people who participate are still prone to burnout, albeit at lower rate than those who do not participate.

In short, it is likely that there a many other factors that explain why some workers are prone to burnout and they are likely to not be associated with participation in self-care activities.

Analogy: what type of people benefit from psychotherapy?

Psychologists know that people who are psychologically minded are more likely to seek therapy when distressed and are also more likely to benefit from such therapy. It is possible that the same is true for self-care, i.e. people who are aware of any decline in their wellbeing, or are interested in wellbeing generally, are more motivated to take remedial action in the form of self-care activities. People who have no such interest or are not aware of any decline in wellbeing may not be motivated to engage in self-care activities – no matter how much their employer, i.e.  the community service organisation (CSO), promotes such activities.

Should CSOs continue to provide self-care activities and encourage staff to participant in them?


CSOs should continue to support the self-care practices of their staff, despite the modest impact on burnout rates. There are strong moral, industrial and legal reasons to do so.

How else can CSO’s reduce burnout rates?

CSOs should consider two approaches:

  1. improve supervision of their staff
  2. improve recruitment processes to identify people who are motivated to participate in self-care activities. (I will address this issue in my next post.)


Improving the quality of supervision

There is evidence that effective supervision reduces both burnout rates and staff turnover. In my experience, as with people who benefit from psychological therapy, people who benefit from supervision have a particular mindset; namely, they notice areas where their practice can be improved upon and seek appropriate assistance. They are not defensive or in denial about their opportunities for performance improvement. This approach is common in most professions – doctors, lawyers, social workers, psychologists etc.

High quality supervision can reduce burnout rates

Providing effective supervision in CSOs can be problematic for two reasons:

  1. The person providing the supervision is also the line manager of the person receiving supervision. Thus, supervision can be confused with ‘performance appraisal’ and therefore staff may be unwilling to reveal shortfalls in performance and become defensive if such issues are suggested.
  2. Providing effective supervision is a high-level skill and not all CSO line managers have the required skill.


It may be useful for CSOs to engage people other than line managers to provide supervision for staff.[1] Clearly this would increase the cost, however a cost/benefit approach should be strongly considered. This entails comparing the additional cost of providing supervision to the full cost of burnout, e.g. increased Workcover claims, frequency of sick leave, staff turnover generally and the necessity of agency staff recruitment to cover absent staff.

[1] Note I have a conflict of interest in this recommendation. My company McApline-B both trains staff to provide effective supervision and provides coaching to individual OoHC and YJ workers.

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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