Strategies for avoiding burnout in aged care

Aged care workers need to grow and maintain their energy and wellbeing reserves, writes Alison Coughlan.

Aged care workers need to grow and maintain their energy and wellbeing reserves, writes Alison Coughlan.

Prior to COVID-19, burnout in the health and social care sector was a brewing epidemic of its own threatening these individuals, teams and organisations.

This issue has grown in alarming ways in the past year and for the aged care sector workforce and its workplaces in particular.

As we move through 2021, we face new challenges as we seek to maintain our services and respond to the health and social impacts of the past year.

Alison Coughlan

Seeking to keep our heads above water to deliver quality services and support whilst our own energy and wellbeing are at critically low levels.

Whilst we are educated about the importance of self-care from early in our careers, all too often we are not proactive in managing our stress and prioritising our personal wellbeing.

We may freely give advice to others that we fail to take heed of ourselves.

What we witness, and the emotions that we feel as we go about our work, can drain us of our energy and wellbeing. The separation between work and the rest of our life can blur.

Our work can impact our life both positively and negatively. And our personal challenges can also impact our capacity to sustain the energy and wellbeing we need for our work.

It is onlythrough a focus on your wellbeing and working to get yourself to a place where your energy and wellbeing are optimised that you will be able to sustain yourself in your work.

Many years ago, I read a book called How Full Is Your Bucket? This book presents a simple metaphor of a bucket with a dipper, with the bucket being your stores of positive emotions, and the dipper reflecting interactions and experiences with others where they either take from or add to your bucket.

Think about a simple bucket as your stores of energy and wellbeing. There are things that fill your bucket – they give you energy, make you feel positive and add value to your life. There are things that drain your bucket – they sap your energy and vitality, and leave you feeling depleted.

You can’t avoid drains on your energy – having to do things that you don’t like doing, having difficult conversations, dealing with conflict, loss, grief and challenges in work and life. But the things is, if your bucket is draining quicker than it is filling, it is going to empty.

You need to reduce the drain on your energy and wellbeing reserves and build the in-flows. Take a moment to focus in on you, reflect on the following questions and commit to taking action:

  • What are your bucket drainers? These are the things that sap your energy and leave you feeling depleted? Which of these can you avoid, reduce or remove and how? Which of these are worsened by the meaning you place on them or how you respond? Could you choose to respond differently and find some relief?
  • What are your bucket fillers? These are things that light you up, make you smile, bring you joy and make you feel energised? Could you plan to do more of those things in the coming days and weeks to bring some relief?
  • What three actions do you commit to taking that will help to maintain and grow your much needed energy and wellbeing reserves?

Burnout should not be an option we even contemplate as acceptable in our health and social sector workforce. Effectively addressing burnout requires us to have new and open conversations.

We need meaningful action at all levels: society, the health system, in our organisations and as individuals. We need to challenge and shift unhealthy social norms that prohibit those in need from seeking help.

We need to step up as leaders and take responsibility for and action on burnout as a major occupational health and safety issue. As individuals, we need to stop, take stock and reclaim our health, our wellbeing and our lives.

Alison Coughlan is an author and consultant who helps health and social sector professionals optimise the impact they make.

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Tags: aged care workforce, alison coughlan, burnout, health and wellbeing,

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