Staff burnout

There has been a good deal of research published on staff burnout generally. The term “burnout” describes workers’ reactions to the chronic stress common in occupations involving numerous direct interactions with people.

With the relentless pace of the day-to-day job, high workloads and the focus on dealing with the next crisis, there is the risk of staff burnout developing unnoticed. In the long-term, this is not helpful for the practitioner, the organisation, the offender and the general public. This chapter focuses on the signs of staff burnout so that you can be aware of how working with PD offenders can affect you personally. It also looks at a number of strategies that could help to protect you from burnout.

So what are the signs of burnout? The box (below) shows the three main components to look out for.

  1. The development of negative, cynical attitudes and feelings about offenders. This depersonalisation of individuals occurs as practitioners become discouraged by their job and become less and less professionally concerned. When this becomes more severe the practitioner can take a callous and dehumanising view of offenders that leads them to take the view that they are deserving of their troubles.
  2. Another aspect is when the practitioner feels less effective in their work (e.g. feelings of inadequacy and failure), particularly regarding their work with offenders. The practitioner feels unhappy about themselves and dissatisfied with their accomplishments at work.
  3. The final aspect is when emotional exhaustion sets in. This is when the practitioner’s emotional resources are so depleted that they feel they are no longer able to give of themselves at a psychological level.
Symptoms of burnout

  • Depersonalisation and Cynicism – Negative and cynical attitudes and feelings about offenders which can lead staff to view them as somehow deserving of their troubles
  • Feeling ineffective – feeling unhappy and dissatisfied about personal accomplishments at work
  • Emotional exhaustion – physical fatigue and a sense of feeling psychologically and emotionally “drained” from excessive job demands and continuous stress.

The unfortunate consequences of burnout can be deterioration in the quality of care or service that practitioners provide, high staff turnover, staff absenteeism, low morale, increase in mistakes made, personal distress, problems with sleep, increased alcohol use, marital and family problems, and developing a feeling that nothing works.

The personal risks for staff of burnout include:

Physical Mental
Increased blood pressure Depression and mental exhaustion
Coronary heart disease Change in professional goals
Poor immune system Psychological withdrawal from work
Recurring illnesses Growing concern for self instead of others
Physical exhaustion. Dread about work
Negative attitude towards life in general.
Emotional Social
Emotional exhaustion or detachment Feeling isolated from colleagues
Irritable and impatient towards others Rude towards offenders
Depersonalisation of clients. No time for colleagues or activities
Unwillingness to help offenders.