Harm reduction outreach work can be a high-stress occupation – a feature it shares with all caring professions. Failure to take care of yourself along the way can result in ongoing stress, which may seep into your personal life and may diminish the satisfaction you derive from work and your ability to be fully present with your clients.
Burnout is a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress and is characterized by three main dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism (less identification with the job), and feelings of reduced professional ability. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, anger, irritation, prolonged health issues, troubled relationships and, in the workplace, absenteeism, difficulty with coworkers, and poor productivity and performance, which can decrease self-esteem and increase feelings of incompetence.
Compassion fatigue, which refers to evidence of secondary traumatization, “is a term people also use to refer to changes in feelings toward clients -losing interest, compassion, or work satisfaction – and to mounting self-doubts about one’s abilities or choice of profession.
When frontline community workers experience burnout or compassion fatigue, their clients suffer as well. It’s self-evident that if outreach workers don’t care for themselves, their ability to care for others will be diminished or even depleted.
The reverberations of burnout go beyond the social workers themselves and the effects on their clients; there’s a potential cost to the profession as well. Staff retention and turnover are major concerns for the social work profession as a whole.
Specifically, worker turnover not only causes psychological distress in remaining staff members or in new and inexperienced workers who fill vacated positions (Powell & York, 1992), but it leads to client mistrust of the system (Geurts, Schaufeli, & De Jonge, 1998) and financial problems for the organization (Kompier & Cooper, 1999).
In light of the implications of burnout and high turnover rates in the social work profession, two crucial questions: How do we prevent burnout among staff and how do we retain workers?
As part of One-Use’s commitment to supporting and developing the outreach community, we are launching a one-day workshop – “Self-Care for the Outreach Worker”, a practical toolkit specifically designed to meet the specific requirements of care workers.
Our objective is to:
This self-care tool-kit will result in:
“I can understand why people leave this profession.
One word – burnout”.