Caregiving can be a hugely satisfying and rewarding job, but it does come with its fair share of daily stressors. The demands of being a caregiver can be exhausting and overwhelming at times, taking a toll on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
If caregiver stress is left unchecked over an extended period, without adequate support, it can eventually lead to burnout.
Home care agencies need to take good care of their caregivers and ensure they get the help and support they need to relieve the continual stress and pressure that can lead to caregiver burnout.
What is caregiver burnout?
Caregiver burnout is an anxiety disorder caused by the body’s response to long-term, unresolved stress.
When caregivers are working excessive hours, trying to live up to impossible standards and not taking time out to care for themselves properly, stress levels will build up – week after week. This relentless, ongoing pressure may come from multiple sources, including their care work, family/home responsibilities, financial concerns and underlying health issues.
Left unchecked, these prolonged high levels of stress can eventually result in burnout.
The three key characteristics of burnout are:
- exhaustion (loss of energy)
- cynicism (loss of enthusiasm)
- inefficacy (loss of self-confidence and reduced capacity to function).
Caregiver burnout typically results in caregivers feeling excessive fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression. When a caregiver reaches this point, not only will they and their clients/patients suffer, but it will also negatively impact your home care agency.
What can home care agencies do to prevent caregiver burnout?
The first thing any home care agency can do is understand what causes caregiver burnout so it can look for solutions to avoid it happening to its employees.
Burnout doesn’t happen overnight – it is a gradual build-up of continual stress and persistent pressure that can affect anyone at any time. There are many signs and symptoms leading up to it.
Smart home care agencies know it is essential to be aware of the many contributing factors to caregivers’ stress levels, including those directly linked with how their agency is managed.
What are the signs and symptoms of caregiver stress?
It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of caregiver stress. This is an essential first step for caregivers and also for your agency, so you can take immediate action to prevent it from escalating and ultimately leading to burnout.
Common signs of caregiver stress:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Decreased job satisfaction
- Difficulty concentrating
- Eating, smoking or drinking more
- Emotional and physical exhaustion
- Feeling constantly tired and run down
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Low energy and lower productivity
- New or worsening health issues
- Overreacting to minor incidents
- Withdrawal from colleagues, friends and family.
What are the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout?
Caregivers who have reached the burnout stage will feel an overwhelming desire to escape everything, including work, family and friends. They will feel permanently exhausted, depressed and have lost confidence in themselves and their abilities. Everything feels like hard work, and they will struggle to find enthusiasm for anything.
Common caregiver burnout symptoms include:
- Complete neglect of self-care/personal needs
- Constantly exhausted, despite sleeping or taking a break
- Difficulty coping with everyday things
- Difficulty relaxing or taking time out, even when help is available
- Erratic changes in mood
- Feeling helpless and hopeless
- Frequently unwell with headaches, digestive issues, colds, flu and other bugs going around
- Increasingly irritable and impatient with clients/patients and colleagues
- Life revolves around caregiving, but it gives little pleasure or satisfaction anymore
- Reduced energy and lack of enthusiasm
- Self-doubt and low self-esteem.
How your home care agency can prevent caregiver burnout: 10 top tips
While caregiving will never be completely stress-free, there are many ways home care agencies can help lighten the load, support more balance in their caregivers’ lives and avoid them reaching burnout. Here are our 10 top tips to get you started:
1. Buddy up
Caregiver roles naturally involve working alone in client/patient homes, which (without adequate support) can be isolating and quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed. Many caregivers report high levels of stress due to feeling isolated and receiving poor communication from their agency.
It is important to set up regular check-ins, where each caregiver is called regularly (daily or weekly, as needed). Encourage them to share their feelings and frustrations, as well as any successes. The simple act of expressing what they’re going through can be very cathartic, and feeling heard will strengthen their bond with your agency.
With newer employees, a mentorship program can be hugely beneficial, providing one-to-one support. More experienced caregivers can benefit from buddy systems or regular team get-togethers to de-stress and share issues with those who understand. Communicating with others who are in the same situation helps reduce stress immensely.
2. Provide flexibility
Innovative agencies are using the experiences gained during the COVID-19 pandemic to evaluate, revise and develop remote policies and procedures, giving their caregivers and office staff greater workplace flexibility.
This can include making respite care services available to caregivers that need a break, along with flexible shifts and shift coverage when required. Sometimes a temporary (paid) break is all that is necessary to help your caregivers get back on track.
Other flexible working practices that can help to ease caregiver stressors include pay structure flexibility, i.e. daily pay/weekly pay (with instant bank transfers via smartphone), flexible scheduling and on-site daycare for caregivers’ children.
3. Set realistic goals/Know their limits
The number one contributor to burnout is feeling powerless. This can be an easy trap to fall into as a caregiver, especially if they feel stuck in a role they didn’t expect or helpless to make changes for the better.
Home care agencies need to communicate clearly with their caregivers about the specific roles they are expected to fulfil during hiring and onboarding and have realistic expectations about what each individual can manage.
Some agencies place unreasonable demands on their caregivers repeatedly, which creates a persistent level of unnecessary stress. This is especially true of agencies where caregiver retention is low and shifts need to be covered by existing employees. Taking on extra caregiving responsibilities without regular breaks or assistance is a surefire recipe for caregiver burnout.
Encourage your caregivers to know their limits and be open about their personal situations. This will naturally be the case at home care agencies with a solid company culture based on open communication where caregivers feel valued and respected.
4. Foster a company culture that values and encourages open communication
Ensure your home care agency has a company culture where your caregivers feel they can ask for help. Sharing feelings and experiences with others in the same situation can help caregivers reduce feelings of frustration and isolation, manage stress, and locate helpful resources.
Needing help doesn’t make them bad caregivers; it simply means they can’t do everything alone (no one can do it alone).
Your caregivers must have the opportunity to regularly acknowledge and assess how they are doing and know how to recognize the stress warning signs their body is sending. Get creative about building team community and support with online strategies, such as:
- morning coffee conversations
- before shift check-in
- after shift check-in
- training and education.
5. Team training and education
It’s essential to understand how to manage stress and foster resilience through a combination of the following:
- Prioritizing and time management
- Cultivating insight (mindful awareness)
- Self-care, including a healthy diet, exercise and quality sleep
- Managing the way we think – observing thoughts and practicing positive thinking
- Receiving support from others: at work, home and within the community.
You might consider offering weekly/monthly staff yoga or meditation classes to help with stress management – to relieve stress and boost feelings of joy and wellbeing.
6. Encourage a healthy work-life balance
There is a difference between being busy and being productive. If your caregivers are not regularly taking time off to de-stress and recharge their batteries, they will end up accomplishing less in the long run.
As a busy caregiver, leisure time can seem like an impossible luxury. Encourage and support your caregivers in making time for themselves. This benefits not only their wellbeing but also their clients/patients and, ultimately, your agency. Resting and doing things that they enjoy regularly will relieve stress and make them better caregivers for it.
Encourage your caregivers to set aside time for themselves. Self-care is not a luxury; it is an absolute necessity for caregivers. Your agency can be proactive in encouraging this by offering rewards and benefits that include spa days and self-care treats.
7. Recognize, reward and celebrate the positives
Feeling appreciated can go a long way towards dealing with stressful situations. Studies have shown that caregivers who feel appreciated enjoy greater emotional and physical health, despite the job’s demands.
Find ways to regularly recognize and reward your team to keep them happy, motivated and engaged. For example, thanking them and showing your gratitude via email, text and social media channels.
You can also use software tools, like Smartcare’s Caregiver Rewards system, that make it easy to ensure your caregivers feel appreciated and stay motivated.
8. Match caregivers to the right clients
Good relationships between caregivers and their clients/patients can positively impact caregiver stress levels. Matching the right caregiver to the right client helps create stronger bonds and significantly improves job satisfaction through meaningful connections. All caregivers will suffer higher stress levels if they have to deal with ongoing conflicts or negative interactions with their clients.
You can easily match caregivers with suitable clients/patients using Smartcare’s unique machine learning technology and matching algorithms.
Once matched, Smartcare’s user-specific mobile point-of-care app gives each caregiver a stress-free, easy-to-use connection to their clients, their clients’ families and your agency.
9. Provide information on additional support networks
Ensure your caregivers have information about any local organizations or support groups (either in person or online) for caregivers, especially those working with clients/patients in specialized fields such as cancer or Alzheimer’s.
A caregiver support group can be an excellent way for caregivers to share troubles and concerns with people going through similar experiences each day.
If any of your caregivers are already suffering from stress and depression, you can support them in finding appropriate professional help. Stress and depression are treatable disorders. It is vital to get help as quickly as possible if they have reached burnout to prevent the mental and physical health problems that suffering prolonged, high-stress levels can lead to.
10. Use technology to simplify care management and recording
Smartcare software has been created by caregivers with excellent knowledge about workflows and the importance of caregiver job satisfaction and work-life balance.
Using the best-in-class workflows throughout Smartcare’s platform and mobile point-of-care solutions, caregivers can fully focus on client/patient care – using technology to simplify care management and recording, improve time management, increase efficiency and reduce stress.
With Smartcare, caregivers have easy access to the details they need to provide high-level care – anywhere, anytime, and on any device. Schedules, shift and route details, care plans, documentation, and much more can be accessed in real-time, saving valuable time and maximizing that all-important human connection.
Your home care agency has a responsibility to be proactive in taking care of your caregivers. You need to remain aware of the physical, mental and emotional stress caregiving entails.
Recognizing and addressing the challenges faced can make all the difference between engaging and retaining your caregivers and seeing them move swiftly on to another job.
To learn more about how Smartcare software can help you protect your caregivers against burnout, contact us today.