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Speak your truth: burnout – Q1

The number 1 on a pink background.

Panel members

Burnout is a risk faced by support coordinators (and many other providers). How do you manage the emotional toll of your role and what boundaries do you put in place to allow you to ‘clock off’ at the end of the day?

KR – I have very strict work hours. We only answer the phone during the hours of 9am-4pm, Monday to Friday.

I run a family first company where my support coordinators are supported. They know they can come to me any time and their welfare will be put first.

They do continual training in time management and working smarter not harder.

RA – I have two phones, one for personal and one for business – I have a pre-set on my work phone to put my phone on silent at 5pm each day, and another for over the weekend.

I am also lucky in the fact that I work for myself and can allow myself time on certain days for family commitments and ‘down time’, and I will take the time when I need/can.

When I feel myself becoming more stressed, anxious or grumpy, I know that it is time to schedule a week off for myself as well. However, as we all know, this can be very challenging as some participants do not respect some boundaries and you need to have clear information regarding your availability during these times, and make sure that your phone is on silent – or even better, turned off and in a drawer out of sight.

ZD – I manage the emotional toll of my Specialist Support Coordinator/Team Leader role and set professional boundaries using self-care strategies, such as making sure I get plenty of sleep, eating well, listening to music to and from work, enjoying my weekends with family and friends, and recharging.

I also manage burnout by not answering, and sometimes turning off, my work phone out of my regular work hours.

KW – Every morning I start my day with a walk, green juice, meditation, journalling and a cold shower. For me, this enables me to start the day fresh, not carrying anything from the day before, and I am in a peak state.

Throughout the day, I spread my work across support coordination, running the business and coaching my staff.

I always have a 10-minute morning tea break and my phone is on ‘do not disturb’ – and the same with lunch.

Boundaries are set during onboarding, and I explain that in order for me to give you my best I also need my own down time to focus and take care of my mental health, as we can’t pour from an empty cup.

Our participants know we will respond within 24 hours during work times, and they are also aware of the work times. This puts them at ease most of the time.

It is non-negotiable that I finish at 4pm Monday to Thursday, and 1pm on a Friday. I have time scheduled in my calendar for my afternoon training time with my husband.

SM – I make sure that I leave my work at work. My laptop and phone are not taken home with me.

Sometimes with different participants this can be difficult as you are so invested in ensuring their success and will go through leaps and bounds to make sure that they reach their goals. But, I have a family and I need time to wind down, so making sure that home is home and work is work is extremely important.

VS – I debrief with my co-workers regularly.

I do not answer my work phone outside of work hours (unless it is absolutely necessary).

SH – From the beginning, I make it very clear to my participants that I am not a crisis service. I give them alternative contacts for emergencies. Clearly defining my working hours and giving participants plenty of notice when I go on leave has alleviated any of the after hours phone calls.

On a personal aspect, my work phone is muted at 5pm – I also have a husband who makes sure this is done, which certainly helps. At the end of the working day, my husband and I sit outside with a glass of wine and debrief on our work day.

With Lifestyle Mentor Services, it is strongly encouraged to reach out, at any time, to our internal support system. This is also integral in maintaining a solid work/life balance.

Most importantly though is to celebrate any victories, big or small.

AT – I make sure I have boundaries in place for myself and the participants I work with, such as around time of contact and staying within my role as a support coordinator.

Before and after business hours, I won’t attend to calls or texts unless it’s an absolute emergency, and I ensure participants are aware of this.

I’ve experienced burnout many times through this role in the past and have learned from it. I engage in physical fitness to manage stress levels and maintain my own health and wellbeing through self-care and discipline. It works wonders.

EH – Support coordination is a difficult role – not everyone is suited to it.

Knowing how to do the job is important, being supported as you are learning is important, and ongoing training, education and clinical, peer or mentoring supervision is imperative to ensuring you are able to maintain the role.

One thing I have learnt over the last few years is that I can ONLY work a set number of hours a week on a regular basis. Being independent, my regular hours fluctuate, however knowing what my maximum is and staying close to that is important.

Taking time out to do things, to do self-care (e.g. things that are not work related and are non-negotiable), along with knowing how to step away from the work and knowing you cannot be the only support for a client is important.

By ensuring that my clients have a strong and varied network of supports, I know I don’t have to be on call all the time for them. This allows me to stop work at the end of the day and relax.

St H – Burnout is commonly faced by many in the disability sector, especially support coordinators.

Personally, I try to build a good rapport and trust with my participant, while at the same time setting clear boundaries around communication, my availability, and how we will work together most effectively using their available coordination funds.

I try my best to build a network of people around my participant – people who they can rely on directly – which shares the load and includes informal supports, mainstream and external providers, to make sure they don’t need to rely solely on me as the support coordinator.

Notwithstanding this, sometimes the emotional toll is still very high, especially when dealing with complex disability and mental health. Over the years I’ve come to understand that I can only do the best I can for each person, and I am only part of the solution. Sometimes people may choose not to follow your advice and that is their choice.

I also work flexible hours as a sub-contractor, so I determine my clock on and clock off, which I think is ideal for this type of role.

(DB) – Having a great team to connect to is the most important protective factor in preventing burnout. Being able to reach out to our colleagues and leaders when we’re struggling with overwhelm, before it gets to the point of burnout, is so important. At Aspire Recovery Connection (ARC) we offer a compassionate reflection space, where we listen to each other without judgement and without needing to ‘fix’. We sit with each other, hear what is going on for us, and offer compassion. When we feel seen and heard, things can seem a lot less challenging.

On a practical level, clocking off at the end of the day is really important. Turn your work phone off, turn your emails off, and know this time is for you and it needs protecting. At ARC we talk about the difference between ‘self soothing’ and ‘self care’. Self soothing are things that we are drawn to and are easy ‘fixes’ when we’re overwhelmed and need some time out. This could be running a warm bath or sitting on the couch with Netflix and your favourite ice cream. There’s nothing at all wrong with self soothing, I’m a big fan, but we also need to practice ‘self care’. Self care are things that require a bit more effort, but ultimately serve us in maintaining our emotional wellbeing. For me, self care involves daily meditation and regular exercise, including getting out for a walk in nature once or twice a week.

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