It was the autumn season and the large counseling center that I worked for was teeming with prospective clients seeking help. As the clinical director, my job was to ensure we were adequately addressing both providers’ and clients’ needs. This was a tall order to fulfill: counselors’ caseloads were full, our waitlist had swollen to well over a hundred, and team morale was at an all-time low.
The executive director of the center convened a meeting to address the growing demand for services and to discuss various options. Members of the center expressed their overwhelm and disappointment that they can’t seem to meet the demands of their caseloads, felt their weekly schedules swollen with action items, expressed discontent over the lack of schedule flexibility, and generally felt disconnected from the altruistic values that got them into the helping profession.
Like many team leaders, the director’s knee-jerk reaction was to tell everyone to employ self-care to make it through this rough period. The providers and staff reacted as expected. You could feel what little energy people had left simply deflate like a month-old birthday balloon that finally gave its last breath. One coworker hid the few tears that started spilling onto her cheeks. Another rolled their eyes in irritation. It was evident to me that this type of leadership in moments of intense stress was harmful and I wanted to learn more about alternatives.
In the years since that overwhelming autumn, I have been a part of countless discussions of burnout and self-care in workplaces. All of these conversations have had a predictable framework that placed the problem (burnout) and the solution (self-care) as being something that is within the individual person’s purview to address.
But is burnout simply the result of insufficient self-care?
My years of experience as a mental health provider, academic, and healthcare administrator have shown me that burnout is much more complex than worker behaviors. We have to widen our perspective to truly understand the contributory factors of burnout. Only then can we attempt to prevent burnout or address it when it's consuming…