9 Experts Reveal How Agencies Can Reduce Caregiver Burnout

by | Apr 6, 2022

The annual turnover rate in the home caregiver profession is around 65%, and while the reasons for that figure are complex, burnout is a top cause. Agencies that hope to recruit and retain caregivers will need to understand the factors that contribute to caregiver burnout and look for ways to address them.

In this post, we’ll look at the signs of caregiver burnout and the main causes of burnout. Then we’ll share some tips on how to avoid caregiver burnout and the input we received from nine home care agency experts.

What is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout is a state of physical or mental exhaustion resulting from job-related stress or excessive work. It’s a problem that seems to perpetuate itself in the caregiving profession — workers experiencing burnout leave their jobs, which in turn leaves agencies even more short-staffed, increasing individual workloads. 

About 56% of professional caregivers work more than 40 hours per week, which is why caregiver fatigue is so common. In addition to long hours, challenges of the caregiving profession include low wages, a lack of benefits, and the isolation that comes with working independently. A combination of these and other factors leads to caregiver exhaustion, which is a predecessor of burnout. 

Caregiver burnout signs

Burnout tends to develop gradually. Caregivers experiencing burnout may exhibit signs such as:

  • Physical symptoms — Headaches, indigestion, and frequent illness are often associated with burnout. 
  • Withdrawal from work-related activities — Caregivers typically work independently, without much peer interaction. When they’re experiencing burnout, they may be less likely to communicate with office staff or seek support, even if they need it.
  • Difficulty performing tasks — Poor work performance is one sign of burnout, but burnout can also affect one’s personal life. Employees who are experiencing burnout may have trouble following through with household responsibilities and personal care. 
  • Emotional exhaustion — In many ways, burnout can resemble depression. Caregiver burnout may cause hopelessness, irritability, and a loss of interest in usual activities or relationships. 

With severe caregiver burnout, employees may become dangerously negligent in their work, raising the risk of harm for clients. 

Main causes of caregiver burnout

Every person has unique responses to stressful situations, but in general, the following stressors are known to raise the risk of burnout: 

Difficult working conditions

Home care work can be physically demanding, with unpredictable hours and a heightened risk of illness or injury. Many workers also feel significant pressure, as they may be the only caregiver for a client whose life literally depends on them being on time and providing proper care. 

Caregiver-family relationships

Home care clients may live with family members who increase stressful working conditions. For example, family members may be critical of caregivers, ask questions that caregivers are not qualified or able to answer, or refuse to listen to caregivers’ advice.

Feeling isolated

Caregivers generally work alone, traveling between homes during working hours. That means they may have no connection to other agency employees, aside from their manager, and may experience feelings of isolation. 

Lack of appreciation

Caregiving is an important job, but too often, caregivers receive little to no recognition for their efforts. Because agency managers don’t witness firsthand the work caregivers do, they might not realize when caregivers are “going above and beyond” in their work. 

Low pay

The median annual income for home care workers is $24,000, and about one-quarter of professional home caregivers live in households that are below the federal poverty threshold. Financial difficulties can contribute to stress, in general, which may increase the likelihood of burnout. 

Inadequate training

Because many agencies struggle with staffing levels, they may not have the time to conduct ongoing training. As a result, caregivers may have few opportunities for advancement and may be ill-prepared to handle new on-the-job challenges.

How home care agencies can reduce caregiver burnout

Before we dive into our experts’ detailed responses, we’ll share some of the general ways agencies can mitigate caregiver burnout:

Regular touchpoints

Checking in with caregivers regularly may help prevent burnout. One of the agency experts we spoke with mentioned using daily, weekly, and monthly touchpoints to convey that the agency will “always have their back.” 

Open communication channels

One agency leader said that their agency provides a dedicated phone line caregivers can call for support and advice. In addition to checking in with caregivers, some agencies offer additional support, such as the services of a chaplain who is available to listen when caregivers need to talk. 

“I feel this has proven to be a valuable service to our caregivers; to listen, encourage and support, so that they can fulfill their calling.” — Marian McGunagle, Caregiver Trainer & Volunteer Chaplain, Visiting Angels Caregiver Training Center

Support resources

One professional said her agency provides support through an organization called Life Matters, which provides free counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health issues, and substance abuse. 

“This is confidential information, which hopefully promotes a feeling of a safe place by those who seek their help.” — Gloreen M. Heft, BS-HCA, LPN, Behavioral Health-Nursing Support, Integrity Residential Services

Flexible scheduling

One agency expert said that accommodating caregivers’ schedules is a strategy they use to minimize burnout and alleviate the stress that comes with managing other obligations.

“For example, if they have school age children, we will start their schedule at 8 and have them off by 3 if they have to drop off and pick up children at school.” — Kathy Frames, Home Care Manager, East Ark Area Agency on Aging

Client rotations

Because routine and monotony could contribute to caregiver burnout, some agencies rotate caregivers between homes as much as possible. One agency professional said that if caregivers are “experiencing a hard time” with a given client, management looks for opportunities to move that caregiver to a different home, or at least provide them with an extended break. 

Positive feedback and recognition

Two agency leaders said their organizations offer recognition or kudos for caregivers whose work is exemplary. One agency awards additional time off to caregivers who earn the employee of the month award.

Paid sick leave for mental health days

Recognizing that caregiving can be stressful work, some agencies encourage workers to use their paid time off for mental health days. 

Competitive pay and benefits

One agency mentioned providing hiring bonuses, as well as a company-wide bonus in acknowledgment of the staff’s dedication through the COVID pandemic. 

Ongoing training

Regular training is beneficial for both caregivers and their employers — it helps caregivers grow their skills and potentially advance their careers, and it helps agencies ensure they’re offering the highest quality of care. 

Agencies that don’t have the staff or resources to offer training may choose to partner with an organization like CareAcademy, which provides a variety of online training for home caregivers and agencies. CareAcademy courses include compliance-specific topics, training on emerging issues in home care, and administrative training for agency leaders.

What the experts said

Now it’s time to hear from our experts. Read what they said about caregiver burnout.

 

Tauseef Riaz

ConsidraCare | Co-Founder

There is no silver bullet for reducing caregiver burnout. Agencies must implement a multi-pronged program to manage and reduce it. However, the tactic we have found to be most effective in our toolkit for reducing caregiver burnout is to follow a regular schedule of touchpoints, even when caregivers are not on placements, to ensure that they feel that we always have their back and available to support them. For example, our current policy includes two touchpoints on a caregiver’s first day with a new client to see how they are doing, weekly touchpoints for live-out caregivers and monthly touchpoints for live-in caregivers. In addition, there is a dedicated line for caregivers to call if they need any ad hoc support or advice.

Kathy Clinton

Gentle Shepherd Home Care | VP Client Relations

We have seen some benefit from offering enhanced pay, benefits, educational opportunities, and caregiver recognition awards, but we also recognize that our in-home caregivers don't have the benefit of the emotional support and camaraderie provided by working directly with fellow team members. To facilitate caregiver interaction with our in-house team we recently moved to a more central office location. With an eye toward building stronger relationships and a sense of support, we encourage our caregivers to drop-in and visit. Equally important, our care managers and leadership do an excellent job of taking time for in-person phone conversations with individual caregivers when they encounter life challenges or just need to talk. We periodically offer paid time-off when a caregiver experiences the loss of a client they've been with for a considerable time. This extra emotional support and connection has helped with reducing burnout. We plan to initiate a focus group this spring with some of our long-term team members and look forward to their valuable insights!

Laraye Cooksey

Oasis In-Home Care | Human Resource Manager

We feature an employee of the month and they receive some paid time off hours to use for family time or any other time they need to just recharge.

John Sammons

I believe we have kept our focus on who we are and why we are here. Our attitude is never give up, determined spirit. We keep our employees informed and we are there for them daily. We believe in them and they believe in us.

Kenneth Helmuth

PTO

Julia Bidgood

Lifespan | Programs and Outreach Coordinator

In order to avoid, reduce and mitigate caregiver burnout, Lifespan advocates for taking care of one's mental health, and encourages our staff to do so. We do this by sending monthly newsletters with self-care tips, well-being related events and activities, in addition to personalized 'kudos' to let caregivers know that their 'above and beyond' efforts are not going unnoticed or unappreciated. We also encourage our team to utilize their paid sick leave hours for mental health days, so that they can get respite and come back to work feeling rested, refreshed and with a positive attitude.

Kathy Frames

East Ark Area Agency on Aging | Home Care Manager

Flexible schedules- our caregivers' schedules are constantly changing. It is difficult to suffer burnout when schedules change as often as they do. Of course, we have those clients that have the long-timers, at their request, but for the most part aides don't stay in one home too long, or they get a break when their client is gone and we send them to a different home. This is the main reason but also, we attempt to tailor the caregiver's schedule to meet their particular needs. For example, if they have school age children, we will start their schedule at 8 and have them off by 3 if they have to drop off and pick up children at school. This greatly benefits the caregiver from worrying about their children and saves money for them in before and after school care. They appreciate this and therefore are less likely to suffer burnout when catering to their needs.

Gloreen M. Heft, BS-HCA,LPN

Integrity Residential Services | Behavioral Health-Nursing Support

As with any healthcare setting, there are always a select few residents that are far more stressful to work with than others. Of course, the pay for them is more than those who do not require as much attention/care. This will not avoid burnout. With our high turnover, we have not only given hiring bonuses and giving all our staff company wide a bonus in their check tomorrow (3/15) $500 as a way of saying thank you for sticking with us through Covid. We are a part of the employee assistance program called Life Matters that offers free counseling for PTSD, mental health, and substance abuse. They also have resources they can offer for management, work/family, and critical response. This is confidential information, which hopefully promotes a feeling of a safe place by those who seek their help. Although I am not privy to how many among our company are receiving any or have received any aid, it is good to know it is available and I have referred numerous staff to their site. Understanding our staff as well as residents, to ensure that if they are having a hard time, we work with them, see if going to a different home would help. Perhaps, house swapping staff to allow for a “scheduled break” from the more stressful home.

Marian McGunagle

Visiting Angels Caregiver Training Center | Caregiver Trainer & Volunteer Chaplain

An approach we use to help prevent caregiver burnout is offering the services of a Chaplain. As a Home Care Aide Instructor and Caregiver Trainer for Visiting Angels, I have access to our hard working and dedicated staff and permitted to volunteer my time as a Chaplain. I have the honor of serving in this capacity and available to meet with our caregivers should they choose to do so. I feel this has proven to be a valuable service to our caregivers; to listen, encourage and support, so that they can fulfill their calling.

Reduce caregiver burnout

Burnout doesn’t have to be part of the caregiver experience. With competitive pay and bonuses, the right support, and ongoing training, the caregiver occupation can be a rewarding long-term career. 

Find out how CareAcademy has helped agencies throughout the United States create a better working environment for their employees. Sign up for your free trial today

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