Reducing Burnout in the Behavioral Health Field

Burnout is a term that we hear often in today’s society. It’s a social issue that companies and organizations have been trying to solve for years now. But what exactly is burnout? Burnout is characterized as depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and reduced personal accomplishment that stems from one’s inability to cope with long-term work stress. No one is immune from burnout, but it has been found that it hits some harder than others. Research shows that longer work days, imbalance of demand and resources, and conflicts at work are risk factors of burnout. In the behavioral health setting and special education challenging client behaviors can be considered a contributing factor to burnout among behavior technicians. This could lead to turnover in staff and disruption in services for clients. Burnout in an organization could also cause poor performance for behavior technicians that stay and additional stress for those that don’t leave. Behavioral health field organizations can assess, intervene, and monitor to reduce and combat behavior technician burnout. 

  1. Assess. Organizations and employers can look at the performance and missed therapy sessions as the first step to look for burnout in employees. Then administer additional surveys like Maslach Burnout Inventory and Areas of Worklife Survey. The Maslach Burnout Inventory is a human services survey that addresses emotional exhaustion, personal accomplishment, and depersonalization. Emotional exhaustion measures feelings of exhaustion by one’s work and being emotionally overextended. Depersonalization measures the impersonal response and unfeeling toward recipients of one’s services. Lastly, personal accomplishment measures feelings of successful achievement and competence in one’s work. The Areas of Worklife Survey scales include workload, reward, control, community, fairness, and values. 
  2. Intervene. Organizations can provide staff training for Behavior Technicians that include peer mentorship, RBT round tables, and professional development. Using evidence based practices for behavioral skills training and behavioral coaching can improve feelings of personal accomplishment in employees. One of the most important interventions that can be used is self-care. Self-care is any intentional activity to take care of our emotional, physical, and mental health. Organizations should infuse self-care and follow through with behaviors that promote self-care among employees, not just saying it’s important. This could be a team building opportunity for companies and their employees. Self-care has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety. 
  3. Monitor. Companies and organizations can re-administer surveys and look at performance periodically. In addition to the Maslach Burnout Inventory and Areas of Worklife Survey, have employees complete an increase/improve reinforcement survey. With on-going data analysis, organizations can use the BHCOE to be a third party assessor. Depending on the data, if it’s working then keep doing it. If the data is not then go back and reassess, come up with a different intervention plan, implement, and assess again. And the easiest thing for companies to do about combating burnout, ask the employees how they feel. 

In the behavioral health field, burnout is when workers become emotionally fatigued and withdraw emotionally from their clients. Burnout leads to turnover in employees that decide to leave and added stress for those employees that stay. For those employees that leave, they often look for less emotionally draining jobs in different career fields. Reducing burnout in the behavioral health field will help improve services for clients and improve the performance of behavior technicians. Organizations can assess the employees and how the burnout is affecting them, intervene by implementing surveys and self-care programs, and monitor the results. Addressing the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization with self-care activities and reduced personal accomplishment with professional development and continuing education trainings. No one is immune to burnout, but with a plan and companies help to reduce burnout, it can be reduced and managed.


“Burnout.” Burnout – an Overview | ScienceDirect Topics,