While burnout is a constant threat for healthcare workers in many settings, home health aides face some unique stressors that can wear down even the most energetic and enthusiastic caregiver. These tips can help you avoid burnout in this emotionally and physically demanding field.
Nurture Your Client Relationships
Research shows that home health aides' longevity in the field is directly related to the quality of their relationships with clients. Veteran home health aides "really benefit from and derive great pleasure from these relationships," says Robyn Stone, DrPH, director of the Better Jobs Better Care program at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.
Gladys Williams, a home health aide since 1996, says the bonds she forms with clients are the best part of her job. "I'm not there to change their life," she says. "I'm just there to give them a little assistance, be a companion, make them smile and make them feel a little better."
Get Help with Difficult Clients
New home health aides quickly realize that sick people are often crabby and unhappy and that clients' families can create conflict. Aides who stay in the field accept those facts and don't take to heart their patients' moodiness or the families' second-guessing or nitpicking. "Oftentimes you are caring for the father or mother, but the whole family is living there," Williams says. "Everyone wants to be the boss, and you have to learn to just focus on the patient.... You know what you're supposed to do, and you stick to it."
If a case becomes really rough, veteran agency aides like Williams will communicate with a supervisor or coordinator. Many agencies will remove an aide from such a case or rotate several aides so the same aide isn't on duty seven days a week, says Mary Winters, president of the Long Island chapter of the New York State Association of Health Care Providers.
Many home health aides love the independence and flexibility of home health, but the downside is isolation. "There are no real opportunities for working in teams, and there is not a lot of oversight," Stone says. Home health aides can seek out a collegial, supportive environment by getting more engaged in the organization that sends them out on assignments, she suggests.
Some home health agencies are creating virtual support groups for their workers, and others are instituting buddy systems or peer-mentoring programs where veterans can share their expertise with newcomers. Other agencies hold educational sessions several times a month or send newsletters that praise aides who go above and beyond the call of duty.
Advocacy organizations for front-line healthcare workers, such as the Direct Care Alliance and PHInational, can also offer home health aides a sense of community.
Create a Career Plan
Home health aide jobs are considered entry level, and pay is low. Aides who are striving for a promotion or who are furthering their education (by becoming a certified nursing assistant, for example) are generally less prone to burnout than those who feel trapped in their positions, Winters says. For example, some agencies hire newcomers as field aides, but with a few years of experience and good performance, they can step up to staff aide with full benefits and a guaranteed full-time workweek.
Some home health aides receive as few as two weeks of on-the-job training before going out into the field. That's not enough time to learn the proper techniques for turning and lifting heavy patients. Stone recommends that all home health aides take a course or complete a training program at a community college or vocational school that will help guard against on-the-job-injuries, even if the employer or agency doesn't require training.
Be Proud of Your Work
Veteran aides feel good about what they do and find the rewards of their work to be more emotional than monetary. "You have to have a heart doing home care," Williams says. "You can't say, ‘I'm doing it for the money.'" Longtime aides are experts at putting themselves in their clients' shoes, Williams adds: "I always think, ‘What if it was my parents I was taking care of, or my sister or brother?'"