Skip to content
All posts

How to Deal with Burnout at Work as Behavioral Health Clinicians


Employee burnout is a state of stress and workplace exhaustion that negatively affects both the employee and the employer. Burnout can prevent an organization from meeting company goals, and result in tens of thousands of dollars lost to employee turnover. Studies have shown that employees experiencing burnout are at risk of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, heart disease, headaches, and even chronic pain. Employees who experience workplace burnout are 180% more likely to develop depressive disorders or impaired short-term memory, attention, and cognitive processes.  

Burnout is quite common in the behavioral health industry. A 2022 survey conducted at a mental health agency found that 70.6% of clinicians reported high levels of burnout, and 51.5% felt weak, tired, and run down from their work. While this data may be concerning, companies can learn how to deal with burnout at work

According to SAMHSA, there are 6 causes of employee burnout:

  • Workload: Excessive workload that prevents the employee from resting and recovering
  • Control: Not enough autonomy or access to resources to support their work
  • Reward: Inconsistent or inadequate recognition and reward from the team
  • Community: Unresolved conflicts or lack of support or trust from coworkers
  • Fairness: Decision-making is not transparent or engaging with all employees
  • Values: Ethics and values do not align with the employee's personal goals

How Employee Burnout Impacts Agencies 

When an employee is burned out, it affects the whole company and its clients. Undetected burnout can cause the following: 

• Presenteeism: An employee is simply going through the motions at work, not focusing on details, effectiveness, and company goals. This can be attributed to mental or physical health challenges, which may be a side effect or causes of burnout. Presenteeism can result in productivity issues, low morale, and errors. 
• Decreased Productivity: Employees who experience burnout become less invested and motivated, and productivity suffers. Elevated levels of anxiety, stress, and apathy can bottleneck workflows and cause the team to miss deadlines and quotas. 
• Lackluster Treatment: A clinician who is feeling depressed and hopeless may not have the ability to be fully attentive to their client, or define the best treatment plan. When treating a client who requires mental health assistance, missing an anecdote or forgetting to add a conversation to case notes can hinder treatment effectiveness. 

Agencies are encouraged to be mindful of morale and performance in order to recognize employee burnout before it snowballs into serious mental health concerns and jeopardizes agency outcomes. 


How to Prevent Burnout 

The first step to preventing burnout is to perform a needs assessment. This helps organizations identify and address stressors before they result in burnout. Companies will need to interview employees, uncover inefficiencies, and pinpoint tasks that cause teams the most stress or wasted time. Needs assessments create wonderful opportunities to review processes and identify if additional technology, such as EHR software, should be added to streamline workflows and improve collaboration. Additionally, providing a safe space for open and honest conversations with agency employees will go a long way towards maintaining trust and morale.

While you may want to start your needs assessment with questions about employees' daily tasks, interactions, and to-to lists, it may also be beneficial to audit their schedules to see how much time is being spent on meetings. Since clinicians spend considerable time in sessions with clients, it is essential to protect their calendars. When booking meetings, ensure there is a clear agenda and that every person who is invited is adding or receiving value. 

Lastly, understanding caseload management is essential to learning how to prevent burnout. It is important to analyze data on caseloads per clinician, missing notes, outcomes, and weekly time spent per caseload. EHR software with a robust analytics dashboard, such as Exym, makes looking at data quite easy. While most agencies cannot decrease caseloads, they can put systems in place to reduce the time spent on operational tasks, which in turn frees up  more time for clinicians to focus on client care. 


How to Treat Employee Burnout 

The silver lining is that once employee burnout is identified, steps can be taken to address and alleviate employee exhaustion and stress. For the best outcomes, open and honest conversations, free from assumptions and judgment, are crucial. 

Here are 5 steps to take when addressing burnout: 

1. Ask about the employee’s situation: If the employee feels comfortable sharing information about how they are feeling, listen to them. A simple, “Is everything alright?” can go a long way towards helping people open up and identifying potential stressors. While it is important not to pry, these types of conversations may lead to personal or health-related insights that pertain to the workplace or home life.

2. Understand workplace culture: Consider the management and communication style of an employee's supervisor. How might that style impact the employee? How many hours does the employee work to stay on top of their workload? Are employee expectations and roles laid out clearly? How does the employee interact with coworkers, and vice versa?

3. Gauge the effectiveness of employee work and brainstorm solutions: Look at the employee’s workload and determine if the right systems are in place to set them up for success. What methods are ineffective? Where do they need more guidance and support? Do any tools or systems need to be implemented? It is beneficial to ask the employee what they need, within reason, to achieve success?

4. Create a solution: Compare the needs of the agency and the employee. Are there employee accommodations that can be provided that will not negatively impact the agency or clients? Does the position need to be restructured? While agencies may suggest that employees using their PTO to rest, this is a temporary partial solution. If other solutions are not put into place, an employee may return from PTO to an unmanageable workload, resulting in continuing employee burnout.

5. Reassess and tweak: Determine a timeline that allows for regular check-ins where the employee can give feedback. This will help you see if the new plan is working. Small tweaks to your plan may be necessary as you work on solutions during a trial-and-error period. 

Employee burnout is a harsh reality for many employees, especially in behavioral health fields. There are also stigmas attached to disclosing health conditions that may affect work, especially regarding mental health. Excess stress and mental health challenges make it difficult for clinicians to provide the best care for their clients. 

Fortunately, executives, directors, and program managers can look for signs of employee burnout and treat it before it becomes a significant issue. This is beneficial to both employees and agencies in many ways. For example, employees will not suffer the health consequences and stress of burnout, and agencies will not lose productivity, revenue, or positive organizational outcomes. When an employee overcomes burnout with support from their employer, they may even feel more engaged and loyal to the company, which is a win-win. 

About KCare

KCare is a suite of innovative software solutions designed for behavioral health and human services organizations. Our industry-leading EHR, case management, and analytics products are designed to boost employee satisfaction and efficiency while improving client outcomes. Our software solutions give providers access to comprehensive technology, transforming the way they provide care. For 25+ years, providers have been empowered to focus on their mission and clients through our software solutions, which include extendedReach, Exym, and Stabilify.

As a certified B Corporation, we operate our business in accordance with the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability.  We are also part of the global Pledge 1% movement, donating 1% of our profits to the communities served by our customers.

Click here to learn more about KCare.