Burnout is very real among Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) and other Applied Behavior Analysis professionals. While extremely rewarding, the work we do can also be fraught with challenge frustration, disappointment and stress.
The consequences of burnout result in absenteeism, illness, and other physical symptoms. And the financial cost is significant: On average, staff turnover costs $5,000 per RBT and 30 – 100 percent of a supervisory staff person’s annual salary. The ripple effects of burnout and employee turnover cause disruption in services to children and families and place stress and burden on the staff left behind.
In BHCOE’s webinar, Preventing Burnout in RBTs to Increase Organization Health, Del Mar Center for Behavioral Health’s Becca Tagg, PsyD, MSCPSP, BCBA-D, offered tips for assessing and addressing burnout in your practice. She also discussed the results of Del Mar’s staff engagement from BHCOE’s audit evaluation.
So, how do you tackle the complex issue of burnout in your ABA practice? By doing what you do best: Assess the situation, come up with an intervention and monitor the progress of your efforts.
Assess the Situation
The first step is to look at your data. Evaluate the percentage of missed sessions and call outs. Dig into the data to find out why employees are missing sessions. Also look at ILA data to uncover employee job performance trends and insights.
In addition to employee data, conduct assessments to measure burnout and work-life balance among your staff. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (human services version) is a tool that measures feelings of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. The Areas of Worklife Survey complements the Maslach Burnout Inventory, measuring workload, sense of control, and other factors. “My staff completes the worklife survey twice per year and the Maslach Burnout Inventory encourages participants to think about the last 30 days,” notes Dr. Tagg.
Values questionnaires can be useful to understand the specific values that are important to an individual. If you know that independence is important to an employee, for example, you can tailor their workload to give them more independence. “The more you can help move people toward their values, the better they’ll feel,” says Dr. Tagg.
Roll Out Interventions and Support
Once you know the extent of burnout within your practice, it’s time to implement interventions and support to address and prevent it. Intervention strategies span peer mentorship, staff training, professional development, and more.
At Del Mar, the RBT support committee provides peer mentorship and connection. Each week RBT volunteers check in on their peers to find out how they’re doing and gather feedback about what is working and what isn’t. “Each RBT support person has six RBTs they check in on and they’re paid for their duties,” says Dr. Tagg. “For us, that’s an investment in the health and wellness of our staff.”
The practice also holds bi-weekly RBT roundtables, where RBTs come together to talk about challenges and celebrate successes. The round tables give RBTs an appropriate and safe place to talk about sensitive patient issues without breaking confidentiality. Sometimes, the meetings have a specific topic on the agenda, such as culture and the addressing model, while other sessions are an open forum format. The round tables are led by senior RBTs and staff are paid for their time.
“We consistently get feedback that our RBTs really love having these roundtables,” says Dr. Tagg, adding that participation is mandatory. “Part of your employment includes at least one round table per month, so we usually hold one first thing in the morning and one in the evening after sessions to make attendance convenient.”
Dr. Tagg also encourages practices to hold regular staff trainings to support skills acquisition. When staff feel like they’re good at their jobs, they’re less likely to burn out. For a list of other intervention strategies to help reduce staff burnout, download BHCOE’s checklist.
Once you’ve assessed for burnout and developed interventions to decrease it, it’s important to monitor the progress and impact of these strategies. Continue assessing data and re-administering surveys periodically. And don’t forget to ask employees how things are going and what support they need.
Periodic employee engagement evaluations, such as BHCOE’s survey, can be valuable for getting a pulse employee feelings about career development, compensation, work engagement, relationship management, and scheduling.
Dr. Tagg closed the webinar by offering advice for getting started on addressing burnout in your practice. She suggests picking one intervention to implement. When you’ve got that nailed down, choose another strategy. She also recommends getting staff input on where to focus efforts. “Give them three options, such as starting a support committee, holding round tables or offering staff development opportunities. Get buy-in by asking them what they’d like to do. That’s powerful,” she notes.
Listen to the full webinar or download the checklist.