Support Coordinator Burnout

Wednesday, 8th December 2021

9 min read

Support Coordinator Burnout

Acknowledgement of Country

I would first like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I live, the Kaurna people. I wish to pay my respects to Elders past and present and emerging.

Who am I?

I am delighted to have been asked to discuss topics I am passionate about and with that, let's begin.

I work in the Disability sector. I am currently working as an NDIS Support Coordinator. It has been a privilege to have worked with all the wonderful clients I have had over the years.

It's been an amazing change of pace from working in hospitality and customer service roles into something that I find more grounding than anything else. I am blessed to be able to support others with their goals, I find it so rewarding, and I am learning every day. I genuinely love connecting with people from all walks of life.

I am truly blessed to be in this role.

But with this comes a huge strain, mentally, physically and sometimes emotionally. I've learned the hard way over the years.

How can we avoid Burnout?

I want to begin by discussing the roles of those supporting Participants hands-on and how we can avoid burnout, and how we can openly discuss how we are feeling and coping within our roles and support others to share and be supported at the same time.

After all, we can't pour from an empty cup, can we?

Burnout is massive in this sector. Is it the role? The management styles? Lack of support? The clients? Families? Red tape and mismanagement? Too many hours, not enough time outside of work to balance it all out.

Has working with a client triggered your own memories of parallel experiences? And you're not too sure how to cope or even ask for help.

Is it the ever-changing rules, regulations? Processes or procedures that have you feeling like your neck deep in water about to take your last breath? Just as you get your head around things - BAM, surprise there's now been a change and you have to adjust your processes etc etc.

It could be any number of reasons as to why we come into these roles, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to smash goals and change someone's life! Wow, you're so full of energy and eagerness to get started and then find yourself drained beyond comprehension within months, looking at a way out.

With that, let's discuss some of my coping mechanisms and other things you can look into when you're feeling exhausted.

How to cope

There's no hiding here. This is the honest truth, raw and uncensored. No sugar coating allowed. I've always said that if you can't express how you feel to a boss and your team, you need a new boss.

After all, they are supposed to be there to support you - Aren't they?

EAP - Employee Assistance Program. Heard of it?

I genuinely hope that you discuss EAP during your onboarding process and regularly after that. It's important to know these details to ensure that you can access support when you need it.

Supports is key.

Outside of work, I find spending time with my kids and attending their events is a great way to recharge and remember that I am a Mum first and Foremost. And if I feel like I am failing there, it will eventually affect my work life.

I enjoy going to the beach or river and just being alone in my thoughts. I am proactive in booking regular leave. I no longer feel there are rewards in staying late, missing important family events just to feel empty and drained.

I know with my team we can be honest about how we feel, and by doing so we feel supported, understood, seen and valued.

Let's normalise asking for help. Let's normalise the discussion around mental health. Let's normalise saying NO! I'm not actually OK and opening up that conversation. To be able to then get help.

It's OK not to be OK.

We can't be on top of everything all of the time. Eventually, you will feel your emotions are out of your control, and your cup will be empty.

Ask your employer today about how to access the EAP program they are linked to and perhaps discuss an area in the office to put up useful phone numbers, not just for you but for everyone who comes into your office.

Sometimes we don't want to talk to someone, so having these numbers in a highly visible place just might help someone get the support they need. Discreetly.

Get some numbers together. Print them out and laminate them in your office. You never know who might need it. Your staff? Visitors? Your clients.

Let's be honest, this role, as all caring roles, are hard on your heart and soul. It takes a special person to want to throw themselves into someone else's life and with it all their barriers, issues, concerns and family dynamics. Taking that on board can take a toll on your mental health.

Throw in your own issues, and you have a tightrope to manage your client's needs and expectations and then somehow take care of you and yours. It's hard, really hard!

I've always said remember why you got into this role on those days where nothing goes right. Everything goes wrong, and you want to throw in the towel.

I remember doing countless inductions seeing these amazing Support Workers ready to go out there and meet their new clients. I would say to them - celebrate each win, no matter how small.

I remember some would laugh or ask why?

Your client made their own breakfast, so what? That's not much worth celebrating... is it?

I would simply respond, one day you will need this win, this thank you from your client, a nice email or letter from your client, a positive feedback from your client to your boss, team member or employer recognising your hard work and commitment.

That is what you will need to fall back on when you are having one of those days, and you WILL have them. Trust me. We all do.

So what to do when you're not feeling like yourself? Do you go to the beach, bush, friends house? Watch the sunrise? Sunset? Do art? Take a long bath? I ask you this... Tell me what you do to recharge. What's your 'me time'? If you can't think of anything, I want you to look at finding something that makes your mind calm and your body free! It's so important.

If you're not ok, firstly - acknowledge it to yourself. Reflect on why you are feeling this way? Never hide it or how you truly feel from yourself or others. Getting help and recognising the spiral early is the key. Acting early is very important.

Having someone you work with that you can be honest with is crucial. I hope you all have the type of relationship with your bosses that I do, where we recognise we are all human, and we will have good days and bad days.

I can't tell you how often I've been told to go home because it's after 5:00 pm and I'm still working! Other bosses would have loved to see me there until 6:00 pm, taking time away from my family and blurring the work-life balance. Being recognised as a Mum first and an employee second is a type of balance I wish we all had.

I am always unapologetically me. I'm loud, bold, I love laughing, passionate, and I'm a little eccentric, and I used to feel like I had to hide my true self, and it was exhausting. I have times where I'm frustrated, exhausted, pissed off and yeah, I'll have my moments, and then I'll bounce straight back because I feel like I am allowed to have those days, and I know my team has my back. That's incredibly important to me, and I am so thankful that I can be brutally honest with my team and not feel judged.

Learning to say no

Learning to say NO in general is important. No to an extra shift without feeling the need to come up with an excuse, just say no, I'm really sorry I've made plans for today. But learning to say NO to a client is even harder. You have perhaps 30 plus clients all needing your attention, and they all are just as important as the other, and you somehow have to balance it all out.

Being able to say NO, I'm sorry I can't see you today but I can see you tomorrow. If they get angry and frustrated, that's ok too, but you can only do what you can do. It's important to understand that our time is limited and having excellent organisational skills is key to managing your client's expectations.

There's no reward for a YES person other than feeling taken advantage of and relied on too heavily, which also leads to burnout. If you're regularly stuck doing long shifts because staff are constantly calling in sick, not showing up at all, or you see a high turnover rate in your company, perhaps take a good look at the situation and ask yourself why.

Learn to say NO! you can't pour from an empty cup. It's ok to say no to a shift, and you should not be made to feel guilty about it.

Boundaries - NEVER give out your personal phone number to a client, EVER no exceptions. It might start great but can quickly turn negative, and once the cats are out of the bag, there's no going back. You HAVE to learn how to keep those boundaries. I have rarely seen this turn out good. Eventually, you will find yourself working out of hours, being called at all hours of the night.

These are just a couple of examples in my experience of how people can burn out.

Questions for you

Do you feel appreciated in your role? Do you feel like a part of the team? Do you feel like you can discuss your true feelings with management?

It's important to have a strong team behind you. To fall back on when you need. I can't tell you how much I appreciate my current team for showing me what a team is supposed to act and look like.

I want you to feel truly valued and appreciated. Those that do will always do a stellar job of looking after those they care for.

Remember, we are all human, and we all go through ups and downs. Don't let your downs get on top of you! You can do it. We can do it. Together.

Ask your team if they are OK? Don't wait for RUOK day to ask someone if they are OK? Be proactive, not reactive!

Make these conversations a regular part of your company's day-to-day practices and watch your team thrive and grow.

Take care of your team. The rest will come naturally

Until next time.

Bonnie Mechan

Bonnie is a Support Coordinator at Nexxt. Bonnie has worked in the disability space for several years undertaking various roles such as Disability Employment Consultant and NDIS Operations. Bonnie is passionate about Mental Health with a focus on true care for the Participants she supports. She enjoys watching her Participants achieve their goals and overcome barriers.