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ABA Burnout: Can you Reduce it?

Reading Time: 6 Minutes
Someone experiencing ABA burnout

Burnout can slowly creep up on any employee, especially people who work in human service fields like applied behavior analysis (ABA). Burnout has negative consequences for the employee in both their work and personal life, for organizations, and for clients. The good news is there are things ABA practices can do to reduce and prevent burnout.

Burnout in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)

The three main features of burnout include an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

In part, the reason burnout is so prevalent in human service careers is because of the complex nature of the requirements involved in these jobs. This is especially true in careers that involve working with people who have disabilities, who have challenging behaviors, or in careers that require professionals to provide intensive services. Regardless of the severity of behaviors or concerns being presented, being able to influence another human being’s life can be anxiety-producing and even overwhelming at times.

BCBA burnout is also impacted by the tendency in this type of career to focus on other people’s needs, work long hours, and to doing whatever it takes to help a client. BCBAs might end up giving little attention to their own needs, they might work so much they end up being chronically exhausted, and they might feel excessive pressure internally and externally. This all adds to the possibility of BCBA burnout.

5 Ways ABA practices can reduce burnout

1.    Reduce the Workload of BCBAs

One factor that substantially influences the likelihood of burnout in BCBAs is when their workload is too high. In a job that involves a high workload and high expectations for productivity and excessive task completion, a person is likely unable to work in a state which allows them to truly connect with the moment-to-moment tasks of their job.

To help address this potential risk factor for BCBA burnout, ABA practices can evaluate the caseload requirements they have for BCBAs. They can also assess what other non-clinical tasks BCBAs are completing. Additionally, be sure that BCBAs have some flexibility in their schedules so they can improve their skills, develop creative ideas that can help improve their services, and so they can more easily complete their required tasks without feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

2.    Increase BCBAs’ Sense of Control of their Work

Research has shown that employees who feel like they don’t have any control or influence over their work experiences are likely to experience more burnout than employees who do feel like they have some level of impact on their work.

In ABA practices, employers can reduce the potential for BCBA burnout by giving employees more choices as to how they complete their work requirements. There isn’t one approach to this strategy. However, ABA practice employers might consider any of the following:

  • Allow BCBAs to make their schedules. For instance, some BCBAs might work 4-day work weeks and have a 3-day weekend.
  • Encourage BCBAs to share ideas and recommendations. For instance, ABA practice employers could implement a process in which BCBAs are given opportunities to provide feedback on how their job, their work environment, and how the organization could be improved.
  • Allow individualized accommodations for BCBAs to ensure they have a positive work experience that suits their own needs, abilities, and preferences – even for BCBAs who don’t have a disability which is typically what employers use as a basis for offering accommodations. For instance, offer BCBAs the opportunity to work remotely part of the time as this could be preferred by some BCBAs. You might also offer various office layouts such as communal areas where BCBAs can work next to one another along with personal office spaces for BCBAs who prefer to work without social distractions.

Get a demo of Catalyst here.

3.    Provide Sufficient Resources to BCBAs

To prevent or reduce the experience of BCBA burnout, it is also helpful to ensure that BCBAs have the resources they need to do their job well. When resources are limited, burnout is much more likely to occur.

Examples of resources that BCBAs need for their work or that could support having a positive work experience include:

  • Office supplies to complete the necessary paperwork and to develop new ideas (i.e., binders, printer paper, post-it notes, notebooks, etc.)
  • Organizational items to make the work environment more comfortable and easier to work in
  • Treatment materials that support client programs (such as therapeutic toys, parent training curriculum or materials, etc.)
  • Mentorship opportunities to support BCBAs when they are struggling and to provide guidance to continue developing BCBAs’ skill sets
  • Training on relevant topics to improve the BCBAs’ skill set and overall work life
  • Administrative supports (like billing software that takes out the stress of billing-related tasks expected of BCBAs)

4.    Provide Positive Reinforcement to BCBAs

Research suggests that a lack of reward within one’s job can lead to greater experiences of burnout. When employees don’t experience enough rewards and recognition in their jobs, they are likely to feel less competent and less effective in their work.

Not being recognized in the workplace can also lead to some employees feeling devalued. On the opposite side of this, feeling valued often plays a role in people engaging in certain behaviors more often and more willingly. Being truly engaged in one’s job is thought to be the opposite of burnout. If leaders in ABA organizations can find ways to help BCBAs enjoy their jobs and to recognize the work that BCBAs do, they are preventing and reducing experiences of burnout amongst their employees.

5.    Minimize Administrative Tasks Expected of BCBAs

One way to reduce and prevent BCBAs from experiencing burnout is to minimize how many administrative tasks they are required to do as part of their job. For instance, some BCBAs are asked to complete billing-related tasks to help the ABA organization maintain and submit the necessary documentation for obtaining reimbursement for their services. This might not seem like that significant of a task for BCBAs to complete. However, expecting BCBAs complete administrative tasks in addition to providing intensive clinical services can be a factor that leads to burnout.

Reduce BCBA Burnout & Improve Outcomes with Catalyst

By using Catalyst in your ABA organization, you will be reducing the workload of your clinical staff by reducing the manual efforts expected of them. You will be providing your staff with the ability to automate their reporting with capabilities such as defined mastery procedures, customized graphing, automated progress reports, and more. This will give back time to your clinical staff to spend on patient care, not reporting. You will also be providing them with a valuable resource to make their work experience a more positive one.

To reduce burnout in the workplace, consider using Catalyst to support your data collection processes. Get a demo of Catalyst here.



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