The client role in staff burn-out
Journal of Social Issues, 34: 111–124. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1978.tb00778.x
The intense involvement with clients required of professional staff in various human service institutions includes a great deal of emotional stress, and failure to cope successfully with such stress can result in the emotional exhaustion syndrome of burn-out, in which staff lose all feeling and concern for their clients and treat them in detached or even dehumanized ways. This paper focuses on the role that clients themselves play in staff burn-out. Important client factors include the type and severity of the clients’ problems, the prognosis of change or cure, the degree of personal relevance for the staff member of the clients’ problems, the rules governing staff-client interaction, and the clients’ reactions to the staff themselves. Changes in the structure of the staff-client interaction and changes in client expectations about staff can alleviate staff burn-out. It should be recognized that clients can dehumanize staff just as staff can dehumanize them, and that steps to humanize the staff-client relationship must focus on both participants in this interaction.