Methods: Participants were recruited through convenience sampling using a recruitment list developed by conducting an environmental scan of homeless service agencies across the state of Texas. Participants first completed an online survey (N=132) in spring of 2021 and were then given the option to participate in a qualitative interview. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 21 survey completers during the fall of 2021. The qualitative interviews are the focus of this presentation. Interviews were analyzed using a grounded theory approach to understand the causes and consequences of burnout during the pandemic.
Results: The degree of burnout varied across participants, with roughly one-third describing low burnout, one-third describing moderate burnout, and one-third describing high burnout. Workers identified a range pandemic impacts that contributed to increased stress and burnout, including shifting to virtual services, educating service users about the pandemic, enforcing health and safety protocols, and having less co-worker engagement. A key finding was the relationship between burnout and satisfaction with how their agency had responded during the pandemic. Those who felt their agency responded well tended to describe less burnout while those who felt their agency did not respond well tended to describe higher burnout. Those dissatisfied with their agency’s response identified a range of reasons, including inadequate safety protocols, acting like things were back to normal, and unsatisfactory support and supervision.
Conclusions and Implications: The findings presented here illustrate the pandemic’s negative impacts on frontline homeless service providers. They also point to important dynamics between organization-level factors and worker-level burnout, such as how inadequate support and supervision during the pandemic has contributed to heightened stress. These findings underscore the importance of understanding worker burnout through a broad lens and point to strategies for preventing or reducing burnout through organization-level changes, rather than simply promoting self-care strategies. Implications of this research extend beyond the pandemic for supporting healthy and supportive workplaces for homeless service workers—and hopefully reducing turnover. Future research is needed to understand the lasting impacts of the pandemic on this workforce as well as possible organization-level interventions to ameliorate burnout, such as enhanced supervisor training and more robust benefits packages.