Preventing Burnout During COVID-19

Published Tuesday, July 7, 2020

What does a Self-Care, Midday Moves Class have to do with working during a pandemic? Everything!

It was almost exactly a year ago that the World Health Organization declared occupation burnout an official medical diagnosis. At WJCS, preventing burnout has always been an important priority, as our agency is sensitive to the dangers of vicarious trauma, a condition in which people adopt and exhibit the same symptoms of stress, burnout, and anxiety as trauma victims with whom they work. Helping staff identify and combat signs of vicarious (also known as secondary) trauma is vital so that their work with survivors of emotional and physical abuse and other hardships does not prevent them from maintaining balance and serenity in their own lives. In fact, our expertise in this area led to several agencies in Westchester County partnering with WJCS mental health professionals to provide secondary trauma trainings to Police and Correction officers and other First Responders so they can better manage the challenging aspects of their jobs.

The importance of preventing burnout has been magnified with the disruption and accompanying stress triggered by COVID-19. Our employees have worked tirelessly to meet the needs of Westchester residents struggling during the pandemic, providing over 25,000 Telehealth sessions via video chat and phone to date, delivering food, essential items, and children's games and activities to needy families, and devoting 24/7 care to developmentally disabled adults living in our 13 group homes who are prohibited from having family visitors and attending day programs. They have done all of this while also caring for themselves and their own families during an uncertain time of high health risk and emotional turmoil.

"This has been a period of both great challenge and wonderful inspiration," says WJCS CEO Seth Diamond. "Our staff has risen to the occasion by transforming services to be virtual, where necessary, and making sure to meet the needs of those we serve." Supporting staff by giving them the tools needed to do their jobs safely, communicating frequently so that staff are kept up to date as WJCS adapts to changing circumstances, expressing to employees how much their hard work is appreciated, and organizing fun virtual activities have all been priorities to ensure that staff stay calm and centered in the midst of a highly anxious time.


We all know that movement, humor, and connection can help relieve anxiety. Throughout the pandemic, WJCS has offered weekly lunchtime staff-led activities to alleviate stress. Valerie Rosen, WJCS program director for OnTrackNY led a mid-day movement class. (Check out the easy and effective fitness moves in the video above.) WJCS social worker Ruth Rosenblum led a lunchtime class in Mindfulness Meditation. COO Bernie Kimberg hosted a fun game of Bingo and Center Lane Program Director Lisa Scott led an activity that the whole family could enjoy.

Expressing gratitude has been key. Just as essential workers are being thanked with a round of applause in the streets of New York City every evening, our direct support staff at WJCS's 13 group homes have been celebrated with resounding applause broadcast during Zoom meetings in which employees and Board members clap and express big "Thanks You"s to our front line workers who demonstrate caring and commitment every day. Our generous Board members as well as County leaders,  including New York State Senator Shelley Mayer, have delivered pizza pies and other culinary treats to WJCS group homes to lift the spirits of staff and residents during days of social isolation.


This has also been a challenging time as we struggle with the horrific death of George Floyd and the glaring reality of systemic racism in our society. WJCS's Undoing Racism Alliance Committee, started 18 years ago, has organized several Lunch 'n' Learn virtual workshops since the pandemic began to increase awareness about the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on people of color, provide an open discussion about race in the United States, and focus on how we can create positive change for social justice.

Staying positive and productive is important during this difficult time. Every Friday since COVID-19 began, our CEO Seth Diamond has sent staff an update email, always closing with a video that is heartening. Here's one for you to enjoy:


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