This is a topic that very few ever talk about but I feel is very important.
I have been pet sitting for 23 years. In my 23 years I have seen 5 professional pet sitters up and quit because they can’t take it any more. What? Just up and quit! Stop answering the phone the emails and the voice mails. Also most if not all do not even return clients keys. Leaving clients stranded and looking frantically for a new pet sitter!!! I understand this and I take every precaution to prevent it. That is why after 23 years, I am still here and going strong. Hire me because I am the best in Valpo!!!
So what is actually going on? Why does this happen? Several reasons actually.
What is the definition of burnout?
In the Figley Institutes’s Basics of Compassion Fatigue Workbook, burnout is explained in the following way:
“Burnout can result when individuals are exposed to trauma, fear or uncertainty, loss of economic security or position, and anger over diminished control or circumstances. Prolonged exposure to a stressful and demanding environment is structurally conducive to burnout. This state of emotional and mental exhaustion creates physiological consequences including (1) fatigue, (2) irritability, and (3) physical complaints. Burnout unfolds gradually in response to daily assaults of stress.”
In a webinar presented to PSI’s professional pet sitter members by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR, the differences between burnout and compassion fatigue were discussed in detail.
As Katherine described, burnout is typically associated with where you work—and if you leave the job, you would leave the burnout. [An example could be developing burnout from a specific job or employer that constantly asked you to work overtime, paid very little and didn’t encourage positive relationships between co-workers.]
On the other hand, compassion fatigue is more associated with the work you do—so it follows you wherever you go. [For example, while a nurse could go to work for a different hospital, the fatigue he or she experiences from dealing with life and death situations, seeing individuals suffer, etc. would still be present]. Read more about pet sitter compassion fatigue.
In an article for DVM360 Magazine, writer Julie Scheidegger quotes Jennifer Brandt, PhD, LISW, veterinary social worker at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, who explains three primary characteristics of burnout:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Alienation from job-related activities
- Reduced performance
Brandt says situational burnout may often be “treated” by changing your environment—solving a persistent problem or getting a fresh start in a new work environment. You can read the complete article here.
What are causes of burnout for professional pet sitters?
Since professional pet sitters often own their own businesses and work for themselves, it can be confusing to understand how burnout applies: If burnout is associated with where you work and can be improved by leaving that specific job, what does that mean for pet sitters who work for themselves?
While no one wants to experience burnout, professional pet sitters who own their own businesses are in a unique position to determine the causes of their burnout and make changes in their business to alleviate the problems. If you worked for another company, finding another job might be the only way to improve working conditions–but because you are your own boss, YOU are in control of changing and improving your working conditions to improve your quality of life and job satisfaction.
So, let’s look at some of the common causes of burnout for professional pet sitters…
During the aforementioned PSI member webinar that explored burnout and compassion fatigue in professional pet sitting, members discussed some of the common “work conditions” that caused burnout for professional pet sitters.
Causes of burnout shared by professional pet sitters during the webinar included:
- long hours (multiple visits per day)
- working weekends and holidays
- difficult or aggressive pets
- difficult or demanding clients
- moderate pay
- travel time and wear on vehicle
How can professional pet sitters combat burnout?
As mentioned above, compassion fatigue (view this post to learn more about pet sitter compassion fatigue) is associated with the work you do, so if follows you wherever you go; but, because burnout has more to do with specific work conditions, as a professoinal pet-sitting business owner, you are in a good position to address the causes like those noted above to prevent burnout from having a negative impact on you and your pet-sitting service.
To prevent or address some of the causes of pet sitter burnout discussed, consider these tips:
1. Recognize your limitations—Determine how many pet-sitting visits you can comfortably handle in a day without jeopardizing your health or the care provided. Refer to other pet sitters or hire staff if your client base grows beyond what you can handle alone. To minimize travel time, be smart about your service area. While it may be tempting to drive beyond your desired service area, particularly when you are trying to build your clientele, think about the impact driving longer distances will have on your schedule, ability to accept other assignments and the wear on your vehicle.
2. Know your worth—New pet sitters are often susceptible to undervaluing their services and offering extremely low rates to gain new clients. It’s important to understand that for professional pet sitters, there are overhead costs (insurance, bonding, etc.) and you must price your services accordingly. You are a professional pet-care provider offering a professional service and should be compensated accordingly. Review prices of other pet-care professionals in your area to determine a going rate, and analyze your costs of doing business to determine a rate that will enable your business to prosper. Underpricing your services can cause additional stress and job disatisfaction for you (and possible financial failure!) so know your worth and price your services accordingly.
3. Say “NO”—Remember, you do not have to accept every client who contacts you (whether you have time in your schedule or not). While you will always have those picky clients, if there are any clients that you dread servicing, let them go! Keep in mind that you are also not the best pet sitter for every pet. If a pet is untrained or requires medicine administration that you are not comfortable with, decline the client. Also, never take on assignments where you feel unsafe or ones that could jeopardize your health, such as an extremely unclean home.
4. Take time away from your business—You’ve got to have time to relax! There’s no question that small –business owners work long hours, but you have to take time for yourself. Schedule annual vacations or at least days off occasionally—and remember to take daily time for yourself. Find what helps you relax, whether it’s yoga, a nap or Facebook games online!
- Burnout, Compassion Fatigue & the Professional Pet Sitter (webinar)
- Pet sitter burnout and compassion fatigue (PSI blog post)