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Burnt Out vs. Unhappy

A little while back we posted a blog about burnout in the field of ABA. We wrote about the symptoms of burnout and provided some helpful tips on conquering this phenomenon. At the end of the post we said, "burn out should not mean an end to your career, but it might mean you need a mini vacation."

At Coffee & Cooper we try to write from the heart and only share experiences that are true to us. We want all of our trials and tribulations as BCBAs to be opportunities for other BCBAs to learn as well. Everything in our burnout post was honest and true. We were burnt out in our current positions. We both regrouped, took mini vacations and followed our own advice. But after taking our own advice, we still felt unhappy in our current jobs.

The signs of burnout include a loss of enjoyment at work, pessimism, isolation, and detachment. But these signs can also mean you’re simply unhappy with your job. If you can identify a boss, a coworker, policies or procedures at work that cause these feelings, then it might be time to take more than just a mini vacation.

In this field, there’s a certain stigma associated with leaving your job. We work in a field that requires us to build a relationship with those that we work with. Families depend on us to be reliable and consistent. Supervisees depend on us to guide them through their process to becoming BCBAs. Making the decision to leave your job is also a decision to walk away from families and coworkers that are counting on you. This isn’t easy. Some supervisors will make you feel as if you’re abandoning your clients, even if you’re giving an appropriate amount of notice. They’ll make you feel guilty for leaving your RBT supervisees because there’s no BCBA readily available to take your place.

We understand all of this because we’ve been there – on both sides. We’ve seen great BCBAs leave and the impact that can have on the families and coworkers. We’ve also left jobs and had to say those hard goodbyes to families (and colleagues) that we’ve known for 5+ years. It’s not easy. But just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing for you to do!

We’re here to remind you that staying in a job you no longer enjoy doesn’t make you a good BCBA! It impacts the quality of your work, which in turn impacts your supervisees and your clients. A workplace that makes you unhappy, won’t help you grow or learn, it’ll just make you resent the field.

Do you remember those three simple questions that can be used to guide us through questionable situations in our field?

What is the right thing to do?

What is worth doing?

What does it mean to be a good behavior analyst?

For us, the answers were clear.

What is the right thing to do?

The right thing to do is to find a job that inspires you as a BCBA. A job that allows you to grow and to learn. The right thing to do is to provide adequate notice and assist in making your transition out of the company as seamless as possible. The right thing to do is to tell your families and supervisees that they’ll be in good hands with their next BCBA. The right thing to do is not to complain about the company, or your boss, or your workload on your way out, but to leave on good terms.

What is worth doing?

It’s worth putting in at least 30 days notice, no matter how unhappy you are. (An important exception to note would be any ethical concerns with your current company). By putting in a month’s notice, you’re helping ensure that your teams will transition to a new BCBA with adequate time to find and train the new person. It’s worth telling your current supervisor why you’re leaving, even if it’s an awkward conversation. If they’re open to the feedback, this will help the company improve in the future which will impact the families they work with. It’s worth biting your tongue no matter how much you want to complain to your coworkers during those last 30 days. The ABA world is a small one and burning bridges is never a good idea. Lastly, it’s worth finding a job that you’re excited about. There are so many different types of jobs available to you as a BCBA, you shouldn’t pigeon hole yourself to one (Check out Next Gen Revolution Summit for some intriguing discussions for how to combine ABA with your other passions). Just because your experience has always been in in-home ABA, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for a position in a school that can provide you with the adequate training and support to grow in that area.

And finally, what does it mean to be a good BCBA?

This question has many answers, but for us

at least part of the equation is being happy. Our productivity and ability to give our all to the field, requires a solid foundation in which we’re happy and motivated to do our jobs every day. While knowing that it is natural to have ebbs and flows in any career, understanding when it’s’ time to make a switch - whether it’s due to people you work with/for, a stressful commute, or a need for a work/life balance - it’s part of growing as a professional, a BCBA, and as an individual – and it’s perfectly okay.

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