Work-Life Balance As A Disability Support Worker

February 29, 2024

Work is a healthy part of everyday life: it gives us a sense of pride and satisfaction and also provides a place for us to mix with and interact with people from all walks of life.

Disability support work is no different. Support workers will work with different people with various disabilities and support requirements. And while disability support work is a rewarding career, it poses unique challenges, including burnout, stress, and mental and emotional exhaustion.

The 2021 NDIS Workforce Retention survey found that 43% of workers feel burned out at least half the time in their jobs—and at least 45,900 workers leave the disability workforce each year.

And that presents quite a predicament for the disability sector. In 2021, the NDIS projected the number of participants (people with disability requiring supports) to grow to around 500,000 by 2024. That figure ballooned: by March 2023, the number of NDIS participants had risen to 592,059 participants.

This means disability service providers and the disability sector as a whole are looking for more support workers to meet demand. 

But how can we reduce employee turnover? By fostering better work-life balance.

What is work-life balance?

Work-life balance involves managing the demands of work and family/personal life. It means having clear lines between work and home life so that we can focus on different aspects of our lives.

How does work affect disability support workers?

The 2021 NDIS survey found that 43% of support workers' main reason for leaving their roles was a high and demanding workload.

The biggest demands support workers face include:

  • Having too much work: they may have to work extended shifts or have too many people to support, which may be related to the growth of people with disability receiving supports and the turnover rate of their peers.
  • Exposure to health and safety risks: due to the nature of their work, support workers often face adverse risks to their health and safety, e.g. infections, manual handling practices, unpredictable behaviour, etc.
  • Emotionally demanding work: support workers work very intimately with the people they support, which can take a toll on their emotional and mental wellbeing
  • A high administrative burden: this was a result of the NDIS’s paperwork requirements, as many felt the load was too heavy—nearly half said that too much red tape prevented them from effectively performing their work. Sole traders particularly found the NDIS’s paperwork requirements excessive (as they would have to spend more personal hours completing paperwork).

Where this happens, support workers can often feel stressed and burned out.

What can be done? 

Both disability support workers and service providers (i.e. managers, supervisors, and employers) can take steps to promote a healthier work-life balance.

Support workers

  • Create and respect boundaries: support workers should draw a hard line between their work and personal lives. This means being firm on their capacity to work and assigning specific hours to deal with work, e.g. after 6 pm, they will no longer take any work calls.
  • Work on time management: a big part of juggling work and personal life is good time management. Calendars and to-do lists can help keep track of the week and what needs to be done, e.g. shopping, cooking, spending time with friends, etc. Time management will also ensure that downtime is factored into the schedule, which can mean going for a walk, reading a book, being in nature, or just having time to unwind and do nothing.
  • Build resilience: support workers should engage in professional development or look for resources to help them build resilience. In doing so, they will be better able to recognise the signs and symptoms of stress and burnout and manage these before they worsen.

Service providers

  • Respect workers’ time: the 2021 NDIS survey found that 47% of support workers had to work outside their rostered hours. Managers and supervisors should be conscious of their workers’ time and ensure they roster and schedule shifts without placing too much strain. 
  • Foster an inclusive and supportive culture: many support workers reported a negative workplace culture as a reason for leaving their jobs. Managers and supervisors should create an open and supportive environment where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns. They should also recognise and celebrate support workers’ achievements and dedication.
  • Encourage rest: managers and supervisors should stress the importance of everyone looking after themselves and encourage support workers to take time off. They should make sure employees know their leave entitlements so they can take the time to switch off and recover (managers and supervisors should try to do the same and look after their own wellbeing).

Final thoughts

Disability support workers play an essential role in providing the supports that people with disability need. 

But with the number of people requiring supports increasing and the demands of support work, it’s more important than ever for support workers to look after themselves and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

In doing so, they can continue to serve people with disability and make a positive impact on the community.

Aalia Hussein
Instructional Designer and Writer
Imaginative and inventive, Aalia is etrainu’s resident writer. She has a passion for weaving words together and storytelling. She’s in charge of etrainu’s content, creating engaging and immersive experiences across learning and marketing.

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