Burnout is one of the main reasons professional pet sitting businesses fold within 3 years. Pet sitters are typically people who have caretaking personalities and desire to provide a quality pet sitting service.
These are admirable qualities but often people with these characteristics take on too much and end up burning the candle at both ends providing a service all year round, being eager to please people and not taking care of themselves.
With burnout, the joy and passion gets extinguished because of stress. Exceeding one's capacity for stress can result in significant chronic health problems including depression and anxiety.
Burnout vs Compassion Fatigue
Burnout results from stresses in the work environment such as dealing with difficult people, diminished control, excessive workload, conflict of personal values with organisation value and lack of financial security. With burnout, a person who was intially passionate and enthusiastic becomes worn down by stress and they suffer from physical and emotional exhaustion, reduced efficiency and chronic health problems.
Burnout is more related to a specific job and recovery may be possible with making changes to reduce stress in that job or changing jobs.
Compassion fatigue is more related to the type of work you do and is not resolved by changing jobs. It is physical and emotional exhaustion from the trauma of helping others in distress. It also results in reduced empathy and compassion. Veterinarians and animal rescue workers are at high risk of compassion fatigue and have a significantly higher suicide rate than the general population.
Compassion fatigue takes a toll on pet sitters who become attached to pets and experience grief when pets move away or pass away. They may need to care for an ill pet or sometimes even have to deal with a death of a pet directly. Pet sitters may see cases of pets not having optimal care - usually from the pet owner not being educated about pet care.
Experience with Burnout
I am susceptible to burnout as I have a lower capacity for stress than most people. My diminished capacity for stress is because I am prone to anxiety and depression because I am an extreme introvert on the autistic spectrum and I am a survivor of trauma. I have learned many techniques over the years to manage stress, anxiety and depression.
I got burnt out in a previous career as a high school science teacher. I was very creative and enthusiastic initially, but the high stress from workplace politics, high people contact, needing to act more outgoing and in charge than my natural personality and excessive admin really got to me. I started having panic attacks and I had a relapse of depression and I quit.
I later did private music teaching and taught children through to adults. I preferred working with people one-on-one and using my creativity to help them learn.
When I started my first pet sitting business, I was very aware of burnout and took steps to avoid it. My pet sitting business grew quickly and I won a New Business of the Year award in my city.
I suffered burnout in my pet first pet sitting business indirectly because of stresses with my marriage disintegrating. Even without the stresses of the marriage breakdown, I was still at risk. A friend in another city shut her very popular pet sitting business down because she got burnt out within 3 years.
When I started getting burnt out, the joy and passion I had initially diminished. I felt overloaded and exhausted. I started dreading dealing with people. I felt like being a complete hermit crab isolated away from the whole world. I started feeling resentful about doing tasks such as scooping umpteen hundreds of buckets of dog poop.
I had more aches and pains. It hurt a lot emotionally and physically when dog who jumped up enthusiastically to greet me scratched me and I was left with welts and bruises. I felt really down when clients shared with me the loss of pets I had developed a close bond with. Pets have relatively short life spans and when caring for a lot of pets including senior pets, grief is a big part of being a pet sitter.
I was completely emotionally and physically depleted and was no longer motivated to keep growing my business and I didn't have the energy to keep working either on or in my business. I sold my business for way less than it was worth to an employee after my fourth Christmas holidays (a very high demand time of year) as I didn't have the energy to prepare it for sale. Otherwise I would have shut it down.
I am well aware of burnout and I am taking steps to avoid burnout again. It's about knowing myself and working within my limits. I only want to keep the actual pet sitting side of things very small as I don't want to go down the path of hiring again as for me the stress of managing people outweighed the benefits.
My vision for Pet Purpose is broader than pet sitting. It's about purpose and meaning in my life. Educating pet parents and pet sitters to have happy, healthy pets at home.
Strategies to avoid pet sitter burnout.
Xanthe founded an award-winning pet sitting business in QLD, Australia in 2011. After selling the business, she returned to Taupo, New Zealand.
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