Overworked and overwhelmed? You may be experiencing burnout.
by Jacqueline M. Hames
In this era of side hustles and the glorification of workaholics, it’s hard to establish professional boundaries, especially if multiple jobs are necessary to make ends meet. Work—whether actual tasks or simply work-related thoughts and anxieties—have crept into our collective downtime. Paired with two years of pandemic restrictions and any number of personal stressors, the workforce is primed for it—burnout.
For people teleworking, there is no morning commute in which we can mentally gear up, and no commute home during which we can decompress, and no physical distance between us and the office-provided equipment. Those working at locations in person, like healthcare workers and other essential personnel, or those doing physical jobs like welding, are frequently making up for being understaffed and lacking resources by putting in extra time.
Workplace burnout or job burnout, as defined by an article from the Mayo Clinic, “is a special type of work-related stress—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” It can be the result of several things: Lack of control, unclear job expectations, a dysfunctional workplace, extremes of activity, lack of social support and lack of a work-life balance, the article continued—all factors that the collective workforce experienced during the pandemic.
Some signs of burnout, as listed on WebMD, include:
- Exhaustion and trouble sleeping.
- Feelings of uselessness.
- Extreme job dissatisfaction.
- Irritability or anger.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Frequent headaches.
- Pain in your gut.
- Use of alcohol, drugs or other unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms.
Corporations and the government are now calling for a full return to the office. That prospect is daunting for some—even if people enjoy being in the office.
In April 2022, the “Army Workplace Guidance for Final Reentry of Civilian Personnel” memorandum was released, reflecting guidance from DOD. The Army’s guidance is that all civilian employees will be given 30 days advance notice in writing before being asked to return to the office, “absent an urgent or compelling mission need.” It also states that “telework flexibilities should be broadly extended to telework-eligible employees, when practicable and subject to mission requirements.”
But, after a few years, before- and after-work schedules have been drastically adjusted to accommodate certain flexibilities, including “sleeping in.” Personnel have also adjusted wardrobes (ah, sweatpants), exercise habits and even physical locations, occasionally moving to a different area to be nearer family or other support systems. Launching back into a pre-pandemic work routine for some is going to be difficult to say the least, perhaps bordering on overwhelming.
As the workforce moves back into the office—at least partially—preventing and managing burnout will be crucial. In 2020 alone, 57 percent of federal employees reported feeling burned out; one in three of those attributed the feelings to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey from Eagle Hill Consulting. Time pressures, poor communication and heavy workloads were the biggest sources of burnout.
While employee burnout is a continued risk, it can be prevented or mitigated, and employers can play a big role in that process. The January article, “In 2022, public employers face hiring challenges, opportunity” from American City & County said that employers—in both the public and private sectors—could help prevent job burnout with initiatives like wellness programs, flexible work-from-home arrangements, employee assistance programs and nontraditional benefits, such as student loan repayment and holistic health programs.
The Army’s own robust Employee Assistance Program has entirely free services, including screenings and assessments, and short-term counseling and referral for problems that may affect job performance or well-being.
Burnout can lead to more serious mental health issues. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, reach out immediately.
Veterans and service members can use the Military Crisis Line (go to https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/military-crisis-line) to phone or chat. In the U.S., call 800-273-8255 and press 1, which will take you to the Veterans Crisis Line. From the Military Crisis Line website:
Civilians and the general public can use:
For more detailed information and resilience resources, read “When the Going is Tough, Get Help” from Army AL&T’s Spring 2021 issue.
Employees who find themselves experiencing symptoms can do a few things to help stop burnout in its tracks, according to a Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund article. Some things to try are:
- Keep a balanced schedule. Set your work boundaries and maintain them—no more “extra hours.” Take regular breaks and try to plan your downtime in advance to better protect it.
- Build movement or exercise into your routine. Whether you’re establishing a regular exercise routine or just taking a 15-minute dance break after that long meeting, just move.
- Plan your vacation (or staycation). Not only is it fun to plan all your glorious adventures, or all that time you’ll be relaxing in peace, it also will give you something to look forward to—and it will give coworkers time to prepare for your absence.
- Talk to your supervisor, especially if you’re already feeling burned out, and ask how you can modify your workday to better accommodate your needs.
Prioritizing regular self-care is also critical in both prevention and recovery from burnout, so make sure that you’re doing the things that make you happy as often as you can. And if you’re having trouble, reach out—connect with a friend or family member, or the Employee Assistance Program.
For more information on burnout or how to get help, go to https://www.armyresilience.army.mil/ASAP/pages/Employee-Assistance.html or https://www.samhsa.gov/.
JACQUELINE M. HAMES is an editor with Army AL&T magazine. She holds a B.A. in creative writing from Christopher Newport University. She has more than 10 years of experience writing and editing news and feature articles for publication.