A new survey purports to show “troubling” levels of “federal employee burnout.”
Maybe, but surveys generally reveal what the surveyor is looking for, especially in the era of online surveys. So I’m skeptical both about the notion of burnout or that burnout is somehow running wild with more than half of government employees, and 70% of senior executives, saying they feel it.
What is burnout anyhow? Here’s the Mayo Clinic definition: “Job burnout 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.” People become cynical, have trouble dragging themselves to work, lack energy, can’t concentrate, become disillusioned or alienated.
But the Mayo people add, “‘Burnout’ isn’t a medical diagnosis.” It’s not like eczema or depression. In fact, the Mayo article states, underlying conditions like depression can cause people to feel burned out at work. That is, the job itself isn’t the cause.
From the NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) via the National Library of Medicine, I learned the term burnout is the 1970s invention of a renowned psychologist (and Holocaust escapee) with the actual name of Freudenberger. He believed burnout was in fact a “state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.”
Now, a high percentage of people who took the time to answer, said yes to the burnout question. See the info-graphic from Eagle Hill Consulting. Leading questions can lead to high positive answers. So we’ve got an observation, but not really a reliable piece of data projectible across the federal workforce.
Survey statistics get bandied about a lot. Just today I learned 56% of Americans are likely to travel for vacation this year. But 21% have traveled during the pandemic. Really, who the heck knows?
I heard 70% of people will watch the Super Bowl in the dangerous proximity of other people. All that cheering and shouting spewing potentially deadly droplets into the air and on the nacho dip.
The pandemic, yes, has made life more stressful now. I’m getting stressed out from hearing it so much. Every ad seems to talks about these, or our, troubled, uncertain, difficult, stressful, trying, or unprecedented times. At times it’s enough to make people think, geez, why get out of bed?
But the notion that a majority, much less seven in ten, federal managers are burned out? As Joe Biden might say, “C’mon man!”
The federal managers I talk to know, first of all, they are working. They’re not laid off. Their health care benefits and pensions aren’t going anywhere. They know they’re doing meaningful work. Their agencies are fully funded. Sometimes they mention “fed-bashing.” But lots of professions and industries get bashed — doctors (except for Anthony Fauci), lawyers, media, politicians, airlines, drug companies, military contractors. We’re a nation not bashful of bashing.
Didn’t like those Trump-era executive orders on federal working conditions? Here’s a refreshing splash of cold water on the face: President Biden rescinded them! They’re gone, kaput, shredded.
If you are in suffering from job blues, a little self help might be in order. And I make the distinction between feeling overworked and actual depression, which is a dangerous clinical condition requiring professional help.
For the burnout symptoms as listed by the NCBI, there are things you can do, from Radio Dr. Tom (not):
- Exhaustion: You’ve got vacation days. Take some. You’ve got weekends. Shut the darn Dell notebook. Watch the Super Bowl. I personally have found that getting up earlier and doing a workout gives me more energy for the day. The hardest part was the dumbbells — until recent weeks there was a national shortage of them.
- Alienation from work-related activities: That’s a little tougher. But think about the public you’re serving. They’re not alienated from what you’re doing. Maybe you’re steps removed from direct program delivery. But you’re still supporting a mission. Think like that proverbial NASA janitor.
- Reduced performance: See points one and two above. Also try changing your daily order of tasks. Do the last thing first. While you’re at it, get that paper under control. Clean out that email box. You know how your car runs better when it’s clean inside and out? You’ll work better in a spiffed up environment.
I can see how some types of working people can get burned out. Like those doctors and nurses taking care of the COVID-infected people. From my limited views into hospitals, they’ve always seemed like highly stressful places already. Far too many people work in dead-end jobs, jobs with few prospects for mobility, jobs where the industry or their personal futures are uncertain.
Be glad you work with your brain. It’s something you can control.
Nearly Useless Factoid
By Alazar Moges
On June 15, 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first Black woman in the world to earn an aviator’s license. Coleman was forced to go to France to find a school that would accept her but earned a pilot’s license from Federation Aeronautique Internationale after only seven months. Despite her short career, having died tragically in 1926 in an accident while preparing for a show in Florida, her impact on aviation history, and particularly African Americans, lives on to this day.