Feds are busy, and busier during the pandemic. Of course they’re feeling burnout.

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A recent survey found more than half of federal employees, albeit from a small sample size, said they were experiencing burnout.

It’s worse for senior executives, where 70% reported burnout. The pandemic is partly to blame, according to the survey.

And those millennials — full disclosure, I am one! — reported burnout more than feds of other generations. About 64% of millennials said they experienced it, compared with 55% of Generation X and 50% of baby boomers.

Funny how two people can review the same data and come to two different conclusions. For my colleague Tom Temin, who wrote about the survey Friday, said the results compelled him to say, “C’mon, man!”

Me? I read these results and thought, “Eh, sounds about right.”

Sure, most feds have been employed throughout the pandemic. They’ve kept their jobs, salaries and health insurance. Others haven’t been as lucky.

But at the same, the pandemic has demanded more of the government and its services.

The Small Business Administration has been busy over the last year. The IRS has sent out two rounds of stimulus checks to millions of Americans in less than 10 months, in between a tax filing season. The agency may, if the White House gets its way, send out a third.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is balancing its first, second and third missions, a challenge during most “normal” times. During a pandemic, VA adds a fourth mission: accepting non-veteran patients into their healthcare system.

Oh and the Postal Service? Raise your hand if you’re still waiting for a family member to get their Christmas gift.

According to the Eagle Hill survey, feds cited their workload as a top cause of burnout. The new administration is calling on agencies to do even more.

Some agencies, though certainly not all of them, have fewer people today than they did five years ago to accomplish all that work.

The Agriculture Department had 4,800 fewer people in September 2020 compared to September 2016, according to the Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope database.

One USDA employee I spoke to last week said she and her colleagues were feeling overwhelmed and overworked with fewer people around.

The workforces at other agencies are smaller today too. The workforce for Department of Health and Human Services was down about 3,000 people in September 2020 compared to 2016.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Education, State and Transportation Departments have lost a few hundred people during that same time period.

The workforces at the Departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs have grown, however, during that time period.

It’s fair to say that if you work for some of these agencies, you might be doing more with fewer people. That’s bound to induce some stress, even if you’re not planning on leaving the job any time soon.

Of course, the federal government has a survey that’s designed to measure the pulse of the workforce. It’s called the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, and unfortunately the 2020 version isn’t out yet.

According to last year’s results, 59% of feds said their workloads are reasonable, but just 49% said they have sufficient resources, such as people, materials and budget, to get their jobs done. That was before the pandemic.

Those are questions to watch this year when the 2020 results come out.

They may look a lot like the previous year’s, when federal employees started 2019 with the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Engagement stayed flat across government, improving at some agencies and declining at others.

The career folks at OPM said the 2019 results showed the resiliency of the federal workforce during a pretty stressful year.

Our own surveys of federal employees and contractors tell us those who are balancing their jobs and Zoom school are feeling pressure and extra stress right now.

Federal supervisors and senior executives have described the difficulties of managing during the pandemic. It takes more effort to check in with your coworkers these days when you can’t stand up from the desk and peek over at your colleagues’ screens.

It is possible to feel engaged at work but burnt out at the same time?

I’d argue yes, as long as that feeling of burnout, however you define it, doesn’t persist for months or years on end. That’s the hard part as we inch closer to the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. Oof.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned my own conversations with feds, it’s that the mission drives them to continue their work. FEVS data bears that out as well.

According to the 2019 survey, 96% of feds said they’re willing to put in extra work to get the job done and 90% said the work they do is important.

I have to imagine that after a year like 2020, the results will look similar.

So whether it’s a vacation, the vaccine or maybe just a long weekend, here’s hoping — if you are feeling burnt out — there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Alazar Moges

Bill Hewlett and David Packard, the co-founders of technology company Hewlett-Packard, flipped a coin to see which of their names would come first. Hewlett won the coin toss and thus Hewlett-Packard was born.

Source: Hewlett Foundation

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