Volume 37 Number 5 | October 2023
Sarah Steinberg, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Ascending Professionals Forum Secretary
Burnout. That is the word that everyone is warned about, but few of us actually heed. I always thought that burnout was a myth. I thought similar to my immune system, I had built up an immunity to burnout. I have been told while I was in school and early in my career, “Beware of the burnout, Sarah. Slow down, before you hit it.” I would always shrug those people off. Then, the spring and early summer of 2023 hit. Burnout finally found me. I have officially hit rock bottom. I am tired. I am feeling imposter syndrome to the max in my doctorate program. I feel like I am letting all three of my jobs down. Don’t get me started on how much I miss my kids and husband.
Burnout isn’t a myth. It is ready to strike when you are the least prepared and when you least expect it. However, when you hit rock bottom, you can only go up. Therefore, I decided that it is time for me to figure out how to pick myself back up.
“The burnout crisis is a pressing issue that affects individuals across various professions, leading to increased workforce shortages and perpetuating the cycle of stress and burnout.”
The Burnout Crisis
My story is all too familiar in today’s fast-paced and demanding world. The impact of COVID-19, combined with workforce shortages and ever-increasing stress in the work environment, has given rise to a perpetual cycle of professional burnout. This cycle not only affects individuals’ mental health and wellbeing, but it also leads to a significant number of people leaving their professions, contributing to increased workforce shortages, and starting the burnout cycle all over again.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it numerous challenges that intensified stress in various industries. Frontline healthcare workers, educators, service providers, and many others faced unprecedented demands, risking their own health while trying to cope with the uncertainty of the situation. Many experienced immense pressure to maintain productivity and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, often at the cost of their mental and physical health.
The Domino Effect: Burnout Leading to Workforce Shortages
My experience isn’t unique, burnout can strike even the most resilient individuals when the perfect storm of stressors align. The consequences of burnout can be severe and far-reaching. Not only does it impact the individual’s personal life, but it also has significant effects on their professional performance. Feelings of exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced efficacy can lead to decreased job satisfaction and productivity.
As a result, some professionals opt to leave their fields altogether, seeking relief from the relentless pressures they face. This exodus of experienced and skilled workers exacerbates workforce shortages, creating a vicious cycle. As the workload increases for the remaining workforce, stress levels rise further, and burnout becomes an ever-present threat for those who continue to soldier on.
Breaking the Cycle: Emphasizing Mental Health and Self-Care
To combat the burnout crisis and its subsequent workforce shortages, organizations and individuals must prioritize mental health and implement strategies that promote self-care and support.
- Recognizing the Signs: It is crucial to recognize the signs of burnout in oneself and in colleagues. Encouraging open conversations about mental health and creating a supportive work culture can help individuals seek help when needed.
- Self-Care as a Priority: Self-care is not selfish; it is a necessary part of maintaining good mental health. Encourage employees to take breaks, engage in hobbies, and spend quality time with their loved ones.
- Mental Health Support: Providing access to mental health resources, such as counseling or therapy, can make a significant difference in helping individuals cope with stress and burnout.
- Work-Life Balance: Organizations should strive to create an environment that promotes work-life balance, flexible schedules, and realistic workloads to prevent employees from feeling overwhelmed.
- Stress-Reduction Techniques: Encourage the adoption of stress-reduction techniques, such as mindfulness practices, yoga, or exercise, to help manage stress effectively.
- Peer Support Networks: Establishing peer support networks or mentorship programs can create a sense of camaraderie and support among employees, helping them navigate challenging times.
The burnout crisis is a pressing issue that affects individuals across various professions, leading to increased workforce shortages and perpetuating the cycle of stress and burnout. By recognizing the signs, prioritizing mental health and self-care, and providing essential support, we can break this cycle and create a more sustainable and supportive work environment. It’s time to acknowledge that burnout is not a myth, but a very real and pressing concern that requires collective action to address effectively. Together, we can build a healthier, more resilient workforce for the future.
Sarah Steinberg is a Clinical Coordinator at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming.