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COVID-19: Tips to Prevent Burnout of Essential Workers

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The term burnout has become common workplace lingo for most professions in recent years. 

It is basically defined as chronic workplace stress with three defining characteristics including: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy (Maslach & Leiter 2016). While it isn’t actually a formal diagnosis, it is a real mental health issue affecting many workers. 

For anyone who is still working during this pandemic, many or all of those characteristics might be resonating even more.  Typically, burnout is a term reserved for people who work in environments that require a more selfless nature of putting their own health and safety needs aside for someone more vulnerable.  This has often included healthcare providers, teachers, and first responders. 

However, now people working in other environments such as grocery stores, supply chains, environmental disposal or janitorial services are also putting others needs in front of their own.  First I’ll discuss how do you detect signs of burn out, and then how can we protect ourselves and our essential workers from it developing into disorders such as anxiety, depression or trauma disorders.

Recognizing signs of burnout:

Based on the three dimensions of burnout described earlier there are symptoms within each characteristic.

  • Exhaustion. This can be described as loss of energy, chronic fatigue, or feelings of debilitation.
  • Cynicism. This could be looked at as having negative feelings and attitudes about the workplace, the patients/clients/students, irritability, withdrawal, and loss of idealism
  • Inefficacy. Often this comes with feelings of inadequacy, low productivity, reduced accomplishments, and overall low morale at work.

Preventing burnout during pandemic:

As an employer the best ways to reduce employee burnout right now are to:

  • Help employees see how much they are valued and recognized for all their efforts during this time.
  • Provide ongoing training such as proper use of PPE.
  • Enforce reasonable work hours, meaning don’t allow employees to work too much overtime.
  • Encourage breaks, especially ones that support physical and mental health activities such as going for a walk or meditation breaks.
  • Encourage the use of employer resources such as EAP.

Improved Self-Care Strategies:

For individuals who are essential workers right now what steps can you take to reduce burnout from happening:

  • Minimize caffeine and alcohol consumption, especially if you notice you are using it more than usual.
  • Take time to eat healthy. Find some good meal prepping ideas online or even call your EAP to talk to a registered nutritionist or dietician to help create healthy meal plans.
  • Find a new at home workout program, or even a nice fast walk outside.
  • Focus on your daily accomplishments, even if they are small.
  • Resist working unnecessary overtime.
  • Stop multi-tasking. We all suck at it regardless of what you’ve heard.
  • Break down big projects into smaller steps.
  • Shut out negative media that you find upsetting.

If we acknowledge that we are starting to experience some of the feelings of burnout and change even just one daily habit during this time, we can hopefully come through this experience stronger and with new positive life skills and/or habits.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Christine Fuda is the Mental Health First Aid Coordinator at Ontario Shores. During the pandemic, she will be blogging regularly around the impact of COVID-19 from a mental health perspective. Send your suggestions for topics to @email 

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