Soldiering On

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Healing was the theme Tim Dentry came back to time and again during our employee update on Monday. “We have an overwhelming need to heal,” Tim said. “We all need healing.”
As we straddle the two worlds of pandemic and post pandemic, it feels like the right time to seriously consider how healing can happen as well as what could hold recovery back. A recent email string I was on last week with a few co-workers pointed to this complicated juncture when the project conversation shifted to burnout.
“If I admit to sensing burnout, will I face repercussions for not being able to soldier on? Others are carrying larger burdens, so shouldn’t I be able to keep it together?” one co-worker asked. “I keep producing yet my heart feels beaten down by it at times.  Am I burned/ing out?  And if so, who do I dare tell?”
As it happened, Janet Nelligan, our Northern Light Talent & Diversity workshop presenter, was on the string and responded.
“You hit the exact points that I talked about in the Burnout Prevention workshop we offered last year. In my research I found that there is a stigma attached to burnout, and that even if you recognize you are getting there -- or more critically you are there – many people don’t feel it’s safe to say anything.”
Is that true for us? Culturally, we can’t afford for it not to be safe because the stress of not being able to be open about where we are only compounds the issue. But it’s a catch 22 as another co-worker pointed out.
“When the need is absolute but the hands are few, where does that leave everyone?”
“It’s a quandary,” Janet agreed. “We know that when there is no apparent answer to the staffing problem, people will hobble along until they can hobble no more. Could the collapse have been prevented if more creative thinking had been employed? I don’t know. But on an individual level sometimes we don’t set boundaries because, for whatever reason, we think we aren’t allowed to. Not setting boundaries can be self-imposed, an inner voice saying, ‘Everyone is overwhelmed and stressed so what makes me so special that I can’t soldier on.
The pandemic has created buckets of various burdens different groups have had to bear. This makes it near impossible not to compare one group’s burden to another, as if there is an established amount of allowable anguish for each bucket. But that kind of surface thinking makes assumptions that can harm us or makes us miss when someone is not doing well, Janet pointed out.
“We need to be careful that we don’t discount our situation by saying others have it worse. We do so at the risk our own mental well-being because we still feel the stress of our situation but now we’ve added guilt to the mix. It’s also just as important not to compare our situation to someone else’s because you never actually know how that individual is handling it. They may have the appearance of holding it all together, but on the inside be screaming for help. We can’t trust appearances.” 
Even if there are no ready answers these are such important questions to ask and gain clarity around:
  1. Is it safe to admit burnout?
  2. When is it okay to set boundaries?
  3. Am I the one imposing restrictions on being able to set healthy boundaries for myself?
  4. Am I discounting my own distress at the risk of my mental health?
  5. Am I assuming you are doing fine because you look like you are doing fine?
I bet so many departments are trying to answer these questions and it can’t be easy or straightforward. In the employee update Tim talked about how “open and at times uncomfortable conversations are necessary for growth,” something Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is teaching us all about. There may not be an absolute answer to every single question but the conversation of how we go about healing right now is too crucial not to venture in.
As for “who do I dare tell?” Now that’s one I can solve! You tell WorkForce EAP. It’s easy. All you say when the nice person answers the phone is, “I’m having a bit of a hard time.” They take it from there. The 24/7 phone number is 1.800.769.9819.
Let the healing begin…