As “quiet quitting” took over the internet this fall, worn-out workers cited a whole host of reasons for drawing the line: overwork for one. Paltry pay for another. But the mere fact that setting reasonable boundaries and work-life expectations warranted a trendy name says more about the state of the American workforce than anything else.
How fitting then that Seattle came in 10th on a Within Health report of the most burned out cities in America. The digital health startup analyzed more than 400 burnout-related Google search terms from March 2020 through June 2022. No surprise here: Work was the most cited reason for burnout (72 percent), while financial stress (51 percent), the ongoing pandemic ( 35 percent), and family (as0 35 percent) rounded out the top causes.
Burnout, according to the World Health Organization, leads to exhaustion, disassociation or depersonalization from work, feelings of negativity, and reduced effectiveness in the job.
While it’s easy to chalk it all up to Covid-19 and the ever-changing state of the world, Dr. Amy Brockmeyer, section head of gynecology and gynecologic oncology at Virginia Mason Medical Center (and co-director of the provider well-being and professional fulfillment program), says this has been a noted phenomenon among health care workers for years. “The way we see it in the health care world is that it is an occupational hazard—it’s something that happens to our health care workers just by working in this environment.”
Health care worker burnout has dire consequences, not just for the employees themselves, but also for hospitals and their ability to see patients. Washington (and pretty much every state) continues to experience nursing shortages, with some nurses even going so far as to call it a “crisis.” Think the restaurant worker shortage but add in saving lives on top of that. The problem is so serious that addressing health worker burnout is listed as one of the main priorities of the US Surgeon General.
It’s not just health care workers, though. The same could be said of teachers and others who work in education, where extremely stressful working conditions raised alarm bells about burnout long before the ongoing public health crisis. The ensuing pandemic years just made everything worse.
In a June 2022 Gallup poll, 44 percent of K–12 workers said they “always” or “very often” feel burned out at work—the highest percentage among job categories. In that same poll, 31 percent of health care workers chose the “always” or “very often” designation.
The strategies for reducing or recovering from occupational burnout are varied but not always easy to implement, ranging from support groups to flexible schedules. For Brockmeyer and Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, it’s more about giving workers the resources to address their personal well-being. “I want to reiterate that burnout is not a personal failing, it is not a lack of resilience in each individual,” Brockmeyer says. “It’s important to create a culture of wellness, meaning it’s okay for people to stay home when they’re sick, it’s okay to have boundaries on when you answer emails, it’s okay to ask for help.”