A Pandemic Wage-Earner: The Typical Steve

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May 30, 2021

 

Writers: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo
Researchers: Rafael Reyes, Kyra Ballesteros
Graphics: Krystle Mae Labio, Klein Xavier Boiser, Marc John Paul Agbuya
Tweet Chat Moderators: Angelica Jane Evangelista, Ian Stephen Velez, Eula Mei Labordo, Ella Mae Militante
Documentation: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Ian Stephen Velez
Spaces Moderators: Alvin Joseph Mapoy, Azie Marie Libanan, Kyra Ballesteros, Richardson Mojica

 

Steve is a middle-aged working and thriving employee. Over the years, he has been consistent and relentless in giving quality work, but the stress and exhaustion have finally caught up. He feels as if he was only working to survive, making him disengaged and apathetic towards his colleagues. On top of this, there’s this stinging feeling in the back of his mind insisting that he hasn’t done enough work.  Already uneasy and unproductive, Steve finds himself working from home. Steve is burned out.

Steve is a typical Filipino working in the middle of a pandemic. This situation has changed our working conditions, and with over a year in, it is a clear challenge for those in the labor force to translate their on-site jobs to working from home.

Despite this, people must work to survive. Because many were laid off due to the pandemic, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) hosted online job fairs in celebration of Labor Day to provide opportunities for those who were laid off (Rey, 2021). However, those who luckily stayed in their jobs experienced extreme burnout. Gonzales (2020) reported that “Manila ranks 5th among world cities with highest burnout rate”. How can we help people who are currently experiencing burnout?

Job burnout: Theoretical perspectives

Job burnout is defined as a special type of work-related stress. It is “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity” (Mayo, 2020).

Stress and burnout are two concepts that are often used interchangeably. Although stress could contribute to burnout, there are major differences between stress and burnout. Burnout is “a response to extended, excessive stress that leaves you mentally and physically drained, cynical, detached, and less effective as a result” (Borresen, 2021). Stress is characterized by over-engagement, burnout is characterized by disengagement (HelpGuide, 2020). When an individual is stressed, they are overwhelmed by stimuli but when an individual is burned out, they tend to avoid responsibilities altogether. When stress happens individuals tend to be over-reactive (HelpGuide, 2020). Their emotions are at a higher level, in which they react to things negatively quickly. In contrast, when a person is burned out, their emotions tend to be blunted. They tend to show little facial expressions even in the most emotional situations  (HelpGuide, 2020).

Possible causes of burnout include feeling as if you have a lack of control over your work, unclear job expectations, dysfunctional workplace dynamics, lack of social support, and work-life imbalance (Mayo, 2020). Other important predictors of job burnout include job stress and job satisfaction (Wu et al., 2020). There are instances where, as an employee, we place ourselves in situations where job burnout is more likely. Behaviors such as strongly identifying oneself with work, trying to please everyone in the workplace, and accepting a high workload, including overtime work, contribute to the possibility of job burnout (Mayo, 2020).

According to Maslach and colleagues (2001), the elements of burnout include the following: Chronic exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced personal efficacy. Exhaustion is described as “consistent feelings of tiredness and chronic fatigue”. Cynicism refers to the development of negative attitudes such as distancing oneself from work and negative behavior towards people they are working with. Lastly, reduced professional efficacy is a decline in one’s feelings of competence in the workplace (Maslach & Leiter, 2008). While job burnout can be excruciatingly stressful, it should be noted that it is not a medical diagnosis (Mayo, 2020).

Specific signs and symptoms of burnout could be classified into physical, emotional, and behavioral aspects (HelpGuide, 2020). Physical symptoms include feeling tired, frequent headaches, lowered immunity, and a change in appetite. Emotional symptoms such as a sense of failure, loss of motivation, feeling helpless, detachment, and increasingly cynical outlook in life may be experienced. Behavioral symptoms include withdrawing from responsibilities, isolating oneself from others, and using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope (HelpGuide, 2020).

Exposure to prolonged burnout may have negative effects on our physical and mental health. Negative consequences such as fatigue, insomnia, sadness, and health conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure can manifest if one is exposed to job burnout for a long time (Mayo, 2020).

Job burnout among healthcare workers

While job burnout is an issue among workers, May has been filled with appreciation for healthcare workers. Last May 7, 2021, Health Worker’s Day was celebrated in the country spearheaded by the Department of Health (DOH) (Department, 2021). The observance of Health Worker’s Day aims to “give due recognition to the important role and contribution of health workers who provide vital health services to Filipinos” (Medina, 2019). In 2016, there were 140,252 human health and social workers in the Philippines (Medina, 2019).

Another major event for healthcare workers this month was International Nurses’ Day. This year’s theme for International Nurses’ Day celebrated every May 12 was “Nurses: A Voice to Lead – A vision for future healthcare”. The event showcased “how nursing will look into the future as well as how the profession will transform the next stage of healthcare” (International, 2021).

Additional 6,831 new COVID-19 cases were reported by DOH last May 20, with the active cases surging up to 54,326 cases (Abad, 2021). Additionally, DOH reported a positivity rate of 13% (Abad, 2021). While the cases are easing up compared to last March, vaccine hesitancy has been stressing healthcare workers in the Philippines until early this year (McCarthy, 2021).

Dr. Charles Marquez, a community doctor in Mindanao further stated when interviewed by the National Public Radio last February 2021 shared that doctors and nurses in the Philippines are risking their lives to manage the COVID-19 outbreak while battling, “fatigue, depression, and stress” (McCarthy, 2021).

Looking at the bigger picture, a recently published research suggested that more than half (53.6%) of healthcare workers experienced high levels of burnout. Emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal achievement were factors of burnout among healthcare workers (Jalili et al., 2021). However, social support mediates the negative effects of burnout (Ruisoto et al., 2021). Thus, it is important to provide social support to our healthcare workers.

Job burnout among employees in the time of the pandemic

Job burnout among healthcare workers may be the glaring issue that we have to address, but employees from different fields of work also experience burnout. With the community quarantine and the pandemic still causing distress, a new kind of burnout among employees was reported. Since most of the workplace dynamics changed due to the pandemic, employees are most likely to experience “technostress”, which is  “stress from the introduction of new technologies” (Pflugner et al., 2019). This becomes the main factor of job burnout among employees.

Recent researchers noticed a shift in employee engagement among companies. This is known as the “Wellbeing-Engagement Paradox of 2020” (Beheshti, 2021). In previous research, when employee engagement is high, burnout decreases, and productivity and well-being increase (Beheshti, 2021). However, during the pandemic, the opposite happened. Employee engagement increased during June and July 2020 (the peak of the pandemic), but well-being decreased as employees’ stress and worry took a toll (Beheshti, 2021).

This change can be attributed to two factors. First, employees are highly motivated because they fear that they will be laid off from work. Although they felt lucky to still have jobs, the fear surrounding it is a stressor (Beheshti, 2021). Second, this change is just a paradox and is not sustainable. Engagement, productivity, and growth are not sustainable when employees’ well-being is not being cared for (Beheshti, 2021). Thus, the spike in employee engagement is borne out of fear and would be short-lived.

Despite the spike in employee engagement, job strain may increase. Employees who are confronted with increased job strain are more likely to use maladaptive coping strategies (Bakker & de Vries, 2019). When maladaptive coping strategies continue to exist, further job strain is expected.

Analyzing the Wellbeing-Engagement Paradox of 2020, business leaders should then start to pay attention to the effects of late-pandemic burnout (Beheshti, 2021). Employers should start to consider the motivation behind employee engagement and productivity. Are employees motivated by fear and worry? Even if they are still working from home, how can personal issues affect their performance? How can employers assist their employees?

Burnout in different aspects of our lives

We have to understand that burnout is not centered only on work-related issues. All of us experience burnout from time to time. Burnout may happen in various aspects of our lives – lifestyle, personality traits, academics, etc.

Lifestyle causes of burnout can include work-life imbalance, lack of supportive relationships, and not getting enough sleep (HelpGuide, 2020). Personality traits such as perfectionistic tendencies, pessimistic views, and high achieving characteristics can also cause burnout among individuals (HelpGuide, 2020). Academic burnout is characterized by lacking the motivation to attend classes, lacking inspiration and creativity in creating projects, and incapability to meet deadlines (University, 2021).

How to mitigate the effects of burnout

All of us experience burnout at least once in our lives. As a person, we have to create ways to mitigate the effects of burnout. These are some ways to handle the effects of burnout:

Recognize the signs of burnout. Self-awareness is an essential component of mitigating burnout. Understanding one’s emotions, behavior, and thinking through self-reflection can help you watch out for signs of burnout (HelpGuide, 2020).

Maintaining physical health. A healthy diet and proper exercise can contribute to a lesser feeling of burnout. Minimizing sugar and reducing intake of unhealthy food can affect your mood and energy levels (HelpGuide, 2020). Regular exercise and sleep can help you deal better with stress and restore your well-being (Mayo, 2020).

Managing your emotional health. Taking care of your emotional health by setting boundaries at work, saying “no” to requests outside your working hours, and taking a break from technology once in a while can help you ease the feeling of burnout. Physical and emotional resilience can be built through taking care of your physical and emotional health (HelpGuide, 2020).

Evaluate your options. As an employee, it is important to maintain communication with your supervisor. Try to ask your supervisor for job expectations to identify if the task on hand can be accomplished with the level of expectations set (Mayo, 2020).

Seek support. With the pandemic, it gets harder for employees to communicate especially for those who are working at home. We can reverse the feeling of burnout by seeking support and managing stress. Turning to other people can significantly help us deal with burnout (HelpGuide, 2020). Sharing conversations with your co-workers, friends, and loved ones’ might help you cope (Mayo, 2020). You can call them online or have a virtual conference.

Try relaxation and mindfulness activities. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation can help you focus. Also, the practice of mindfulness, such as focusing on your breath flow when you are stressed, can help you be less susceptible to job burnout (Mayo, 2020). According to a recent study, engaging in mindfulness activities can help relieve technostress that most employees experience (Pflugner et al., 2019).

Practice self-compassion. We tend to have more compassion towards other people but forget ourselves in the process. Neff (2021) stated that there are three elements of self-compassion: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-compassion is recognizing the imperfections that entail life. Knowing and accepting that life is imperfect is self-kindness (Neff, 2021). Understanding that suffering and personal inadequacy are shared human experiences refers to common humanity. Lastly, mindfulness is “having a receptive, non-judgmental mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them” (Neff, 2021). Practicing self-compassion can remind us that we do not have to be perfect and that it’s okay to take a break from time to time (Healthline, 2021).

As Steve takes a leave from work, he focuses on taking care of himself. He seeks support when needed and tries to practice self-compassion as much as he can. Let’s all be like Steve.

 

 

Pre-Session Question:

  1. Retweet/reply with anything that made you feel good the past few days (e.g., a pet, a song, a photo).

 

Questions:

 

  1. What are the indicators that you are experiencing burnout?
  2. How do you manage burnout in different aspects of your life – job, lifestyle, personality traits, academics?
  3. How can we help people who are currently experiencing burnout – healthcare workers, employees, students, our loved ones?

 

Cited Works

Abad, M. (2021). COVID-19 pandemic: Latest situation in the Philippines – May 2021. Rappler. https://www.rappler.com/nation/covid-19-pandemic-latest-situation-in-the-philippines-may-2021

Bakker, A. B., & de Vries, J. D. (2020). Job Demands–Resources theory and self-regulation: New explanations and remedies for job burnout. Anxiety, Stress, & Coping. Published. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615806.2020.1797695

Beheshti, N. (2021). The pandemic has created a new kind of burnout, which makes Well-Being more critical than ever. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nazbeheshti/2021/04/15/the-pandemic-has-created-a-new-kind-of-burnout-which-makes-well-being-more-critical-than-ever/?sh=34ca54ca2f01

Borresen, K. (2021). The difference between stress and burnout (and how to tell which you have). HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/difference-between-stress-burnout_l_5f6b8cb2c5b6189caefb34c7#:~:text=%E2%80%9CStress%20can%20be%20characterized%20by,a%20clinical%20%20psychologist%20in%20%20Atlanta.

Department of Health. (n.d.). Health calendar 2021. https://doh.gov.ph/healthcalendar

Gonzales, C. (2020). Manila ranks 5th among world cities with highest burnout rate — think tank Read more: https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1297777/manila-ranks-5th-in-the-world-with-highest-employee-burnout-rate-think-tank#ixzz6w9GoEVE0 Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook. Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1297777/manila-ranks-5th-in-the-world-with-highest-employee-burnout-rate-think-tank

HelpGuide. (2020). Burnout prevention and treatment. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/burnout-prevention-and-recovery.htm

International Council of Nurses. (2021). International nurses day. https://www.icn.ch/what-we-do/campaigns/international-nurses-day

Jalili, M., Niroomand, M., Hadavand, F., Zeinali, K., & Fotouhi, A. (2021). Burnout among healthcare professionals during COVID-19 pandemic: A cross-sectional study. International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health. Published.

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2008). Early predictors of job burnout and engagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(3), 498–512. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.93.3.498 [Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]

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McCarthy, J. (2021). The Philippines has vaccinated zero Health-Care workers so far. National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/02/18/969008730/the-philippines-has-vaccinated-zero-health-care-workers-so-far

Medina, M. (2019). Did you know: May 7 is health workers’ day. Inquirer. https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1114660/did-you-know-may-7-is-health-workers-day

Neff, K. (2021). Definition of Self-Compassion. Self-Compassion. https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/

Pflügner, K., Maier, C., & Weitzel, T. (2019). The direct and indirect influence of mindfulness on techno-stressors and job burnout: A quantitative study of white-collar workers. Computers in Human Behavior. Published. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106566

Rey, A. (2021). DOLE: No on-site job fair, all online on labor day 2021. Rappler. https://www.rappler.com/business/dole-reminder-job-fairs-labor-day-philippines-may-1-2021

Ruisoto, P. V. J. C.-S., Ramírez, M. R., García, P. A., Paladines-Costa, B., Vaca, S. L., & Clemente-Suárez, V. J. (2021). Social support mediates the effect of burnout on health in health care professionals. Frontiers in Psychology. Published. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.623587

University of the People. (2021). What is academic burnout? https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/what-is-academic-burnout/#:~:text=Academic%20burnout%20can%20be%20defined,and%20reduced%20ability%20in%20school.&text=It%20is%20rather%20more%20of,term%20study%20or%20school%20work.

Wu, F., Ren, Z., Wang, Q., He, M., Xiong, W., Ma, G., Fan, X., Guo, X., Liu, H., & Zhang, X. (2019). The relationship between job stress and job burnout: the mediating effects of perceived social support and job satisfaction. Psychology, Health, & Medicine. Published. https://doi.org/10.1080/13548506.2020.1778750

 

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