The term burnout is used in the corporate environment all the time. I think it’s one of those words used to describe a feeling many workers feel but we don’t really talk about what burnout really is. I talked with a coworker on her last day at the company and her reason for leaving was that she was burned out. Without discussing what specifically the job was causing her to feel that way. I didn’t think I needed to ask because I was feeling the same way.
I never felt burnout until I started working a corporate job, specifically a caseload-based job. One of those jobs where new claims come in and other claims get resolved. There tends to be an ebb and flow to that type of work. I’ve worked at four different companies. A couple of them started off great only to plateau to a sameness. The sameness comes in the nature of caseloads. The goal is to resolve and close them. Those that do really well at them are rewarded with more of someone else’s who didn’t do so well. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I get why management does this. They want their rockstars to work more claims so that ultimately more will get closed. At first, it wasn’t so bad, but after a while it gets demoralizing and you start dreading when the supervisor lets you know that a caseload shift is coming. Throw into the midst of it, a spike in new claims and now your caseload is starting to get out of control.
Metrics are used to assess how everyone is doing. Meet the benchmarks and everything must be fine because you’re doing the work. But at what cost?
Then there is the praise that employees get for doing a good job without complaining. It’s the emphasis on doing the work without complaining that I have an issue with. They might as well say “suck it up and deal with it” because that is what that message conveys. If you do reach out and cry uncle, it’s met with a shoulder shrug and an “everyone is dealing with the same thing” which might as well be followed up with “so suck it up and deal with it.”
Management will tell you this is a great place to work and have their handy list of reasons why. There are two problems with that. First, if you need to tell me that, then even you know that’s not true or you wouldn’t need to tell me that. Second, if you’re having a hard time finding permanent employees to fill positions, your company is not all you think it is.
I know what you’re about to say: “But we are in the midst of a great resignation.” A solid company that respects and doesn’t overwork its employees is going to have more applications than open positions.
Here’s another aspect of caseload-based work that leads to burnout. Vacations are not really vacations because you have to come and deal with everything that happened on your desk while you were away. The mail may have been processed and anything that had to be taken care of while you were off, but anything that could have been pushed off until after you get back, usually is. This usually means your first day back is an incredibly overwhelming mix of 100 emails for each day you were off (at least most of those were people hitting “reply all” to office-wide emails) as well as all the voicemails and the tasks waiting for you. The night before my return from one weeklong vacation, I had to go get a massage because the tension in my body on SMonday was so intense, I had a migraine. If you want to know one of the reasons people don’t take time off for themselves, that’s one of them.
Most of the permanent employees are salaried, aka exempt employees who can work outside their normal hours. It’s tempting and easy to do to stay afloat, but your mental health suffers because you’re working more than you’re getting paid for when you’re logging in early and working “a little late” to button things up.
This environment is not meant for me. I love helping people and that’s part of the reason I stayed in the environment as long as I did.
All of this is why I walked away from being a permanent employee. As a temp employee, I clock in and out and that keeps me from working outside what I am paid. I’m only on a caseload for a few months, I’m not getting a caseload shift during my assignment. I filling in until they find a permanent employee to work the desk. I’m doing my best with the time I have. Most importantly when I take a vacation, it’s a real vacation because I’m doing it in between contracts. I don’t care that it is unpaid. It’s my time and it’s worth it being unpaid.