For grocer Cameron, burnout felt like he was losing track of his days and the customers he has talked to.
“It’s when you put in an hour of work, but it feels like it’s been five. It’s when you deal with today’s third customer, but it feels like a 30,” he said. Cross-country check.
“Everything just feels more intense. Everything feels longer, feels harder.”
In addition to his usual duties in the store, the clerk has taken on a responsibility, such as monitoring customers’ mask compliance, which he had never expected. CBC News only uses Cameron’s first name due to fears of consequences from his employer.
He says concerns about bringing coronavirus home and infecting vulnerable family members led to increased anxiety.
While he sees his colleagues as essential workers during a pandemic, he says grocery workers are too often forgotten.
“It’s not a glamorous job. We’re not solving COVID. We’re not helping cure COVID. We’re not testing for COVID,” Cameron said.
“But without us at COVID, what would happen to anyone who needs to eat?”
Amid the most contagious wave of COVID-19 to date, and as Canadians approach two full years of living with pandemic restrictions and health precautions, many say they are hitting a wall when it comes to their mental, physical and emotional well-being.
For frontline employees who may work longer hours or double coverage for sick colleagues, burnout is particularly acute.
“People have been insanely long days,” said Manjeet Lotey, an independent pharmacist in Edmonton. “We make all these pictures, and then… we also still have a pharmacy to run.”
“Many of my colleagues are burnt out. The only thing we’re talking about is that some people regret that at some point they got into this profession because we’re asked to do so much – and we’re happy to do it. that, but it’s just going to be difficult. “
Employers need to lower expectations
Workplace health and psychology expert Laurent Lapierre says many workers simply feel overwhelmed at this point in the pandemic.
“They have faced what some have seen as insurmountable demands,” said Lapierre, a professor of workplace behavior and health at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management.
Basically, burnout means that someone is exhausted. And according to Lapierre, it typically manifests itself in three different ways: emotional, physical, and cognitive.
Burnt-out employees may have difficulty controlling their emotions, perhaps experiencing mood swings or sudden tearfulness. Cognitively, some may struggle to perform tasks they understand or become forgetful. Others may feel the physical effects of exhaustion.
Lapierre says his proposal to address burnout among employees may seem radical to some employers. In short, they need a break.
“They have to, if they have not already done so, lower their expectations of their staff in terms of performance targets,” Lapierre said. Check.
He recognizes that many managers may feel ill-equipped to tackle burnout by reducing working hours or output due to expectations from top management or managers. But the alternatives are unsustainable, he said.
“That is it [reduction in work]”or you work people until they either decide to quit and go somewhere else in hopes of finding a more supportive management team elsewhere, or people can get really sick,” he said.
Lapierre warns that the risk of prolonged burnout can exacerbate anxiety, cardiovascular problems and thoughts of self-harm.
The risk outweighed the reward: frontline employee
According to Dr. Rima Styra, it is important for employees to be open about burnout with managers. The clinical researcher at the Toronto University Health Network, who has studied and advised health care professionals who experience burnout during the pandemic, says that being honest can benefit both the employee and the employer.
“What you need to do is find a private space at a quiet time and address the issue and tell them you are willing to work with them,” she said.
Conversations about what resources are available to staff who feel overwhelmed, what priorities can be reassessed, or adjusting shift hours and lengths could help address feelings of burnout.
People who may be considering leaving a job due to burnout – “a big step,” Styra said – should consult a family doctor before taking that leap. A doctor can help provide additional resources, such as mental health, or address more serious concerns.
“The family doctor can actually redirect you … to a psychiatrist if necessary, or maybe you basically just need to see a counselor or psychologist to find some more coping strategies,” she said.
“It may mean that you eventually walk away from the job, but at least you also have resources in place for your own mental health.”
For Cameron, who is also a student, the pressure from the pandemic has pushed him to take leave from his grocery job and focus on school.
“I could easily have continued working once or twice a week at school, but it just wasn’t worth it to me,” he said.
“The risk and the reward … were so skewed [toward] the risk. “
Written by Jason Vermes with files by Ashley Fraser, Steve Howard and Arsheen Shamaila.