Burnout and the Importance of Mental Health

Road sign photo with left arrow pointing to "work-life-balance" and right arrow pointing to "burnout"I am writing to let our campus community know that I realize there is a lot going on right now, and there has been for some time. The pandemic, the economic crisis facing our country, and the election, all create daily stress and anxiety that can make work life complicated and difficult. Events in the news and incidents of racial injustice cause further stress, fatigue, and trauma. Life is hard for many people right now.

Since becoming your colleague a few months ago, I have noticed a great deal of grace and kindness on the part of LCC faculty and staff. I have heard several stories of co-workers going the extra mile to check in on one another, as well as accounts of supervisors being flexible and understanding. Several of the team meetings I attend begin with an informal assessment of how folks are doing. A number of LCC people have taken the time to check in on me, asking how I am doing during this difficult time. It’s important to acknowledge that what we are experiencing is difficult and stressful. I want our faculty and staff to know that the senior leadership of the college recognizes this particular “2020” stress that promises to continue into 2021. As a team, we have been discussing how our college can best respond to the fatigue and burnout that we all know to be real. As I listen to conversations across campus, deep and important observations have been made on this point during meetings of the Academic Senate, as well as the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) meetings. I was listening, and I have heard you.

There is no single action or strategy to address the challenge we are currently facing. While they can be difficult to discuss at work, mental health and self-care are important topics we all need to work on during these stressful times. In this message, I would like to stress two important topics:

  1. Work/Life Balance. It can be easy for organizational leaders to encourage a balanced approach to work without providing the necessary flexibility and understanding to actually accomplish it. Community college faculty and staff are the hardest working people I have ever met. We all care so much about our students and the mission of our college that it is easy to neglect ourselves. I have specifically asked our management team to approach this important goal of balance with grace and kindness. We can still have high standards and achieve great results without burning out. This requires discipline, increased communication, and flexibility. Balance can be extra difficult to achieve with so many LCC people working remotely. I have tried to consciously model this in my brief time here at LCC. Personally, I have never been busier in my life. With that in mind, however, I have made a point of taking a vacation day here and there even during my few short months. I encourage my team to take time to unplug; I have requested that they use their vacation time, and I make a point of not reaching out to them when they are “away” from the office. I encourage everyone here at the college to do this, even during this time when we all have more to accomplish than there are hours in a day. Please talk to your supervisor to try to work out some time for yourself. Simply put, our work is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to pace ourselves.
  2. Employee Assistance Program. In our culture, it is not uncommon for people to view asking for help as a sign of weakness. It is not. During these unprecedented times of anxiety and stress, it stands to reason that LCC employees will experience higher than normal levels of crisis, trauma, and turmoil in their lives. You may have heard of our Employee Assistance Program (EAP), but I encourage everyone at LCC to learn more about the program and normalize its use. EAP services are notorious for being underutilized by organizations that provide them. Over the course of my career, I have guided many faculty and staff to utilize the college’s EAP with great results. In fact, after a very traumatic incident in my own life, I utilized the services of the EAP and found them to be transformational. One reason for low usage of EAP programs in all industries is a concern that the services will not be confidential. An important design feature of our EAP is complete confidentiality; no one in Human Resources or at LCC will know which individual employee utilized which services. Period. Those data are shared in aggregate without any identifying information for the sole purpose of monitoring the effectiveness of the program. I strongly encourage LCC faculty and staff to utilize and discuss our EAP. Those services can make a world of difference. Please take the time to learn more about our EAP, and if you or someone you know could benefit from them, please do what you can to take a step toward action.

Following is a link to a flyer with information regarding our current provider and available services: FEI EAP All Services Flyer. Please note we are moving to a new provider, effective January 1, 2021; and information regarding the new provider will be announced next month.

Please know that future thought and action is planned on the importance of self-care and mental health. An e-mail message from the President isn’t enough. I did, however, want to take a moment at this stage in the academic year to encourage teams across our college to prioritize and discuss self-care and mental health during these difficult times.

Be well and stay safe,