Leadership Corner

Fatigue in the workplace

June 26th, 2019 at 1:00PM
Portrait phot: Chris French
Chris French, deputy chief of the National Forest System Deputy Area

As I talk to employees, peers and colleagues – whether in the Washington Office or across the nation – I consistently hear a few themes emerge. First is the pride in our work in caring for the land and serving people. What we accomplish is a huge source of pride for employees. And frankly, it’s amazing what we collectively get done every year! Right on the heels of the pride and sense of accomplishment is a sense of being run-down and overwhelmed. Our individual well-being is compromised. I call this fatigue (you may think of it as being tired, stressed out or a lack of resilience).

Employees acknowledge that our work flow isn’t what it used to be. I see this also. We no longer have busy spring and summers of firefighting, managing recreation sites, and the wide variety of resource work followed by slower paced fall and winter work to catch our breath and find renewal for the next cycle of work. Remember when Fridays used to be slower and serve as the day to catch up and get ready for next week? The flow of work has shifted to a constant year-round cycle of fast paced and intensive work, leaving us tired and worn out. Those moments and times of respite are getting fewer and farther apart. The shift is real, and I feel it too.

I’ve also observed that we haven’t always shifted how we tend to our own well-being (recharge our individual resiliency) to match our new work flow pattern. Gone are the days of working hard all summer and using up our leave in one large chunk of time during the fall and winter. A new pattern is needed. One that is individual based and supported by supervisors.

I believe personal well-being is an individual responsibility, but that supervisors need to encourage and support employee’s needs. I won’t pretend to know what each of us needs to rest and recharge our own sense of well-being. But I know each of us finding a way to recharge is very important to achieve the mission of the agency. We are each our own best expert on what we need to recover from fatigue; for some of us it’s a week or two off a couple of times a year, for others it’s a daily ritual of quiet time.  I am continuously looking for ways to find what works for me to achieve renewal and a sense of overall well-being.  As a supervisor I also seek to understand what employees need and help them create space for themselves in our busy work routines.  I encourage each one of you to determine what you need to recharge, and share that with your supervisors, peers and employees. As we head into a busy summer season, please pay attention to your own needs and those around you, and support people getting some rest and recharge time in a way that works for them.  

Last Friday I took the day off to go fishing with family and friends. That’s how I attended to my own well-being and recharged my resilience. How will you take care of yourself and recharge your resilience?