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What Is Driving Federal Government Burnout?

What Is Driving Federal Government Burnout?

by Lily Petrucelli and Mike Ritz

About one in four government employees report “very often” or “always” feeling burned out at work.

Another two in five report “sometimes” feeling burned out.

Gallup has identified five key work experiences that significantly contribute to burnout: unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, unclear communication from managers, lack of manager support and unreasonable time pressure. These issues are prevalent across all job levels in an organization.

Managers play a crucial role in influencing employees’ work experiences and burnout levels. However, among the U.S. federal, state and municipal government workforce, managers (35%) experience burnout at an even higher rate than individual contributors (23%). This trend can have a detrimental effect on an agency or organization. These data, collected quarterly in 2023 from 5,410 survey respondents, highlight the increasing challenges managers face more broadly.

Implications of Burnout

With workload cited as a major factor in government employee burnout, starting a new initiative to combat the problem may seem counterintuitive. However, agencies cannot afford the negative consequences to engagement and productivity that arise from failing to address burnout.

“When the mental health of workers suffers, so does workplace productivity, creativity, and retention,” says Vivek H. Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General. Gallup projects that employees with fair or poor mental health will have nearly 12 days of unplanned absences annually, compared to the 2.5 days for other workers, costing approximately $340 per missed workday for full-time employees.

About one in four government employees report “very often” or “always” feeling burned out at work.

In an agency of 10,000 employees with an average salary of $50,000, low engagement costs about $66 million annually. The proof isn’t just the financial measure. Burnout manifests in missed deadlines, unwarranted delays and lost opportunities for collaboration. And when managers experience burnout, entire teams suffer.

Individuals experiencing burnout show a notable shift in their mindset toward performance, making employees less likely to discuss performance goals, resistant to coaching, and focused on problems rather than opportunities. This shift negatively affects both individual performance and agency productivity and success.

Strategic Interventions for Preventing Burnout

Gallup has identified three strategic interventions that drastically reduce burnout and improve productivity across workforces. Employees are least likely to experience burnout when:

  • They are engaged at work. The manager is vital, influencing 70% of the variance in engagement.
  • Their organization actively supports employee wellbeing. Employees who strongly agree that their employer cares about their overall wellbeing are three times more engaged and 71% less likely to report experiencing burnout.
  • They work in a culture that celebrates each person’s strengths. Workplaces incorporating a strengths mindset are six times more engaged and 7.8% more productive.

Gallup’s research into employee burnout indicates that how people experience their workload has a stronger influence on burnout than the number of hours worked. It is not just the hours one works but how they are managed and how they experience work during those hours.

So, how can managers tackle this challenge effectively?

The best managers adopt an important practice: regular, meaningful one-on-one conversations with employees. “I’ve learned that if you want to improve employee engagement, you must engage with your people. Listen, ask and listen some more,” says James Egbert, Branch Chief, Human Capital Strategy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Employees who strongly agree that they feel supported by their manager are about 70% less likely to experience burnout. Having regular conversations with employees helps them by providing them with recognition, opportunities for collaboration, clarity of expectations and a chance to discuss what they experience at work.

As many government employees struggle with unclear communication from their supervisors, developing managers with techniques for leading effective, meaningful conversations is essential in addressing burnout.

Make Managers Your Greatest Asset

Managers are vital assets in combating burnout within agencies. “When managers are engaged, their employees are more likely to be engaged as well,” says Jay Hoffman, Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The best managers adopt an important practice: regular, meaningful one-on-one conversations with employees.

Managers’ wellbeing and their development can make or break overall performance. A Gallup study on manager engagement found that upskilling managers led to 10% to 22% higher engagement for managers themselves, 8% to 18% higher team engagement, 21% to 28% lower turnover, and 20% to 28% performance improvement relative to their peers.

Federal government managers need coaching and development to avoid their own burnout as they motivate their teams to achieve their highest potential. The manager is the nexus to fighting burnout in the broader organization. Developing strategies to identify and address burnout at all levels within an agency ensure a better environment for the millions of federal government workers and all those they interact with worldwide.

Develop managers who prevent burnout.



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