Brain Drain

In Seattle, the Burnout Is Real

A new study suggests local workers are pretty spent.

By Benjamin Cassidy June 10, 2021

We need a break.

If this any-day-now reopening doesn’t have you feeling recharged, you’re not alone.

Half of Seattle workers surveyed by global staffing firm Robert Half feel more burned out than they did a year ago when, if you’ll recall, we were still in the middle of a mind-sucking, job-crunching pandemic. That number tied for third among cities in the U.S., ahead of pressure cookers like New York and DC.

While thousands statewide are still filing unemployment claims at recession levels, even those who’ve held onto their jobs (or landed new ones) have felt the pandemic take its toll—or, more specifically, drain their brains. Burnout technically isn’t a medical condition, but it’s most definitely real: The World Health Organization recognized it in 2019 as an occupational “state of vital exhaustion” brought on by “chronic workplace stress that has not been managed.” It can cause cynicism and negativity, distance one from their work, and limit productivity, according to the health agency.

And Robert Half’s likely underestimating its prevalence. The firm’s study only includes workers from companies with 20-plus employees; smaller businesses with less resources are veritable stress factories.

So why’s Seattle so burned out? Megan Slabinski, a city resident and district president of Robert Half Technology and The Creative Group, says the fast-paced, deadline-driven environments at major tech and aerospace companies have added to the same pressures burdening workers in other businesses and markets: shorthanded teams, longer days, and minimal time off.

Working from home, Slabinski has experienced burnout herself, seeing a “bleed” between the personal and professional. “There’s not that natural break that occurs when you’re physically going to an office,” she says. “I also feel like because I'm home, I have to be available more frequently. I don't have an excuse to not answer a call or respond to an email.”

Then there’s that other job she has to juggle, one she and millions of other parents were suddenly drafted for once Covid sent kids home from classrooms. “I never intended to be a school teacher, but I had to become one this year.”

As a remote manager, Slabinski has had to work harder to check in with her colleagues and gauge their mental temperatures. “You don't have what I call the casual collisions over the water cooler, in the elevator, or in the restroom. So I have to be very intentional [to] keep a mental roster of, who haven't I spoken with in the last week to two weeks?”

She also believes it’s important for higher-ups to model taking time off. If a manager hasn’t used any of their vacation allotment, it’s harder for other employees to step away.

With activities shut down and travel anxiety-inducing, many workers simply kept pulling long hours. Nationally, one out of every four lost or gave up paid time off in 2020, according to Robert Half’s research. But one in three expects to take at least three weeks of vacation this year, with more than half seeking an “awaycation," or traveling completely unplugged.

Somewhat out of character, Seattle is ready for a dip in screen time—at least the kind that’s work-related. Only 23 percent of those surveyed from the city doubted they could stay offline during their time off, ranking 24th among major metros.

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