Banishing Burnout

This is a guest posting by Ms Jolie Wills, a practitioner formerly from NZ and now living in the U.S. Readers are encouraged to reply to her via this posting or to her co. website noted below.

Those working in emergencies are feeling the burn. Disasters are increasing in frequency and severity and the layering of disasters is now sadly all too common. We can harm even the most resilient of people if we load them up with too much for too long.

A recent study in Australia (Charles Sturt University) of first responders and disaster workers indicated that:

  • more than 50% are showing high levels of burnout
  • the group have ten times the rate of severe depression compared to the general population
  • 40% are considering quitting their role.
    Here in the United States, burnout has been topping the list of concerns at the last two emergency management conferences I have attended in 2022. Not a rosy picture.

The ramifications of burnout ripple through the sector. For example, with little energy to spare, emergency personnel are reluctant to enroll in continuing education and professional development on top of an already demanding role. This means we are not developing emergency managers to take the place of established leaders and emergency management professionals as they retire out of the field.

We can be reassured – there are methods and approaches to prevent burnout that have been designed specifically for this challenge in these very conditions.

Hummingly has been working to address the challenge of burnout in those working after disasters for the last decade and is bringing those learnings and crisis-informed methods to support the sector in New Zealand.Emergency managers across New Zealand have united in their effort to banish burnout. The local government groups and the national ministry have joined together to take a sector-wide approach to support the well-being and performance of emergency managers and prevent burnout.

So, what to do here in the U.S.? Inaction is not an option. We must question the ethics of continuing to hurt great mission-oriented people when we know this work is psychologically hazardous and when methods and measures exist to help prevent burnout.

If our disaster workers are feeling the strain now due to the cumulative and relentless load they face, how will we fare if we lose the 40% of our workforce that have leaving on their minds? And what will this mean for our communities when disaster strikes?

New Zealand is making moves to banish burnout in the sector. Here are some questions for our American readers:

  • How do we make a transformative change here in the U.S. too?
  • What would this take?
  • Who would we need to get involved?
  • What levers would we need to pull?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and please join me in the call to make a sector-wide shift for the benefit of the great people working in emergency management and the
communities they support.

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