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Navigating Burnout

Posted on January 12, 2021


create the things you wish existed

Today’s Buzz is by Melissa Cantarero Weiss, Director of Administrative Services in Wauwatosa, WI. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.


What I am listening to: Dare to Lead with Brené Brown

What I am watching: Life Below Zero

What I am reading: The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel


I survived 2020 serving a local government and I am burnt out. Can we normalize talking about burnout? In 2020, we ran from crisis to crisis, fire to fire, provided incredible innovation, and essential services to our communities. I am proud of us and want to acknowledge that it is okay to be exhausted. Yes, it’s 2021, but burnout won’t go away just because we are turning to a fresh month in the calendar.

On top of the workplace challenges we have navigated, we weathered a lot in our personal lives, too. Some of us are caring for aging parents, homeschooling children, worrying about our loved ones, worrying about our finances, missing celebrations of major life milestones, and some of us have experienced the loss of loved ones.

We still face unusual challenges in 2021. This year, I am planning to make some changes to help address burnout. I am going to create the balance I wish existed in 2020 and I am going to do so knowing that my work product will be better for it.

Here are the steps I am taking and encourage you to consider:

  1. Remember your service heart. I work in government to help people. There is no greater joy than service for me. No matter how tired I am, my calling to help others hasn’t changed, and my opportunity to serve during this challenging time is amplified. I am reminding myself of the incredible opportunity I have, now more than ever, to serve others.
  2. Set healthy boundaries. I remember vividly our first emergency operations center activation for COVID-19. Our Fire Chief, who is an all-star, said, “We are treating this like it is a blizzard and it is actually winter. Pace yourselves.” He was so right. What steps can we take to pace ourselves? Block time on your calendar for self-care. Take a lunch break away from your work space, go for a walk, and connect with your colleagues. Your work will still be there after a short break and you will be better at accomplishing it because you took time to pause.
  3. Find a passion project. Feeling burnt out is challenging. It can be hard to remember all the reasons why you love this work. What are you most excited about in your work? How can you move the needle on that initiative? Carve out some time for micro-projects or to hit milestones on work you really love to do. This will remind you why you are sitting in your seat and re-energize you to get after those big goals and initiatives.
  4. Bring the joy and encourage others. As I interact with others at work this year, I am going to spread joy. Sometimes we have rough days and that’s okay, but after we move past that, focus on the positive. I am going to commit to sharing joy and encouraging others to share their silver linings. Let’s all be leaders who notice each other’s work and celebrate each other’s success. An unexpected kudos could be just the boost someone needs and it will lift your spirits, too.
  5. Connect with others. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, ELGL is the best. Get involved, get engaged, and connect with other local government rock stars. Our colleagues in this organization understand what you are going through, they will listen to you, and will encourage you when you need it most. Haven’t met the right person to network with during a period of burnout? Consider this your invitation to contact me.

In order to check the boxes on the last three items from my list above, I joined the Morning Buzz crew with ELGL this year and I am super excited about it. How can you engage with ELGL to bring the joy back to 2021?

I would love to hear from you – what changes are you making to ensure your self-care needs are met? How are you better attending to your work life balance? How are you being the change for someone in your workplace or community? How are these changes going to help you be the best local government leader you can be?

ELGL, 2021 may be another tough year, but we’ve got this. And yes, it is okay to take a break when you need one.

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