Behind the Scenes Burnout

I originally wrote this post as a response to a January 19, 2016 CCL KOW post published here and titled “When Enough Becomes Too Much.” Check it out for context. Usually those posts are designed to spark Twitter conversations, but I felt like I had enough input to write a small piece about it.

Note: I wrote this before Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar, but I refuse to change it. It’s still funny.

I know this is meant for a Twitter discussion, but I had more than 140 characters worth of thoughts, albeit somewhat narrow in scope:

I’ve been on both ends of burnout. Serving on staff and as commander of a battalion headquarters company, I know what it’s like to feel burned out and witness it in my soldiers.

While I’m sure there are many who can talk about burnout broadly and personally, I’ll look at the narrow perspective of one of the biggest causes of burnout in Army support personnel and what can be done.

Behind the scenes, not in the margins

Staff and support MOSs work behind the scenes — it’s pretty much the job description to be the supporting effort. But reconciling that versus how it feels to continuously watch others get the accolades can be tough for some.

Kind of like Leo never winning an Oscar. Maybe this year…

Headquarters units typically don’t have manpower priority or a sexy mission. In combat, we don’t fire the weapons, we repair them. We don’t bandage the wounded, we process their casualty paperwork. We don’t kick in doors, we run ADO to get you new boots after you ripped them on that damn door.

Putting the woe-is-me attitude aside, of course we fire weapons, practice combat lifesaving, and train on the Army Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills as well, but I’ve never seen a WWII newsreel extolling the courageous actions of a PAC clerk.

Burnout frequently happens for support folks when a relentless OPTEMPO collides with a lack of recognition. Most support soldiers don’t mind being the force behind the scenes, they just want to be appreciated for it instead of marginalized.

The power of an attaboy

Working as a staff officer, the only time I felt burned out was when my work and the work of my soldiers went unrecognized (along with a never-ending OPTEMPO), or all the good work we did was ignored for the ass-chewing because of that one thing we dropped. It’s important to remember and recognize all the support and background work support personnel do for your organization.

As a headquarters element commander, I could sometimes spot burnout within various staff shops. Anyone familiar with those organizations knows that the rating chains steer around the company command team, straight to the S3 or XO. But just like any other unit, tools like awards, promotions, public recognition, schools, and others are available to reward a job well done. Never underestimate the power of an attaboy.

Attaboys are also good for the guy who already has it all. (Who am I kidding, I’ve just been looking for an excuse to use this image.)

Be an advocate

Numerous blogs have addressed social media in recent months (*Update: including my own post). My number one reason in encouraging military use of social media is because it is an excellent way to tell your soldiers’ stories, to advocate for them, and to tell families, friends, bosses, and the world at large all the great things your folks are doing, regardless of MOS. Everyone else will tell you what you’re doing wrong. It’s up to you to tell your unit’s good news stories. Be your soldiers’ biggest advocate.

The same goes for yourself. On staff, I sometimes heard the complaints of fellow staffers lamenting their lack of recognition. Then came evaluation time, and too often the officer’s support form could’ve been pulled off the printer and put directly into the shredder.

Even the best raters don’t see (or remember) all the great things you do—and sometimes you don’t remember either! Keep a rolling support form for your entire rating period, or at least a word document to track your accomplishments, adding new accomplishments as they happen. And don’t be afraid to use continuation space when writing your support form. Be your own advocate!

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