Being a U.S. military Soldier is a unique career path. It is so unique that according to the Pew Research organization, less than 1% of the U.S. population signs up to serve. While there are similar required skills that relate to any career, such as managing time, work-life-balance and working with colleagues, there are many nuances to being a Soldier that make it significantly challenging.
The apparent challenges are required long-duty days, and of course, deployments where Soldiers are away from their Family and friends for extended periods. While these challenges must be named, they aren’t noted as the most common reasons that lead to Soldier burnout.
Burnout, defined as chronic workplace stress, has a lot to do with Soldier leadership, according to Jason Johnson, Fort Stewart Resilience Center manager and Army Reserve Command Sergeant Major. “Leadership can either be extremely influential and positive or negative. When you’re thinking about those toxic leaders, they’re micromanaging everything. In my experience, that reduces productivity and morale more than anything else,” says Johnson.
In civilian jobs, there’s always the option to “quiet quit,” slowly stop or just leave when you’re burned out. Soldiers don’t have that choice. “Quiet quitting” is the practice of reducing the amount of time, effort and commitment an employee dedicates to their job. In a Soldier's day-to-day role, quiet quitting can equate to a critical misstep in Soldier and unit readiness, training and safety.
Johnson says, “We’re teaching upwards of 20–30 extra courses a month outside of our one Master Resiliency Course held quarterly. It’s all in-person, which means our staff has to be engaged to keep the Soldiers engaged. Soldiers are exploring self-awareness and building team cohesion, learning team strategy, problem solving, leadership skills, and the two most important: communication and relationship building. All of which are important when learning resilience.”
Soldiers can avoid the inevitable workplace stress by practicing skills and habits that develop resilience. For instance, reconnecting to your “why” can play a important role in revitalizing your sense of purpose. What made you want to serve? Reflecting on the moments and people who led you to appreciate your service is also key. Often the “why” gets you to serve, but how you serve and who you serve with is what makes the work enjoyable and keeps you motivated to show up for your Family and your battle buddies every day. Those meaningful relationships you build work to protect you from stress and promote overall well-being.
For leadership, preventing burnout in their Soldiers comes back to building critical resilience skills and a “leading by example” mindset. Johnson says, “Leaders don’t manage people, they manage tasks, they lead by example. I lead and coach by example. I never ask any of my staff to do anything I’m not willing to do myself. Manage intangibles, expectations, not Soldiers. When a Soldier requires mentorship and guidance, I provide that. I don’t manage people, they’re adults. All of this helps to prevent burnout.”