Professional burnout (because PTSD doesn’t just happen in the front lines)

Several national and local news outlets and renowned tech websites all cited a list developed by CareerCast of the 10 most stressful jobs of 2018.  #1 on the list is enlisted military personnel.

We can all agree that constantly putting your life at risk all over the world counts as a major stressor.  But believe it or not, there is a good number of military personnel who have finished their careers without being deployed.  And among those who have did not have to go outside the wire (as in outside the camp’s protection, fort, or base walls).  So, if one were to think about it, they shouldn’t count, right? So they should stop crying like babies and enjoy their cake gig . . . is what a salty few of us think sometimes, and others more so.

But I contend that just because they haven’t had to go on a convoy, on patrol, or took part in an assault. So while I don’t intend to lessen the sacrifices that soldiers, marines, or special forces make, I would like to defend our other fellow brothers and sisters in arms because, hey, One Team, One Fight, right?

According to an online article in Psychology Today, burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

I’d like to think all of us in the service have felt this more than one time.  Hell, I can believe jobs outside the military have suffered the same thing (as in the other jobs mentioned in the CareerCast article).  In a 2001 study on the effects of stress and job functioning, 22 to 40 percent of military men and women experienced high-stress levels in their work or family and personal relationships.

Now, the data that they gathered for their analysis was from a 1995 survey that sampled over 16,000 men and women across all military branches, so the results are suspect at best, but if you were to go in any U.S. base, camp, port, or station anywhere around the world, there is at minimum Military and Family Life Counselor (or MFLC, pronounced MIF-lik) and those that have the capability to do so, also have mental health services, patient advocates, military suicide and prevention advocates, and so on. So these are still pressing issues within the military ranks, and resources are continually devoted to keeping these programs active.

But I still haven’t answered the question as to why the guy (or gal) cutting your paycheck, cooking your food, or even fixing your plane (I was an aircraft maintainer, I know how it was) is just as stressed as those who shoot guns at the enemy.  Again, not to take away from our commandos, but their stress is different from those behind the fence. So here is where I speculate based on my own experiences.

1. Depending on where you go, the ops tempo of that unit is ridiculously higher than what any civilian counterpart experiences. Sure, there are projects with deadlines and clients that will yell at you or no longer receive your services, but your mistakes don’t have the potential to destroy multi-million-dollar machines or take lives.

2. But our first-responders like police and firefighters take the same risks, extending to nurses, doctors, and almost everybody in the medical field. So what makes them different from enlisted?  One word . . . unionization.  When they belong to a union or just get enough participants to go on strike, civilians can go on strike.  Say “union” to a grunt, and she’ll laugh while spitting in your face.

3. Civilians can walk away once they find better locations, a better workplace, or even not work at all. All you must do is give 2 weeks’ notice, correct? (Let me know if I’m wrong) The military signs a 4-6-year contract that binds them by law to make the mission their number one priority. Also, they can’t call in sick without approval from the base hospital. Other than scheduling leave, the only way a military member can “skip” work is if she has a death in the family. Oh, and it has to be immediate (spouse, father, mother, brother). Anything outside of that is only through the approval of your commander.

4. Because of all the grueling conditions above, turnover is high.  An airman doesn’t reenlist (sign another contract).  A marine loses a limb in combat.  A soldier suffers TBI from a mistake that he made because he and his co-workers worked 48 hours straight. A sailor gets a psychotic breakdown because he hasn’t left the ship for over a year and a half.  While these are extremely rare cases, even non-life-threatening but disabling conditions take a toll on those who have to pick up the slack.  Just because your buddy isn’t at work doesn’t mean you get to take it easy.

So just because troops aren’t out there in firefights doesn’t mean they’re feeling less of the suck.  It’s just doled out differently through 12 to 16-hour shifts trying to accomplish a task with half the resources and half the manpower.

And that’s why the enlisted military has taken the #1 spot on the most stressful jobs ever since 2012, which in my opinion, should have been ranked #1 in previous years as well.  But I’m pretty sure it will hold that #1 spot for a very long time.

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