What happens with the competent retire, burn out or opt out? It’s a question few bother to ask because the base assumption is that there is an essentially limitless pool of competent people who can be tapped or trained to replace those who retire, burn out or opt out, i.e. quit in favor of a lifestyle that doesn’t require much in the way of income or stress.
These assumptions are no longer valid. A great many essential services that are tightly bound to other essential services are cracking as the competent decide (or realize) they’re done with the rat-race.
The drivers of the Competent Opting Out are obvious yet difficult to quantify. Those retiring, burning out and opting out will deny they’re leaving for these reasons because it’s not politic to be so honest and direct. They will offer time-honored dodges such as “pursue other opportunities” or “family obligations.”
1. The steady increase in workloads, paperwork, compliance and make-work (i.e. work that has nothing to do with the institution’s actual purpose and mission) that lead to burnout. There is only so much we can accomplish, and if we’re burdened with ever-increasing demands for paperwork, compliance, useless meetings, training sessions, etc., then we no longer have the time or energy to perform our productive work.
I wrote a short book on my experience of Burnout. I believe it is increasingly common in jobs that demand responsibility and accountability yet don’t provide the tools and time to fulfill these demands. Once you’ve burned out, you cannot continue. That option no longer exists.
For others, the meager rewards simply aren’t worth the sacrifices required. The theme song playing in the background is the Johnny Paycheck classic Take this job and shove it.
Healthcare workloads, paperwork and compliance are one example of many. Failure to complete all the make-work can have dire consequences, so it becomes necessary to do less “real work” in order to complete all the work that has little or nothing to do with actual patient care. Alternatively, the workload expands to the point that it breaks the competent and they leave.
2. Loss of autonomy, control, belonging, rewards, accomplishment and fairness. Professor Christina Malasch pioneered research on the causes of burnout, which can be summarized as any work environment that reduces autonomy, control, belonging, rewards, accomplishment and fairness. Despite a near-infinite avalanche of corporate happy-talk (“we’re all family,”–oh, barf) this describes a great many work environments in the US: in a word, depersonalized. Everyone is a replaceable cog in a great impersonal machine optimized to maximize profits for shareholders.
3. The politicization of the work environment. Let’s begin by distinguishing between policies enforcing equal opportunity, pay, standards and accountability, policies required to fulfill the legal promises embedded in the nation’s social contract, and politicization, which demands allegiance and declarations of loyalty to political ideologies that have nothing to do with the work being done or the standards of accountability necessary to the operation of the complex institution or enterprise.
The problem with politicization is that it is 1) intrinsically inauthentic and 2) it substitutes the ideologically pure for the competent. Rigid, top-down hierarchies (including not just Communist regimes but corporations and institutions) demand expressions of fealty (the equivalent of loyalty oaths) and compliance to ideological demands (check the right boxes of party indoctrination, “self-criticism,” “struggle sessions,” etc.).