Two Ways Budget Reductions Drive Burnout

People expected the worst. The Canadian federal budget, released on 29 March 2012, was rumored to be grim. The Conservative government would drastically reduce the size of government.

The event was something of an anti-climax. There were cuts but they were not drastic. The deficit reduction plan reduces the federal civil service by 4.8%. This is a noticeable hit but smaller than anticipated.

Despite its modest dimensions, the cut poses threats to the work engagement of federal employees.

First, the cut in resources is not tied to cuts in demand. That is, the budget does not eliminate government services. The remaining 95.2% of federal employees are expected to continue to deliver 100% of services. The announcement made vague references to improved efficiencies without any direction on how streamlining would come about.

Second, the graduate pace of implementing such cuts makes people nervous. More than 4.8% of federal employees will worry about their job security.

Second, the graduate pace of implementing such cuts makes people nervous. More than 4.8% of federal employees will worry about their job security.

These two factors combine to limit capacity. Workgroups can improve their workflow, making processes more efficient. But the creativity necessary to generate creative solutions come about when employees have a sense of psychological safety. In a supportive environment, they feel more resilient. They find new ways of working.

Uncertainty, instead, aggravates burnout. Anxiety is exhausting. Worry saps energy and contributes nothing towards getting the work done. When employees doubt the fairness of cuts, they lose some of their involvement with their work. They become less confident of the contribution.

Managing fluctuations in funding is a core competence for public service managers. In additional to the operational challenges, managers must also consider the impact on employees’ engagement with their work.

2 Comments

  1. Dear Dr. Leiter

    You are pointing on a common situation for us, employees in a public institution. To cope with this situation, to create a supportive environment and to promote solidarity is essential, but it is also the hardest thing to do. But, nobody has said it was easy.
    On the other hand,and in order to survive in such work situations, some employees use non healthy strategies based on harrasment or bullying and increase crew vulnerability.

  2. Heriberto
    It is striking how some groups come together to be more supportive under pressure and others fall apart and turn on each other. Leadership and team resilience are essential assets for keeping groups healthy and productive in hard times.

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