Burnout a Big Concern for NOAA Workforce
Survey Reflects High Professional and Emotional Toll Throughout the Agency
Washington, DC — Feelings of job burnout are widespread across all branches of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), according to results of a precedent-setting staff survey obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The survey detected high levels of frustration from inability to keep up with workload leading to significant percentages considering leaving NOAA and expressing loss of emotional well-being.
Nearly 37% of NOAA’s 4,553-person federal workforce completed the 2022 survey with 3,200 choosing to provide written comments in addition to multiple choice answers. Overall, more than 80% of the respondents said they experienced some form of burnout in the past year:
- More than half (54%) admitted burnout had a significant effect on their job performance;
- More than three-quarters (76%) cited burnout as taking a significant toll on their emotional well-being; and
- More than half (53%) said they considered leaving the agency due to burnout.
In an all-hands memo, NOAA Administrator Richard Spinrad declared:
“The survey results confirmed that burnout is real, pervasive, and long-standing in our workforce.”
The top three reasons for burnout cited in the survey were excessive workload, uncertainty about future remote work flexibility, and too many urgent deadlines/quick turnaround requests.
“Isolating burnout as an element in employee morale can be a major asset in managing agency workload,” remarked PEER Litigation and Policy Attorney Colleen Teubner, noting that results appear to be largely consistent across both NOAA’s “wet” (oceanic) and “dry” (atmospheric) sides. “The key will be whether NOAA can harness this information to design practices and policies that measurably reduce burnout.”
NOAA has created a website as a place to find information about burnout as well as to provide employees with tools to help ease burnout levels. NOAA administration promises to update the site to inform staff on its efforts to address burnout.
“Other federal agencies should be looking more carefully at staff burnout,” added Teubner, noting that despite bigger budgets some agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, are having a hard time staffing up because additional recruitment is not keeping up with attrition that may be workload related. “Premature attrition not only sheds institutional knowledge but acts as a drag on overall agency productivity and effectiveness.”