Freight brokering can be a financially rewarding career, but it doesn't come without its demands and challenges. With logistics being a cyclical industry, it's hard to strike a balance when markets fluctuate, and external factors have the potential to create added stressors. For example, the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already-prevalent driver shortage and created more competition among brokers looking for capacity.

Some people thrive under pressure, while others crumble. Yet even those who excel in high-pressure situations need balance. We'll go with the candle metaphor here: burn it from both ends, and you're more likely to experience total burnout. 

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For some, the notion of burnout is synonymous with giving up or wimping out. According to a 2019 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, in many instances, burnout has been falsely deemed a made-up, first-world issue generated by millennials or GenZers who want more work-life balance.  

In this post, we'll cover a few facts about what burnout is, why freight agents need to know about it, and what you can do to avoid it. 

Burnout: Fact or Fiction? 

According to Psychology Today, burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Problems at work most often cause it. It can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships. 

We're looking at you (again) 2020! 

Since 2006, the American Psychological Association continues to warn of the many different ways burnout could harm physical health, including cardiovascular disease, heart disease, stroke, and sudden cardiac death. We thought we'd keep this post light-hearted!

In 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that "burnout" is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), and that although burnout is not classified as a medical condition, it is recognized as "an occupational phenomenon… resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." 

Burnout is an actual thing! Three of the main symptoms include:

  • Chronic fatigue, energy depletion, or exhaustion.
  • Detachment identified by increased mental distance from a job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to a job. 
  • Reduced productivity and effectiveness.

Burnout likely happens to more people than care to admit. The HBR article mentioned above points out that even people who love their jobs so much that it feels like they are hardly working are at risk of experiencing burnout. 

Burnout is not just associated with the workplace and its associated stress. It can happen at home, too. As a result of the pandemic, there needs to be increased awareness of burnout, especially with so many people working from home. In her article How to Avoid Burnout When You're Working from Home (But Can't Leave), Kiely Kuligowski notes, "The isolation and ability to work anytime and anywhere can lead to burnout if you're not careful… before you know it, you've been working 14 hours straight." 

While freight agents are accustomed to working from home offices, additional considerations such as multitasking care for home-schooled children, continuous disruptions from home-bound family members, and the inability to physically or psychologically separate living space from others could lead to dysfunctional dynamics and work-life imbalance. 

Why It Matters

Education on the impact of burnout beyond an individual's health is significant. Of the various facts documented by the WHO in their release on mental health in the workplace, two specifics stand out:

  • The estimated cost to the global economy is $1 trillion per year in lost productivity due to employee depression and anxiety. Both are symptoms of burnout. 
  • For every $1 invested in treatment for common mental disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity.

These facts demonstrate the tremendous economic impact of mental health in the workplace while also proving that a compassionate approach to mental health investment results in financial gains.  

Business owners should also consider the "illusion" that high engagement directly indicates happiness. According to another HBR article, 1 in 5 "highly engaged" employees is at risk of burnout.

Gallup polling experts also investigated the burnout phenomenon. Results show that "76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, and 28% say they are burned out "very often" or "always," and analysis showed that "employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room" when they experience burnout. 

Gallup explains that managers have an impact on burnout. Ineffective managers can become the cause of burnout, or, at the very least, not help employees deal with burnout. But managers are no less susceptible to experiencing burnout and deserve the same considerations and training. 

Even small business owners who partner with contracted workers should take stock. Creating a supportive work environment where you recognize individual limits and encourage breaks – for yourself and others -- can net significant business gain.   

How to Avoid Burnout

The best way to combat burnout is to avoid it in the first place. Elizabeth Grace Saunders wrote in the New York Times, "burnout prevention is about living out what is true about your body, your personality, and your reality." It’s about understanding what works best for you.   

Exhaustion, detachment, and weight gain can all affect your body before or during burnout. Eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting adequate sleep are beneficial for everyone, especially those experiencing burnout or early-stage symptoms. Become aware of what will restore you and invest in those activities or practices. Try taking a brisk walk with a friend or relaxing on the porch with a book.  

Some may go so far as to consider a career change. If that is not an option, consider finding ways to improve the other contributors to your well-being, which Saunders indicates are control, reward, fairness, community, and values. These five factors revolve around feeling "supported, appreciated, and safe."

Ashley Stahl, writing for Forbes, seems to agree with Saunders on factors affecting the prevention of burnout, also highlighting sleep, exercise, and seeking "emotional fulfillment" outside of the workplace -- not making work your whole life.  

It's worth addressing how to avoid burnout when working from home. Experts recommend establishing structure and setting limits for yourself. If possible, try to create a dedicated home workspace and know that it is time to switch off when you are not in that space. Change clothes at the end of the workday. "Clock off" when the workday is done by switching off the computer and avoiding emails. Exercise regularly and think about making plans you can look forward to and anticipate.      

Want to Learn More? 

Part of establishing a work-life balance is ensuring you have the support you need to take a break. Working with a freight broker like Armstrong means that the brokerage manages back-office hiring and training, leaving agents more time to focus on building relationships with customers and carriers. That's doing more of what you love and less of what you don't. 

If you're experiencing burnout in your current position and are interested in making a change, consider reaching out to an Armstrong Agent Recruiter to start a conversation today! 

About Jennifer Koskie

Jennifer has been an agent recruiter for Armstrong since 2021, having previously worked at C.H. Robinson and other top-performing logistics companies. With 15 years of supply chain experience in domestic and international markets, Jennifer is highly skilled in talent acquisition, transportation management, marketing, and customs brokerage.