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A very merry survival guide to managing year-end fatigue as workplace investigators

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It’s that time of the year again. No, I am not talking about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” or the “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” feeling. I’m talking about the time of the year when many of us are trying to get into the holiday spirit while juggling work deadlines and demands, but are struggling with low energy, as it seems like the home stretch continues to stretch. If you’re like me and feeling what I’ve described, this feeling is called “year-end fatigue or burnout.” I did not realize this until one day I decided to use my scholarly skills by googling symptoms and going down the rabbit hole (like many of us do), and just like that, “year-end fatigue” immediately came up as my first result.

So, what is year-end fatigue/burnout? It is a common phenomenon that typically manifests as a sense of exhaustion, both mentally and physically, as individuals contend with a culmination of work-related stress, holiday obligations, and personal reflections on the year gone by.1 This fatigue can be triggered by a combination of factors, including increased work demands, the pressure to meet year-end goals, and the emotional intensity of the holiday season.2 Year-end fatigue can also be triggered by someone’s line of work. My colleague, Janice Rubin, said it best in her blog, “Self-care for workplace investigators,” where she reflected that, as workplace investigators, we regularly hear painful stories from parties and witnesses—and when we take in all of this information, it can take an “emotional, physical and spiritual toll” on us.3

So, how does a workplace investigator address and manage year-end fatigue/burnout? Based on the research I’ve done, two essential tools that play a role in addressing and managing year-end fatigue are effective time management and self-care. While these tips and best practices are a great place to start, I wanted to delve deeper into finding practical tools that cater specifically to workplace investigators. To assist other workplace investigators who find themselves struggling with this, I’ve asked some of my colleagues to share some tips that they have found to be effective.

Tips from some RT Workplace Investigators:

Some of my colleagues expressed that setting goals was a good tool:

Create short-term goals and treat yourself with a reward once you have completed those goals.
— Cory Boyd

I resist the urge to procrastinate – the more I want to, the more I know that I should resist. I know that if I give in it will make me even more stressed.  Breaking my work into manageable chunks so that I can check off my list the items that need to be completed and avoid getting overwhelmed by all the work.
— Heather Shields

To expand further on Cory’s and Heather’s tips, experts suggest that breaking down realistic and attainable goals into smaller manageable tasks gives folks a sense of direction and reduces overwhelming feelings. Additionally, the satisfactory feeling of checking off the completed tasks on the list can be a motivational boost, as it can lessen any guilt when you indulge in a guilty pleasure (i.e., binge-watching a series, a glass of wine, or a piece of dessert — my first choice).

For those of you who are struggling with the stress of wanting to submit a report before you go off on the holidays, a very helpful tip is to double-check with a client if they want you to submit a report before the new year. More often than not, some clients may tell you to wait, resulting in you taking additional time over the holidays to feel more at ease and not rushed in completing a report.

I cannot stress the importance of prioritizing self-care, self-care, and did I say self-care? I asked some of my colleagues to provide self-care tips and why they found them effective. One of my colleagues gave sound advice when they highlighted two crucial points: 1) Know what your limits are, and 2) when you are tired, it’s time to stop. They explained that unproductiveness and inefficiency can result from pushing yourself beyond your limits. Additionally, they stated that when you frequently surpass your limits, such unnecessary push can create “irreparable damage to your mental health,” which will affect one’s capability to work efficiently in the long-term.

Some of my other colleagues provided the following self-care tips:

I have always had roles that involve a lot of confrontation, heightened emotions, and stress, and I realized early on that for me to remain healthy and manage, my mental and physical health needed to be a priority.

Sticking with my mid-day exercise break and regular yoga sessions. It helps with stress relief, and I don’t get tired later in the afternoon. The days that I feel the most tired are the days I force myself to go, and I always feel more energized.

Focussing on eating healthy helps me to keep my energy levels up, sleep better, and my mood is also better as a result.

Engaging in an activity a couple of times a week that so completely absorbs my focus that I must forget about work. For me that includes a movie and pickle ball, but it can be anything you enjoy.

Reminding myself that there are only a couple of weeks left before I get a break, and then I can forget it all for a little while, helps me to power through. I also have someone who I can rant to if I need to.
— Heather Shields

I try to be really honest with myself about how tough this job is and how the work I do impacts me emotionally and mentally. In other words, I don’t brush it off and pretend like everything is okay. This helps me to be proactive about addressing my feelings. I also make sure to rest (I recently read “Rest is Resistance” by Tricia Hersey). Feeling burnt out takes up a lot of bandwidth and sometimes I just need to clear my personal schedule for a few days, nap and play some videogames.
— Alison Griggs

Finally, Janice Rubin provided an excellent piece of advice when she stated that eating ice cream was a good way to manage and/or address year-end fatigue. I could definitely go for a double hot fudge sundae from McDonald’s to motivate me to finish this year strong.

To add to my colleague’s great advice, here are my tips to address and manage year-end fatigue:

1. Have an honest conversation with yourself and acknowledge that you’re feeling fatigue, and it’s okay!

Alison’s piece about being honest with yourself really struck me. It’s important to acknowledge and accept that you are feeling fatigued or burned out and take the first steps to address it.

2. Take a social media break

I’ve been reading a lot of articles that indicate that the constant consumption of social media can impact one’s mental health, also contributing to yearly fatigue. Stepping away from using social media throughout the week or limiting the use of social media throughout the day to be more productive is a way to preserve and maintain one’s mental being.

3. Take some habitual breaks to unplug and unwind

There was a reason that schools implemented three recesses in a school day. Like children, adults also need to take a break, stretch themselves, have snack time (or coffee/teatime), have a good laugh, or have watercooler talks with their co-workers. It is essential to take habitual breaks whenever possible during the day and throughout the week.  Take the time to enjoy breaktime by taking time by yourself before returning to work or when you return from home.  Unplug, unwind, and recharge after a busy workday or week.

4. Make rest a priority

According to research, naps and sleeping increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories, and encourage creativity.4 My interpretation of this research is that one should not take rest for granted. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how important sleep and rest are, as sleep or rest deprivation can “drain your mental abilities and puts your physical health at risk.”5 Remember that your brain and body need downtime to recover so that you can be your best self as a workplace investigator.

Now, who’s ready for that hot fudge sundae?

1Nelly Kgoadi-molaba, “10 Tips and Tricks to Survive Year-End Fatigue” (November 14, 2023), online: Alison Blog <https://alison.com/blog/10-tips-and-tricks-to-survive-year-end-fatigue-and-finish-strong>

2 Ibid.

3 Janice Rubin, “Self-care for workplace investigators” (May 25, 2017), online: Rubin Thomlinson’s Insights <https://rubinthomlinson.com/self-care-workplace-investigators/>

4Ferris Jabr, “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime” (October 15, 2013), online: Scientific American <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mental-downtime/>

5 Stephanie Watson and Kristeen Cherney, “The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body,” (February 14, 2023), online: Healthline <https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body#Treatment-for-sleep-deprivation>

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