University has resources for faculty and staff battling burnout


When Allison Alexy stepped in as the interim chair for the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, she noticed several of her colleagues discussing burnout.

Her own experience with job burnout had prompted her to seek a new environment and accept the IRWG position, so Alexy understood the effect on one’s work, life and overall mental health.

Alexy, associate professor of Asian languages and cultures, and of women’s and gender studies in LSA, was approved last fall to conduct a research project on faculty and staff struggling with burnout.

From interviews with people on all three University of Michigan campuses, Alexy has documented how the widespread issue is impacting those in higher education.

“Being burned out is not a sign of weakness. I think a lot of people who are burned out feel terrible. They feel embarrassed, they feel ashamed, they feel like they did something wrong. They feel like if they just work a little harder or work a little smarter, maybe it’ll get better. But that is not the case. It’s not something that you can fix by working more,” Alexy said.

“And I think for many people, it really helps to hear a leader or supervisor even just acknowledge that and say, ‘Our best, our brightest, our smartest, our most caring workers are the people who get burned out. And we need to give them space to do what they need to do and recover.’”

Kelcey Stratton, the chief behavioral health strategist with University Human Resources, said U-M offers several free services to help those struggling with burnout. 

Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campus faculty, staff and their adult benefits-eligible family members struggling with burnout can seek help at the university’s Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office. FASCCO offers no-cost, confidential services including individual counseling to give people tools and strategies to develop resilience and cope with stress.

Michigan Medicine’s Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience offers similar services to faculty, staff, house officers and their families.

Both FASCCO and the Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience provide free trainings and presentations for units across campus and at Michigan Medicine that provide strategies to mitigate burnout. Presentations include topics such as stress management and balancing personal life and work life.  

“I think about burnout in a workplace sense, in how can we provide a workplace that is really responsive to the needs of faculty and staff. … So, the training with teams can help support that mentally healthy team environment and workplace environment,” Stratton said.

A photo of a woman sitting in front of a screen
Elizabeth Harry, chief well-being officer in Michigan Medicine’s Wellness Office, says burnout can be defined by high levels of emotional exhaustion or depersonalization. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

Defining burnout

Elizabeth Harry, chief well-being officer in Michigan Medicine’s Wellness Office and associate professor of general internal medicine at the Medical School, said that burnout has a well-studied definition: high levels of emotional exhaustion or depersonalization.

Emotional exhaustion refers to a long-term feeling of being exhausted and drained as a result of persistent stress. Depersonalization is often seen in the medical field when physicians stop seeing patients as people and view them as a number.

“The most important piece to understand about burnout is that it’s an occupational hazard. And so, this means it is not a mental health issue, and it’s not a personal or an individual issue. It is a hazard of the occupation that you’re in,” Harry said. “Burnout and mental health issues can be synergistic and have an amplifying relationship on one another, but they’re also separate issues.”

Harry said three main factors contribute to burnout: organization well-being, the climate or culture of well-being and personal well-being.

While organization well-being refers to the recurring struggles that make work more difficult, the climate or culture of well-being encompasses the stressors of someone’s working environment.

“There’s really good data to show that if you’re experiencing microaggressions, you are more likely to experience burnout and depression, and anxiety and suicide ideation. So the culture is very important,” Harry said.

“Burnout is an organization responsibility. So this means that the individual does not need to take ownership here alone, but rather it is a distribution of responsibility from the individual to the organization and national regulatory bodies as well. … I want to really highlight that Michigan Medicine looks at burnout as an institutional responsibility that we are responsible for improving.”

“This is not just made up”

Michelle Riba, professor of psychiatry in the Medical School and director of the PyschOncology Program at U-M’s Rogel Cancer Center, first observed signs of burnout more than 20 years ago.

While the term “burnout” was not yet common, Riba saw how feelings of extreme work-related stress over a prolonged period had adverse effects on health, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, poor sleep and cardiovascular problems.

Finding time to alleviate burnout symptoms outside of work can be difficult, Riba said, when work bleeds over into every aspect of someone’s life.

“People start worrying about taking vacations because they worry about their job security. And then not taking vacations leads to more stress,” Riba said.

While some may brush off their burnout symptoms, Riba said, people experiencing burnout should reach out to find help. She said university programs like MHealthy and counseling services can provide helpful resources.

“This is real. This is not just made up. … If you are feeling this way, it should be acknowledged, and there could be lots of reasons for it,” Riba said. “It’s important to not just think it’s normal to have these feelings. It’s really not normal.”

Sandy Goel, administrative director of the Michigan Medicine Wellness Office, assistant professor of psychiatry in the Medical School and adjunct clinical professor of pharmacy in the College of Pharmacy, said she experienced burnout a few years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unable to put a name to her symptoms, she sought counseling and was able to identify her burnout and find tools to combat it.

“One of the reasons that I do this work (in the Wellness Office) is that I don’t want people to have to figure that out themselves. I want them to know that this is a real thing, that it really can happen to people and it’s not your fault,” Goel said.

She encourages other people struggling with burnout to seek help.

“Don’t try to deal with (burnout) alone, and realize that doubling down or working harder is not going to solve it, and it might actually exacerbate it,” Goel said. “It’s actually taking a step back and figuring out where you can catch your breath and what things are in your control where you can make adjustments.”

The Wellness Office website provides a Burnout Toolkit to help Michigan Medicine faculty and staff find ways to alleviate burnout symptoms. The toolkit examines how symptoms of burnout — strained relationships, isolation, irritability, neglecting personal needs — differ from well-being — having energy, feeling connected to people and purpose, feeling psychologically safe.

The website also provides resources for senior leaders and managers at the organizational level to identify burnout, include well-being as part of daily practice and consider well-being in operational decision-making.

The Wellness Office is rebranding on March 11 to the Office of Well-Being. The launch coincides with the inaugural National Day of Health Workforce Well-being.

“Wellness is a physiological thing. It’s mental and physical well-being, meaning are you eating well, are you resting, are you exercising?” Harry said. “We have a lot of great offices that do that very well. … The Office of Well-Being, we want to make sure people are able to thrive in the workplace well-being space.”

Studying contributing factors

Margit Burmeister, professor of human genetics, psychiatry, computational medicine and bioinformatics, and a research professor in the Michigan Neuroscience Institute, is currently conducting a study about the factors that contribute to faculty burnout.

A longtime researcher of depression, Burmeister recognizes the impact burnout has on exacerbating symptoms of depression.

“Most common diseases that we have — whether it’s hypertension, whether it’s diabetes, whether it’s depression — all of these things are caused by a mix of genetic vulnerabilities and environmental triggers,” Burmeister said.

Burmeister’s study, in partnership with Brigid Gregg, assistant professor of pediatric endocrinology, calls upon faculty and clinicians to submit suggestions on how to alleviate administrative burden and reduce burnout. She said the majority of people who responded to their call for feedback reported feeling overwhelmed with administrative tasks.

“I would say in general, having more support at a lower level — meaning not at the highest administrative faculty level, but with people who can actually do things for you — is where I think faculty burnout can be remedied,” Burmeister said.

David Fessell, a recently retired professor of radiology at Michigan Medicine, delivered a virtual workshop on Jan. 31 titled “Reducing Stress & Burnout: 5 Evidence-Based Practices You Can Use.”

Tips and strategies to combat burnout included gratitude practices, mindfulness practices, cultivating awe, sharing good humor and physical exercise. These are tips individuals can practice in the moment or during acute need while the overarching organization issues, which naturally take more time, are being addressed.

“There are several evidence-based practices that can help (with burnout), including using a gratitude journal, regular aerobic exercise and practicing mindfulness. The good news is that many of these practices don’t require large amounts of time,” Fessell said.

“There is hope. Know you’re not alone. Many have experienced similar challenges. … Burnout can be navigated. Many are ready and willing to help.”



  1. Melissa Karby
    on March 12, 2024 at 8:26 am

    I truly hope that as the University works to adapt/adopt a new culture that burnout is addressed in a more head on manner. While it is amazing to see the work of our amazing researchers address the topic of burnout and that there are specific resources to help with it, the reality is that the culture does not do enough to ensure that staff specifically have the time to dedicate to dealing with their burnout.

  2. Christopher Jensen
    on March 12, 2024 at 9:03 am

    I greatly appreciate The Record and Dr. Alexy’s work at bringing awareness to this important issue. It is timely and important especially in such a difficult environment that many of our colleagues find themselves in higher education. However, it seems sort of odd that the title of the document is “Resources for Staff and Faculty” when Dr. Alexy specifically says that this is not an individual issue that can be treated alone, but is an “organization issue”. Shouldn’t the resources be directed at how units and departments can address issues of work culture collectively rather than putting the burden on individuals to simply seek counseling?

  3. Beth Hill
    on March 12, 2024 at 9:51 am

    While it’s nice the University is addressing issues of wellness and burn out, I wish leadership would address the causes of burn out, which from my perspective of working many, many years here is that staff and faculty are increasingly being asked to do more with less resources.

  4. Judah Perillo
    on March 12, 2024 at 10:44 am

    As previously mentioned here in the comments, it’s frustrating to see an article on burnout literally titled with “resources for faculty and staff” when Dr. Alexy’s says that burnout is an organizational issue, and this article gives us no insight to what the U is tangibly doing at an organizational level to address this other than publish resources (are leadership required to read or even know about the resources?). Organizational problems can not be meaningfully addressed at an individual level. If you’re interested in making actual change in our workplaces, staff are in the process of unionizing as University Staff United. Check us out here:

  5. Andy Brosius
    on March 12, 2024 at 10:47 am

    I can’t stress how infuriating it is to see an article acknowledge the realities of burnout, and yet still somehow imply that the onus of fixing burnout is on the burnt-out staff. We need a major culture change to happen at this university, and it needs to start with leadership. I think the only way we’re going to make this happen is to unionize. Seconding the recommendation to check out University Staff United:

  6. Mackenzie Loftus
    on March 12, 2024 at 10:56 am

    I agree with the comments above encouraging staff to check out University Staff United! Change won’t happen until we come together, and a union can help us make the changes we want to see at U-M:

  7. Marisa Mercurio
    on March 12, 2024 at 11:00 am

    The answer is to organize! Help us create a UM union

  8. Rita Lee
    on March 12, 2024 at 1:26 pm

    I think the framing of this grazes or even tries to obfuscate the symptoms of worker exploitation (whether it be through passion and having positive relationships with your colleagues or you’re simply trying to hold onto an income to afford outside-of-Ann Arbor living expenses). I appreciate all the hard labor and care I receive from University faculty as an alum and regular enjoyer of free lectures and panels, physicians and therapists as someone who sustained a work-related injury, and staff as a fellow worker. You are the ones keeping me afloat. I wish everyone support through a labor union membership (including University Staff United, UMMAP, LEO-GLAM, GEO, HOA Umich) that they can advocate collectively through, because it’s clear upper management and leadership is not willing to do it even through the provided solutions given in this article and they wish to siphon it back down to the workers holding this entire institution up.
    Thank you Professor Allison Alexy, Chief Elizabeth Harry, Professor Michelle Riba, Professor Margit Burmeister, and Professor Brigid Gregg for affirming that U-M employees are facing burnout and all your incredible research. The change we need is organizational.

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