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Burnout and going beyond self-care - BC General Employees' Union (BCGEU)

As a BCGEU member working at a library in B.C., you are the bedrock of our communities. And every challenge our communities have faced over the last few years – from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and toxic drug crisis to climate change and housing affordability – have only reinforced your importance.

Your work is equal parts rewarding and exhausting. Workload and occupational health and safety issues including mental health supports are top concerns in your workplaces. And our workplaces still operate in a world dominated by patriarchy, capitalism, and racism.

Ultimately, being society's social safety net comes at a cost: Burnout.

This is the message our union brought to the BC Library Association's 2022 virtual conference last week. As sponsors, we weaved this message into our exhibitor booth – staffed by your fellow members Tanya Boyd and Steinunn Benjaminsson – as well as BCGEU President Stephanie Smith's introduction of a keynote speaker, and through two other assets we wish to share with you now:

Community care vs self-care

As experts at the University of Alberta explain, self-care is routinely suggested as the antidote to everything you're dealing with. But self-care perpetuates the belief that being "healthy" is the concern of the individual. When your entire work environment is a problem, when your job is part of a complex systemic network of supports, an individual solution doesn't cut it. You can't and shouldn't be expected to do it alone. We need a better way to deal with the challenges you face in your workplaces and the burnout that results. The effective antidote to burnout is community care. Read more in this PDF resource, including ways to practice community care and additional resources to support you.

 Tension Release Exercises

Another important aspect of mitigating burnout is completing our natural stress cycle. At the conference, we invited guest physiotherapist Sarah Ronhovde to guide participants through a method of doing so – Tension Release Exercises (TRE). More information is this PDF resource.

If you're curious to try TRE, Sarah is offering BCGEU members a $10 discount on her upcoming TRE Workshop, Friday May 20, 3-5pm, cost: $60. To register for the workshop and receive the discount, email [email protected] and indicate you are a BCGEU member and reference this email.

In closing, we recognize that recovering from and mitigating burnout is not straightforward given your working conditions which are taking time to change. We encourage you to lean on each other – including your workplace stewards, OHS worker reps, local area office staff, component executive and bargaining council members.

Finally, but not least – congratulations to our comrades working at Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) who, after months of bargaining and almost seven weeks of job action (not to mention years of organizing), ratified a new collective agreement! Read more about their job action campaign here and this great recap of lessons learned by bargaining chair Laura Kaminker. Get in touch with me about organizing your own worksites – for bargaining or around any issue important to you! As Victoria's Capital Daily recently reported, more needs to be done.


In solidarity,

Joanna Lord, BCGEU Vice-President, Component 7
BCGEU Library Bargaining Council