Are you guilty of dumping on your co-workers? Why Office Empaths are Burning Out and How to Avoid Losing Your Key Support Person

Contributing Author: Kirsten Pabst, NDAA Prosecutor Wellbeing Committee Chair

Photo by Jason Abdilla on Unsplash

Every office has at least one co-worker that serves as the de facto “counselor-in-residence.” The person who always has a line of people at their door, waiting to have some face time with a warm, friendly, and supportive “friend.” Perhaps you are the office friend and relish your role as the person that everyone comes to for advice, or an ear, or a shoulder.

The other day I came across a newish article on burnout, indicating that empathetic employees are burning out and leaving their posts faster than their less sensitive coworkers. I’ve seen it in my office and when you think about the dynamic, it makes sense for a handful of reasons. First, we know that as organizations strive to infuse wellbeing into the office culture, peer support and inter-colleague connection have emerged as critical and beneficial pieces of the overall structure. Savvy leaders are teaching connection skills and financially supporting peer support programs because of the well-documented benefits of colleagues helping colleagues. Additionally, we know that newer attorneys tend to thrive in collaborative environments, as opposed to their more stoic Xer and Boomer counterparts, lending to an atmosphere of deepening work relationships.

One of the emerging concerns is that those who are unofficially chosen to nurture everyone else who is having a bad day, sad week, or challenging month, have experienced difficulty balancing “being there” with getting their own work completed within the allotted time. Simply, there’s not enough of them to go around. And, since these go-to rechargers tend to be supportive, self-sacrificing givers, their own work and wellbeing can suffer. No wonder those with high EQ are feeling overwhelmed and stuck, to the point that they are leaving.

I am not suggesting that we discontinue supporting each other at work but we must also be mindful of the toll that our cumulative “do-you-have-a-minute?” takes on the listener and that the aggregate “minutes” can consume the majority of their day. Here are some suggestions:

Limit your session to a few minutes and go in with a specific question. After, offer to help out with the listener’s task list and then follow through.

Try diversifying your support network and reach out to other co-workers, instead of always dumping on the same one, just because you know she won’t turn you away. Ask a new employee to join you for tea or a walk around the block.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez 🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Take advantage of peer support networks in your office or start up a peer connection platform. One unit in my office now reserves the last 15 minutes of their weekly meeting for bouncing current challenges and struggles with each other.

Take advantage of employee assistance programs (EAPs) or any outside therapeutic support your organization offers. Sometimes a few sessions with an actual therapist is faster and more effective than venting for several hours to a friend.

If you happen to be the one they gravitate to for comfort and advice, bookend the time you are willing and able to commit to this role. Close your door. Post “office hours.” Say, “Sorry, I am behind on my work today.” And know that even the most together individuals need support too, not to mention quiet time. The last thing that we want is for you to sacrifice your own wellbeing because your fuel tank and your time is depleted. You are too important to the organization to lose to burnout.

Kirsten Pabst is the former elected prosecutor in Missoula County, Montana, chairs NDAA’s Prosecutor Wellbeing Committee, and is the author of Thriving Through Chaos — Survival Gear for Criminal Justice Professionals. She can be reached at



National District Attorneys Association

The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.