woman on laptop, burnout

Our worst burnout ever is coming

Burnout has been on the rise in our culture for years….but it’s about to get way worse.

A 2018 Gallup survey showed us that 23% of employees feel burned out very often or always, with 44% feeling burned out sometimes. That’s a whole lot of people experiencing the terribleness that is burnout.

But now we’re facing one of the largest problems we’ve faced in a long time, and our organizations and their employees are struggling to figure it out.

Here’s why I think burnout is about to be on the rise.

Burnout is comprised of three traits:

  • Emotional exhaustion: feeling exhausted by one’s work
  • Cynicism: feeling indifferent towards one’s work and colleagues
  • Lack of professional efficacy: feeling like one is not making a difference or that they’re not effective or productive

These three factors have been heavily researched for 35 years and is the model taken from Christina Maslach’s research on burnout.

COVID-19 has likely caused a spike in all three areas for many of you already.

Emotional exhaustion: Things are changing every single day. Our lives have been turned upside down. We’ve scrambled to put new plans in place. We’re anxious about the virus, about our jobs, about the economy, and about our loved ones. Some of us are losing sleep over it. Many of us feel tired but don’t feel the right to slow down and rest. Everything feels harder. We may have lost resources and feel like we can’t properly do our jobs.

Cynicism: Some of our organizations and institutions have failed us. They micromanage us as we work remotely. They have failed to protect our health and safety. They’ve forced us to come to work long after we should’ve been working from home. They let us go from jobs without giving us a second thought. And now that we can’t connect in-person, we feel even more disconnected than ever before.

Lack of professional efficacy:  We’ve suddenly moved to doing everything from home. There are learning curves. Almost everything we do takes longer and isn’t as efficient. Our pets, our kids, our partners, our roommates, our fridges, and our phones are a constant distraction. Our projects have suddenly shifted. The events and projects we worked so hard on just weeks ago are suddenly off the table or being completely reworked. We’re struggling to feel effective and productive.

All this to say: The time is NOW to prevent chronic burnout.  It isn’t when you can’t even recognize yourself anymore. Or when you literally can’t stand our colleagues anymore. It isn’t when you have no spark left at all. 

As we’re heading into this new season and way of working, both organizations and individuals need to reflect on how to prevent chronic burnout. Not only does burnout lower productivity, it can also increase our risk of infection, lowering our immune system, the absolute last thing we want right now.

What do we do now to prevent burnout?

What can we do to prevent our burnout from getting worse?

Organizations must remember that employees are people. Employees must feel safe and secure in order to focus on work and be productive. They may need to take mental health days or vacation days to focus on self-care and to rest more in the midst of all of this change. In addition, organizations and managers need to be kind and know that productivity may go down for a while and not see this as a need to micromanage or give people even more work.

As employees, we must set boundaries and create routines. Have a time you log on each day and shut down your laptop each day. Allow yourself to have breaks in your work day for short walks, for lunch, and even just staring out the window for a few minutes. All this screen time is hard on us.

Ask for what you need. Find ways to have fun at home and break up the monotony with puzzles, games, coloring books, gardening, or whatever else you might want to try for fun. Additionally, sleep in during this time of no commutes if you can. Know that it’s your right to take time off if you need it for your mental health.

In the first week of non-stop video meetings, I realized I needed to schedule in small breaks for walks, for refilling my tea, and for even just going to the bathroom. And I had to be comfortable asking for what I needed. These are little things but they add up.

Please take care of yourselves. Be kind to yourselves and to your colleagues. Now is the time for self-care, for boundaries, for rest, for reflection.

Finally, I truly believe we will come out of all of this stronger than before, but only if we allow ourselves to be human in the process.

If you’re looking for a community where you can nip burnout in the bud, come join my free Facebook community where we get real on our hustle-focused culture and how to prevent and manage burnout every day.

  1. This is so on-point. I LOVE what you have to say about preventing burnout, especially setting boundaries! Taking breaks has been the crucial difference between feeling like I can make it through another day at work or wanting to scream and walk out the door.

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