With many of us continuing to work from home (or what often feels like living at work), the lines between work and life have blurred. Zoom meetings take place in our respective living rooms or at the desks we’ve crammed into our kitchens, emails are being sent well past 5:00 pm and vacation time is being missed due to travel restrictions. Not to mention most of us are working full days while taking on additional childcare or household responsibilities, all in the midst of a continuing major international tragedy. It’s safe to say many of us are experiencing burnout, perhaps now more than ever.
What ~is~ burnout?
The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress which has not been successfully managed.
It’s likely that, if you aren’t already there, you’re on your way to burning out. A study conducted by Gallup found that 8 out of every 10 employees report consistently feeling burned out. According to the study, burnout looks and feels like feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.
Burnout, like so much of this last year, has disproportionately affected women. “Research suggests that people tend to be more stressed out when they face conflicts about their various roles—mother, worker, friend to a frazzled co-worker, daughter to an anti-vaccine parent. And this right here is the role-conflict plague. Nearly 3 million American women have dropped out of the labor force since the pandemic began, in part because they’re disproportionately shouldering the burden of all those different roles,” reads an article by Olga Khazan on burnout in the workplace.
There are many contributors to burnout, but the five that are most highly reported are:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Unclear communication from managers
- Lack of manager support
- Unreasonable time pressure
In an episode of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast called “Burnout,” hosts Aminatou Sow and Anne Freidman begin to discuss the relationship between burnout and ambition. The conclusion they come to is the way a lot of us see ambition and hard-work often leads to feelings of burnout. A lot of us tend to believe being ambitious or hard-working means working all of the time. But an imperative part of ambition which is often overlooked, is our ability to sustain it. If you’re constantly getting to a point where you’re running on fumes, you aren’t going to go very far.
So, how do you avoid hitting that dreaded wall?
Well, first of all, if you feel yourself creeping up on it, you’re probably well past it. Self-care wine nights and influencer tips and tricks aren’t going to cut it here. Burnout tends to start at the workplace. This past year people have been working longer hours, and while expectations at home have risen, so have those in the workplace. People crave autonomy over their work, and want to be rewarded when they’ve done a good job. Identifying which burnout factor burns the brightest for you is an important step in figuring out how to move forward in a healthier way. Khazan goes on to say “Most American organizational researchers…would say that the problem is not with the burned out, but with what burned them.”
This year has demanded so much from all of us, it’s no surprise you’re feeling burned out. The first step to creating change is to admit there’s a problem, and judging by how often phrases like hitting the “pandemic wall” or “pandemic burnout” have been heard in recent months, you’re probably ready to admit you’ve got a burnout problem.
What to do if you’re burned out
Once you’ve recognized where your burnout is coming from, you can begin to address it. Identify whatever immediate changes you can make. This might include saying no to taking on an additional project at work, or rescheduling social plans that are tiring you out.
Tackling burnout on your own can be daunting, and when you’re already exhausted the last thing you want to do is brainstorm. Lean on your support system to talk through areas in your life where you can alleviate some stress. Talking it out with someone you trust can open your eyes to new solutions as well as remind you that you’re not alone in taking on this problem.
Practice setting better boundaries in the areas of your life which are burning you out. Be honest about whether you have the time and energy to take on more work, meet a friend, or attend an event. And then say no when you don’t. Paying more attention to and honoring what brings you joy vs. what’s bringing you down can make a huge difference.
Most importantly, practice self-compassion. It’s been a hard year, of course you’re feeling burned out! Reaching burnout doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means you need to reevaluate. In the meantime, you can show yourself some love and support.