Burnout Culture: What It Is and How to Fix It
Burnout Culture: What It Is and How to Fix It
Work work work. More more more. Hustle. Get it done. You got this... actually, maybe not.
Have you noticed that over the past few years everyone around you has developed some kind of side hustle? Do we even remember the days when just having one full-time job was enough? Or how someone in the group is constantly working from their phone whenever you're out with friends?
That never-ending work pressure and the ever-extending working hours is what we call burnout culture. We have been cultured into this idea of constant drive, societally brainwashed into hustling towards more and more.
And it's making us sick.
Burnout was first theorized in the 1970s and has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the years. Never has it been more talked about or culturally relevant than right now. Today, burnout is described as an "occupational phenomenon" resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn't been successfully managed.
Burnout has become rampant in our post-pandemic world, partially due to hustle culture, which is widespread on social media. In a society that rewards constant hustle and productivity as a marker of success and views rest as a treat rather than a necessity, it's no surprise that an ever-increasing amount of people are describing themselves as burnt out.
The Signs Of Burnout and How To Tell If It's Affecting You
Burnout can sneak up on you, even when you feel things are going well. And it may be confusing and surprising. For instance, working for years to land your dream job and then hating it, or suddenly realizing that you dread going to work at a job you have always loved.
Christina Maslach, the pioneer of burnout research, defines burnout as the "end state of long-term chronic stress."
Three core components can identify burnout syndrome:
- Emotional exhaustion or mental fatigue
- Feelings of negativity or cynicism related to your job
- A reduced sense of effectiveness and accomplishment
Exhaustion is a core symptom of burnout. It goes far beyond being tired; it's chronic and can't be cured simply by taking time off. Burnout isn't caused by your job but rather the misalignment between your ideals for work and the reality of your job. Therefore, burnout will exist for as long as you remain at that job or until you make a significant change.
Another foundation of burnout is having a negative relationship with your job. Do any of these markers of burnout sound familiar?
- Feeling physically and emotionally overwhelmed at the end of the week.
- Waking up and dreading going to work.
- Feeling irrationally angry at minor inconveniences and workplace slights.
- Having less patience for common work-related obstacles.
- Having a hard time preparing for work.
- No longer taking satisfaction from your work.
- Taking a break or vacation and not feeling recharged.
The final core component of burnout is feeling like your work is not practical or valuable or that you aren't doing a good job. What's particularly interesting about this aspect of burnout is that it may be completely unrelated to reality and what is happening. You may be doing an excellent job, but your feelings around work do not align with the reality of the situation. Or you may blame yourself for the lack of results despite factors outside your ability or control. Another common issue contributing to burnout is feeling that you are doing work that doesn't have outward value.
Practical Tips for Managing Burnout
The reality is that most of us wait far too long to deal with burnout. And when you are already burnt out, it can be incredibly challenging to address and make necessary changes. Burnout can feel very similar to depression, with the difference being that burnout is entirely work-related. By removing the work aspect, burnout disappears.
That said, here are four areas you can prioritize to improve your feelings of burnout.
Take care of yourself
Although this can be challenging when you feel worn down, it is essential to manage burnout. You cannot perform at your best on an empty tank. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising are all vital for replenishing your physical and emotional energy.
Shift your perspective
As we discussed above, a core component of burnout is cynicism and negative feelings toward your job. It leads to feeling distanced from your work and uninvested in all aspects of your job. Shifting your perspective won't address the unrealistic workload or exhausting hours your job requires, but it can help to reduce feelings of negativity. With a more positive outlook, you can better identify which aspects of your job are problematic and work to make the necessary changes.
Address stress triggers
To manage burnout, you need to address the factors leading you to feel burnt out. If your workload is impossible, can you talk to a senior team member about redistributing some of your work? Are there tasks you can redistribute or push back? Could you request additional time off to recover from a particularly exhausting project or implement boundaries to protect yourself from being overworked?
Seek out connection and growth
Feeling connected to and inspired by your work is the antidote to burnout. Is there an opportunity at your job to build positive, supportive relationships to balance the ones that drain you? Could you seek professional development opportunities or request a new project that challenges and excites you?
Ultimately, since burnout is work-related, to address it, you will need to address the work-related factors contributing to it, if not the specific job itself. For instance, if chronically working long work hours is wearing you down, is there a way to introduce efficiencies or manage your workload so you can achieve it in fewer hours? If you lack time off, can you request additional vacation or even a short-term leave for mental health? If you cannot address the workplace issues contributing to your burnout, is it worth considering leaving for an alternate position?
In conclusion, burnout is more common than ever, primarily due to overwork culture. A significant shift in our workplace culture needs to occur to support employees and provide a more manageable and enjoyable work-life balance. At our current pace, most of us will experience periods of burnout, likely several times throughout our working years.
The promising news is that the shift is slowly happening. Research has shown that employees are more productive and creative when not overworked or burnt out. Some workplaces are implementing strategies to prevent burnout before it occurs, and more will hopefully follow.
Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The Cost of Caring. Prentice Hall.
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology, 52, 397–422. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397