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.

annie-spratt-1msci6gS694-unsplash.jpg

Overworking culture is glorified, and it almost feels like a competition of who's the busiest. Employees who work into the evenings or over their weekends are praised instead of being encouraged to keep their work inside working hours. We wear how busy we are as a badge of honour, and we get rewarded by our employers and admired by our friends. Unfortunately, this never-ending hustle leads to chronic exhaustion and a lack of motivation.

The pandemic has brought a phenomenon termed the "Great Resignation," resulting in a massive exit of employees from their current positions and the workforce in general. The Great Resignation is the tipping point of the current long-term trend of high employee dissatisfaction. What is particularly interesting about the Great Resignation is that many of those who left their jobs were in prosperous and high-paying positions. The pandemic enlightened us about what is truly important and the fragility of health. For those unhappy or dissatisfied in their job, this may have been the final push they needed to walk away.

In a culture that values, no idolizes work, it isn't surprising that burnout is being talked about now more than ever before. Since extreme dedication to your work is regarded as having merit, identifying as burnt out can be a status marker. In a roundabout way, being burnt out implies that you work hard, which is rewarded with more work, which is rewarded with more praise. It's a vicious cycle.

A survey from 2020 found that the average worker is most likely to experience career burnout by the time they're 32 years old. A third of respondents to the survey admitted they felt they could not, or would not, continue in their jobs at some point due to either stress or exhaustion. According to the study, the major contributing factors to burnout were doing too much, working too many hours, not taking enough time off, and the constant pressure to put in extra work.

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.

ephraim-mayrena-uyC4gPZXfKE-unsplash.jpg

The Culture of Burnout

A significant driver of burnout culture is the never-ending belief that we can do more, be more, and achieve more. We need to learn and accept that unfortunately there's just no productivity hack to help us achieve everything we want in a day. Wellness culture has enforced a belief that things like learning to say "no," meal prepping and scheduling, meditation or journaling, and manifesting will solve all our problems.

Social media has opened our eyes to all of the opportunities and adventures that are available. But the reality is we will only be able to do a fraction of what we would like to do in our lives. We must narrow our list to choose what is truly valuable, inspiring, and reasonable to prevent feeling continuously overwhelmed and inadequate.

There isn't a simple solution for burnout since the causes are in our culture and our specific workplaces. Realistically, you need to be a sole proprietor to have control over your working conditions, and even if you are a sole proprietor, you may find yourself faced with an overwhelming workload or lack of support. Changes have to be more than individual because the causes of burnout are systemic. For instance, learning to say "no" to other people's demands can be helpful, but it doesn't reduce the demands, it just shifts those burdens to someone else.

Another factor that needs to be addressed is the notion that we are what our work is. We somehow both work to live and live to work. Particularly n North America, work is a massive part of our identity and self-worth. To reduce burnout, we must abolish the idea that we lack dignity if we don't work the hardest. A massive cultural shift needs to occur in recognizing value and dignity outside of a person's work, employment, and salary.

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.

Sources

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

Tags:
Guide
Kelsey Russell-MurrayI have been working as a Registered Dietitian for 8 years now, the majority of which has been spent working as a clinical inpatient RD in a hospital. I specialize primarily in critical care and stroke nutrition. In 2020 I opened my virtual private practice, Gut Healthy Dietitian, where I specialize primarily in gut and digestive-health related diseases and conditions. I have an Honours Bachelor of Science in Nutrition as well as a Graduate Diploma of Integrated Dietetic Internship.
Group
Subscribe for updates

By clicking "submit", you’re consenting to our email newsletter with cooking content and information on products. You may withdraw your consent at any time.