Suffering from burnout at some point is normal, but should it be? After all, it can be prevented.
What is burnout?
Burnout has (relatively) recently been registered with the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Diseases. It’s a result of chronic workplace stress that is characterised by feelings of exhaustion, increased negativity about work, and a sense of ineffectiveness and/or lack of accomplishment.
As a management issue, burnout costs organisations in staff turnover and productivity as employees are disengaged. It creates a poor culture that can easily spread and affects the workplace both now and into the future.
Burnout is one of my favourite topics. I’ve been working full-time in an office environment for the last seven years and finding a work-life balance is important to me. This can be very difficult with a heavy workload and the inability to switch off from your job. While burnout has been categorised as a condition due to work stress, I personally think that the evolution of our fast-paced lives has also contributed to this condition.
The increased prevalence of social media and fear of missing out (FOMO) can cause us to put intense pressure on ourselves (and our lives) to be a certain way. If you have a job that exposes you to a lot of social media or are in a friend group in which it is considered important, you can often feel the need to always be switched on or present yourself in a certain way. This may be accidental or even unnoticeable, but I believe that this is contributing to burnout.
I don’t work in HR, but I find research on work and wellbeing very interesting – especially as I have experienced burnout more than once before.
A few of times over the years I’ve spent in office jobs, after months of extremely high workloads, I’ve experienced burnout. With staff taking holidays or resigning and multiple projects due at the same time, I’ve worked tirelessly to meet deadlines and budgets with little thanks or recognition. I put in extra hours, skip lunch breaks and generally push myself to get things done.
High workloads have worn me down. It takes me a couple of days to realise what’s happened and then even longer to overcome it. Burnout feeds burnout. I don’t feel like doing anything except being horizontal and eating every type of takeout. I consider changing jobs but figure that I couldn’t afford to, so I pull my hair into a bun without even brushing it and trudge into work with negative thoughts that affect my day.
Culture Contributes To Burnout?
This Forbes article last year reported on a study by Savvy Sleeper, in which 69 cities from 53 countries were analysed in work and health-related categories. From there, they were ranked and I think the findings are so interesting.
The ten cities with the least burnout are all in mainland Europe, while the only two European cities in the top 20 burnt out are Istanbul, Turkey (4) and London, UK (14). Europe is known for its balance when it comes to work culture, providing paid vacation and maternity leave, and working less hours than other places.
In contrast, America and Asia tend to be known for their long work hours and high workloads. Seven of the top ten most burnt out cities in the Savvy Sleeper study were from countries in Asia, and Los Angeles came in at number nine.
My hometown, Sydney, Australia, came in at number 11. Sydney ranked high in substance abuse prevalence and mental health disorders, but was seemingly average in most other areas ranked. Interestingly, we seem to be getting more sleep than other cities, which is possibly attributed to Sydney’s current lack of 24-hour economy compared to some other cities on the list.
Long hours, however, don’t necessarily contribute to productivity, especially if workplace culture isn’t open to innovation and transformation. Countries like Germany and Denmark have lower hours worked, yet their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is still high.
Studies like this open up a conversation for workplaces to consider health and wellbeing in their organisational strategy, and implement a strong management team and structure that is able to properly resource workloads to optimise productivity.
Other articles I have found useful in this research include:
- The Three Stages of Burnout
- The World’s 20 Most Stressed Out Cities
- Work-Life Balance is Better in Europe than the US
- Differences in Average Working Hours Around the World
- Average Working Hours
- Our World in Data
- OECD Data
Tell me about your experience with burnout and the city you’re from in the comments.