Burnout and the Power of Breaking Silence



As 2021 rolls on, with many still working from home and blurring one day into the next, the prospect of burning out seems a foregone conclusion. While burnout has been tripping up the workforce since before the invention of the wheel, the ongoing pandemic is certainly an exacerbating factor in today’s work environment. People were experiencing fatigue before the transition to remote operations, but now with no childcare and little to no in-person learning options for school-aged children, many are putting out multiple fires at once every day. Several are even opting to leave their jobs entirely particularly women who are exiting the workforce at four times the rate of men, according to NPR1.

While there is not a one-size-fits-all workaround to avoid burning out, especially to the point of walking away altogether, there are options for lightening the load. To do this, however, it is important to understand that burnout is not a medical condition, but an occupational phenomenon, the Harvard Business Review reports. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), workplace stress has an annual cost of $190 billion and 120,000 lives. Worldwide, 615 million people suffer from depression and anxiety which ultimately translates to $1 trillion in lost productivity each year2. So, whether you are an employee, a manager, a business owner, or a corporate CEO, working toward mitigating burnout should be a priority, especially right now.

Circling back to exploring options for avoiding burnout, there are two perspectives: that of the company and that of the employee. From an individual stance, much of the prevalent advice has a holistic vibe. That is not to say that meditation, mindfulness, and journaling are not good, therapeutic practices capable and effective for reducing stress. However, unpaired with practical action, meditation alone cannot reduce your to-do list on a given day. And, yes, you should be doing less. A lot less.

According to Bravely, asking is the key. Taking the time to sit down and figure out what you control, what you have influence over and what would make life/work better are all questions you should be asking yourself. Once you know what you need, then you should ask for it from those with the ability to make it so3. Maybe you need scheduled time in the middle of the workday to tend to your child’s needs. Or, perhaps the boundaries of work and home have eroded to the point that colleagues are calling you at 10:00 p.m. with questions, something that pre-pandemic, they never would have assumed was acceptable. Whatever it is you need, figure it out and then ask for it.

From the employer and managerial perspective, the above can also apply as many leaders are feeling an excess of pressure to make the cogs of the machine turn with less resources and less oversight. However, it is important to remember your own role in reshaping expectation and ensuring that you lead by example. According to the Harvard Business Review, a Gallup poll found that the top five reasons for burnout are unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workloads, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and managerial support and unreasonable time pressure2. Sound familiar? Chances are, if you are experiencing any one of these things as a manager, then those you supervise likely are as well.

Therefore, the root cause for burnout is not down to the individual but the culture within a given company. Whether you are feeling fatigue or not, in times like these, ask people what they need. Engaging employees to discover what can make work better for them, what is happening in their departments and how they feel it could be improved is a simple, straight-forward place to start. Being proactive with the simple act of communication can go a long way to avoiding the costly consequences of burnout such as loss of productivity and turnover. In turn, approaching your own leaders with a need can yield trickle down results for everyone.

Regardless of which perspective applies to your own situation, silence will not help you escape the inevitable burnout of being overwhelmed. Many companies are learning the value of flexibility in real time, but if needs are never communicated you cannot expect those needs to magically resolve themselves but the result of speaking up, respectfully and eloquently, might surprise you. At the very least, it starts a conversation.

  1. Schneider, Avie, Adnrea Hsu & Scott Horsley. “Multiple Demands Causing Women to Abandon Workforce.NPR. Podcast. 02 Oct. 2020. Accessed on 25 Jan. 2021.
  2. Moss, Jennifer. “Burnout is About Your Workplace, Not Your People.Harvard Business Review. 11 Dec. 2019. Accessed on 25 Jan. 2021.
  3. Burning Out? Stuck? Be Your Own Coach.Bravely. 07 Oct. 2020. Accessed on 25 Jan. 2021.

Source: MICPA

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