In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon in the ICD-11. However, a relatively new article by HBR about burnout points at studies that show the pandemic has been causing burnout to run rampant since early 2020. “Knowledge workers” are now mostly working remotely - looking at Zoom, for example, they went from 10 million to 200 million active users effectively overnight.
To clarify: Burnout is really just another term for chronic stress causing emotional, mental, and even physical damage.
Lots of companies just look at it as a personal problem. Get better at self-care, do some yoga, use those new-fangled meditation apps. Those might help soothe some of the pains caused by chronic stress, but they don’t get to the actual causes of it.
A 2012 Study by Christina Maslach, Michael Leither and Susan Jackson point at the causes of burnout to be more organizational than personal. The top cause? Unsustainable workload. Also in there is the lack of a supportive community.
If you take a look over the NBER’s working paper on the impact of COVID-19 - what do you see? Remote workers on average work 10% more during all of this. People also have more shorter meetings than ever before. You end up with a heavier workload and sparser, shorter action-oriented meetings - without the same affordances given to social interactions unrelated to the work at hand.
The HBR article I’d linked above did a survey of 1500 workers - and found that nearly 90% said that their work life was getting worse, more than half said their work was becoming more demanding, and half felt that they couldn’t maintain a strong connection with their friends.
This isn’t really a new phenomenon, either. Some CEOs of public companies have been pushing for 80 hours a week of work, Uber’s employees were effectively not sleeping, Amazon worked people to exhaustion on Easter Sunday and Thanksgiving weekend, and if you want to hear me go off about even my personal experience, just ask me about Venmo’s practices. The superbowl “war room” that literally means being in the office for 24 hours without sleep is just the tip of that iceberg.
Really, though - what I’m trying to say is that burnout is very real, very scary, and it’s gotta get addressed sometime. I don’t think that time is now, but it’s gotta be soon.
Maybe the 5 hour work day could become the norm. I doubt it though.