Women, middle managers and workers younger than 25 feel burnt out most often and despite remote work and a renewed focus on work-life balance, it’s not getting any better. But burnout is actually a mental health syndrome, not just a buzz phrase – and it’s not lessening.
Despite what Neil Young and Kurt Cobain say, is it really “better to burn out than fade away”? Medical experts think not. In fact, in 2019, the WHO updated its diagnostic manual to characterise burnout as a mental health syndrome, “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” with symptoms listed as feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling negative towards your job, along with reduced professional productivity as well as a lack of desire to be productive for your company or role.
But let’s ask some important questions: firstly, what’s the difference between simple ennui, which every human animal experiences, and fully diagnosable burnout? And secondly, with an increased focus on getting our work-life balance right, and with the better quality of life that working from home allows, can we still burn out? Let’s explore.
Toxic managers, too many hours and a lack of support can take their toll.
Burnout and the ‘new way of working’ (that’s here to stay)
We've all been there; that moment of waking up on Monday morning and feeling like the weekend wasn't quite long enough to recover from the fatigue of the working week just gone. No amount of coffee seems to bring you through, and the very thought of your to-do list makes you feel jittery. But surely, being able to work in one’s PJs put an end to that? Let’s not be so hasty to assume.
Working from home during the pandemic turns out to have accelerated an 'always on' working culture, where online presenteeism was rife. With redundancies and furloughs, managers expected teams to do more with less. In countries such as the UK, Canada and the US, employees reported that the time they spend logged on at their computer has increased by more than two hours a day since the pandemic, according to data by NordVPN Teams.
Encouragingly, however, since the end of lockdown, the push towards hybrid working and trends such as The Great Resignation and ‘quiet quitting’ indicate that employees are taking a stand regarding how their work impacts their mental health.
Business analysts at NerdWallet have crunched government data in the UK and found that on average, knowledge workers log an extra 163 hours per year – and that’s after the power centre moved from employer to employee.
All employers and talent managers worldwide are considering how they can reduce the burden and keep employees happy: EY US’s latest Future Workplace Index shows that of the companies surveyed, 40% have either started using a four-day workweek or are in the process of implementing one.