• Edwin and George

Burn Out – It Can’t Be Ignored Any Longer

Anne Helen Peterson’s new book, ‘Can’t Even – How Millennials Became the Burnt Out Generation,’ is a pretty depressing read (but quite a good book).


‘Are you tired, stressed and trying your best but somehow not doing enough?’ writes Peterson. ‘Has the bottom half of your to-do list been locked in place for months? Is everything becoming work – as your job seeps into your evenings? This is burn out – and it’s becoming the defining feature of our generation and our lives.’


‘We’re exhausted. Burn out is a creeping part of modern culture. It’s a feeling that you’ve hit the wall; but then you have to climb the wall and just keep going. There is no lasting rest – only the background hum of exhaustion.’(1)


Peterson refers to an article in ‘The Atlantic’ magazine in 2020, ‘Millennials don’t stand a chance,’ which also paints a bleak picture:


‘Millennials are disproportionately represented in jobs that are disappearing the fastest- restaurant and retails workers and they’re dependent on jobs in the ‘gig economy. These are terrible jobs and now the young people holding them are getting fired.’(2)


Research in 2020, found that a staggering 52% or people under the age of 45 had lost a job, been put on leave or placed on reduced hours during the pandemic – compared to 26% over the age of 45. The strains are showing.(3)


Even for millennials with ‘steady’ jobs, the stresses are showing. Burdened with debt, trying to match up to ever increasing expectations, balancing home and work life – creating equilibrium between work and being a parent, alongside financial and family constraints.

The sad fact is, though, burn out has grown massively across all generations during the pandemic:


For example, a recent article in the ‘Australian Financial Review’ reports that ‘working from home is driving a surge in burn out and overtime hours:’


‘A survey reveals that in 2020, almost three quarters of Australians suffered burn out as the average amount of overtime work doubled from 2019. More than two in three workers experienced ‘imposter syndrome’ – self-doubt about their ability to do their work. This figure is 85% for people who started a new role during the pandemic. (4)


Burn out has become so widespread that in 2019, the World Health Authority finally classified it as an ‘official medical condition; describing it as:


‘A syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’ (5)


Are you suffering from burn out? A short test


So, bearing in mind that burn out is that unique combination of feeling exhausted at you work, having low energy and negative mood:


Score one point for each ‘yes’ answer.

  • I often feel cynical about my work or the company I work for

  • I feel there is more work coming in than can be handled

  • I often get stressed because I have tough work deadlines to meet

  • I get annoyed at my boss - who isn’t sensitive to the demand I have working from home

  • I have family pressures – kids at home and managing remote learning

  • I sometimes feel that my work doesn’t matters any more

  • I am not used to working from home this long – I miss the human connection – both formal (meetings etc.) and informal (e.g. chats in the kitchen)

  • I miss my commute to work – it was the only ‘me time’ I had and it provided a dividing between home and work life

  • I have no enthusiasm for domestic or personal tasks as they’ve become stressful and take a great deal of effort

  • I am worried and anxious – much more than previously.


We won’t give a rating or define how many ‘yes’ answers denote a problem – but we hope the exercise helps define the issues that burn out brings and the signs of the condition at work.


So, what’s to be done?


The lead article in the latest edition of the ‘Harvard Business Review’ sums it up:


‘Beyond Burned Out – chronic stress and burn out were rampant before the pandemic. Leaders can’t ignore it any further.’ (6)


And here’s the nub of the problem.


Too many senior managers and leaders see the solution to the problem from the wrong side.


We hear of organisations that recognise the problem and try to provide solutions which are largely ineffective: they encourage their workers to take breaks, take exercise. have sessions on well-being or provide nice perks. All good initiatives.


But the problem isn’t going to be solved by companies sending staff vouchers for yoga lessons.


Because the true solution lies with changing the organization – not the habits of the employee.


The World Health definition of burn out acknowledges that it is more than an ‘employee problem, but and organisational one.’


Consider this:


In 2020, professionals spent 158 hours in unnecessary meetings – and despite 89% of them working late – they still miss one in four deadlines. The biggest barriers to productivity were having too many meetings and video calls, too much work to do and chasing people to get input.’


Australians spend more than half their time on ‘work about work’ – attending meetings, dealing with compliance issues and observing internal rules and processes.’

With just 15% of workers feeling they’re being heard by their organisations. (7)


Many organisations are riddled with bureaucracy, unnecessary rules and processes, the need for control, a lack of trust, needless work deadlines, poor communication and job insecurity.


Asana’s Head of Global Engagement, Joshua Zwekwl sums it up:


‘By improving how work gets done, organisations can get greater productivity and engagement while empowering their people to become more agile and resilient.’ (8)


Our organisations are broken – and it’s breaking our people.


(1) ‘Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burn Out Generation,’ Anne Helen Peterson

(2) ‘Millennials Don’t Stand a Chance,’ Anne Lowrie, ‘The Atlantic: 14th April 2020

(3) ‘Millennials Don’t Stand a Chance,’ Anne Lowrie, ‘The Atlantic,’ 14th April 2020

(4) ‘Australian Financial Review:’ 18 January 2021

(5) ‘Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burn Out Generation,’ Anne Helen Peterson

(6) ‘Beyond Burned Out:’ ‘Harvard Business Review,’ February 2021

(7) ‘Australian Financial Review:’ 18 January 2021

(8) ‘Australian Financial Review:’ 18 January 2021

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