Burnout Levels Are Higher Than Ever — So Why Is No One Listening?

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Beyoncé has now entered the burnout chat.

In her recent single drop, ‘Break My Soul’ — a taste of her upcoming seventh album, Renaissance, the multi-hyphenate takes aim at hustle culture, with lyrics “I just quit my job, I’m gonna find new drive,” and “work by nine, then off past five, and they work my nerves, that’s why I cannot sleep at night,” and plenty more to speak to the mood of the times. Sure enough, the Internet is now losing it over this battle cry, spurred to quit their jobs, demand better pay and construct a better work-life balance. But this isn’t the first we’re hearing of burnout — far from it, actually.

The modern concept of burnout began making waves in 2019 when the World Health Organisation officially included the phenomenon in the International Classification of Diseases. Later that year, an article by journalist Anne Helen Petersen about workplace burnout amongst millennials went viral, and, truthfully, we couldn’t stop thinking about it — and that was before we faced a global pandemic. Since then, burnout has become a major speaking point about workplace wellness, putting pressure on companies to step up and provide better working conditions and flexibility to employees. But in the years since Petersen’s words seized a generation, can we really say that meaningful change has been made? Despite all our talk about workplace wellness, it seems the call isn’t being heard where it actually matters since, according to new reports, we’re actually more burnt out than ever.

In the recent Women @ Work, a global report by Deloitte covering women’s attitudes to the workplace, feelings of overwhelming stress were widespread.

Fueled by ever-rising pressures and a lack of ability to accommodate for the skyrocketing cost of living, 53% of women say their stress levels are even higher than they were a year ago, during the height of the pandemic, and almost half would say they were burnt out, rating their mental health as poor or very poor as a result.

Sure, we’re more aware of the importance of self-care, and mental health leave and employee assistance programs have come a long way. But even though this is reflected in the third of people that have actively taken time off of work recently for their mental health, only 43% said they felt comfortable talking about these mental health challenges in the workplace. Because as much as companies can push for staff wellbeing, the execution can fall a little flat, leaning more towards corporate wellness memes than meaningful moves to bettering employee satisfaction.

Since emerging from lockdowns, most employees have realised the benefits of a hybrid working format, so much so that it’s become even more significant when job seeking than the salary. In unsurprising news, while the report confirmed that workplace flexibility has been a key concern for workers, this is simply not a reality for most women, as more and more companies go back to on-site offices. In fact, just 33% of women said their employer offers flexible working options, and 94% believe that requesting flexible work will negatively affect their likelihood of promotion.

But as we continue to weather the pandemic, job scarcity can be a paralysing fear, and the grim reality is that we don’t always have the agency to do much about it when the bills are piling up.

On the plus side, it looks like women are feeling more ready to seek out better. The so-called Great Resignation was a little anti-climatic but perhaps we’ll see a second wave in the next few years, with people reporting that they are more likely to be looking for a new role than they were a year ago — citing burnout and poor job satisfaction as the main reasons. But even though the job market is looking pretty hot right now, about a quarter of those surveyed are less optimistic about their career opportunities than they were a year ago — during the height of the pandemic — which is saying something.

Even for those not looking for new roles right now, half know that they want to leave their employer in the next two years, with only 10% planning to stay with their current employer for 5+ years. Those are some pretty dire stats, if you ask us, but they speak to the death of the dream job, the one we thought we’d have forever.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom, and, believe it or not, there is such a thing as being satisfied with your job. But with all these reports of stress levels rising, we have to ask: is all the dialogue around burnout simply happening in a void? Why haven’t we taken all that ‘rah rah work-life balance’ rhetoric into practice post-lockdown? Jobs didn’t necessarily change or become harder during the pandemic, but without the distraction of free snacks in the office, ping pong tables or peer-to-peer bonding sessions, perhaps we were more able to see our jobs for what they are. The pressure put on workplaces caused many to crack, even when their bottom lines weren’t impacted. And in such uncertain times, many of us were pushing ourselves harder than ever, burning out irrevocably — spurred by the belief that we were lucky to be hired at all.

But beyond shitty management — something that is glaringly highlighted when things get hard — where we may really be going wrong in our approach to burnout is that we look at it as something to treat once it’s already happened, when, really, we miss the point of taking steps to avoid it in the first place. It’s easy to tell people to quit their job, to look for one that’ll treat them better because they deserve more, and to sing about work not loving you back. But as we continue to weather the pandemic, job scarcity can be a paralysing fear, and the grim reality is that we don’t always have the agency to do much about it when the bills are piling up.

Ultimately, all we can do is work on reinvesting our time and energy into what actually matters to us. Maybe you’d be better off with a ‘good enough’ job you don’t love but that you also don’t have to take home at night, or a more creatively stimulating role, or one that allows you the time to pursue your passions outside of it. Or, hell, maybe you want to switch industries altogether and take on a casual gig while going back to school. We’re not all in the privileged position to be able to just quit our jobs, but we can try to make sure we’re addressing our stress before it falls into burnout territory.

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