Burnout is real

Anytime I read a Statement like “Hustle Culture” and “Working till we make it”, I cringe. For every one of those statements you read, there is someone out there experiencing burnout because they have bought into the fiction that successful people are working late hours every day and surviving on four hours of sleep. That fiction has become so pervasive in some cultures that people are literally dropping dead from work-related exhaustion. Japan actually has a word for this phenomenon: Karoshi. While the Japanese work culture may represent an extreme case, many people around the world are experiencing work-related stress.

You know there’s a problem when they have a word for it

The WHO defines employee burnout as a “syndrome developing from unmanaged chronic workplace stress, characterized by feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional performance.” According to this article from 2021, over half of all survey respondents say they have experienced symptoms of burnout. That’s a frightening statistic.

I believe burnout symptoms have gotten worse over the years due to the intersection of the gig economy and an always online culture. Workers who observe a strict 9 to 5 left work behind at the office each day and resumed the next day. They had time to rest and pursue other interests. If, however, you are like most knowledge workers right now, your boss has not only your email address but also your mobile number and can connect with you on whatsapp. Work follows us everywhere. Under such circumstances, it can be hard to take a step back and get some much needed rest.

Job on your
Even the most dedicated employee can burn out

If you are an employer or a team leader, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of burnout among your team members.

Invest in office space

Small businesses might not be able to provide highly personalised and colourful workspace like those at Google Headquarters or some hubs. However, they can let employees know it’s ok to rise from your desk every now and then for a short walk if they feel tired.

Cubicles don’t make for ideal work spaces

Consider closing early on Friday

By 12pm on Friday, most people have already zoned out of work. If they have to stay till 5, they are probably mentally counting the hours and will speed off as soon as the hour strikes. Closing early on Friday allows workers to start the weekend early, catch up on lost sleep and have more time for personal errands. They will also return to work on Monday revitalised.

Lead by example

Does your company have a mandatory clockout time for everyone? Does the boss stick to it? Workers who may already be through with their tasks for the day might sit at their desk and wait for the boss to leave first because they fear they will be seen as being unserious if they leave before everyone else does. As a team leader, make it a point to leave work on time and make it clear there is no penalty for doing so. Workers who spend longer hours at work are more likely to burnout. Furthermore, presenteeism does not guarantee efficiency. A worker who does focused work for two hours each day will achieve more than one who spends 8 hours on low value tasks. It’s not the hours that one spends in the office that matter. It’s what one puts into those hours.

Follow the Leader

Above all else, make it clear your team members can talk to you if they ever feel the signs of burnout.

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