“The cure for burnout is not self-care. It is all of us caring for each other. We can’t do it alone. We need each other,” said authors and sisters, Emily and Amelia Nagoski, during a dedicated TED talk, at a time when latest figures show 52% of all workers are feeling burned out globally.
2020 survey by Deloitte in 43 countries found that 44% of millennials -the age group expected to be accounting for 75% of the global workplace in 2025- are stressed all or most of the time. The WHO has officially recognized burnout as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
The three components of burnout
According to the original technical definition from Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, burnout involves three components:
- Depersonalization – where you separate yourself emotionally from your work instead of investing in yourself and feeling like it’s meaningful;
- Decreased sense of accomplishment – where you just keep working harder and harder for less and less sense that what you are doing is making any difference; and
- Emotional exhaustion – where you can find yourself in a state of feeling emotionally worn out and drained.
Latest research following the original conceptualization shows that, generally, for men, burnout tends to manifest as depersonalization and, for women, burnout tends to manifest as emotional exhaustion. So anyone can experience burnout, but there are different ways of experiencing it, said Emily Nagoski.
Key causes of burnout
One of the factors causing burnout is our inability to recognize the hard stuff welling up inside us, noted Amelia Nagoski.
And the solution is to be able to turn toward the difficult feelings with kindness and compassion and say, ‘Oh, I feel stressed. I feel unreasonably angry right now. I’m so cranky. I wonder why that is’. And instead of just trying to tell yourself to relax, ask that feeling, ‘Why are you there? What do you need from me? What has to change?,
Similarly, one of the primary barriers to listening to your body is a fear of the uncomfortable feelings that are happening in your body, added Emily.
Burnout,” is that feelings are tunnels. you have to go through the darkness to get to the light at the end, right? Feelings are tunnels. Stress is a tunnel. You’ve got to work all the way through it,
Steps to deal with burnout
The starting point for anyone struggling with burnout is to understand that there is a difference between stressors and stress. Stressors are the things that cause your stress, such as unmeetable goals and expectations, family issues, or financial issues. And then there is the stress, the physiological thing that happens in your body in response to any perceived threat. And this is largely the same no matter what the threat is, Emily explained.
Second, it is vital to understand that the cure for burnout cannot be self-care – how can you be expected to “self-care” your way out of burnout? Instead, the cure for burnout is all of us caring for each other.
What you need is a bubble of love around you, people who care about your well-being as much as you care about theirs, who will turn toward you and say, “You need a break. I’m going to help you with this. I’m going to step in in that way,” or even just give you 15 minutes for you to yell about whatever problems you feel at that moment and just be on your side,
“It turns out that if you feel like you’re isolated, there’s probably someone on the other side of that wall, it turns out, who wants just as much as you to connect with someone else. And we’ve been isolated because we’ve been told that it’s stronger to be independent. It’s not true. We’re going to be healthier and stronger when we work together.”
Burnout in business
How is someone expected to tell their manager or supervisor that they suffer from burnout? The dominance of millennials and a globally new view on work-life balance post-COVID have created a new era of new demands and expectations in the workplace. According to Nagoski sisters, this has created a new approach by big corporations that wish to lead by example by:
- making active efforts to constantly acknowledge people’s emotional and physical needs,
- encouraging an environment where people feel psychologically safe to share what they feel; and
- promoting the idea that managers should be ready to cope when their supervisee comes in and has a bunch of feelings that they need to process and move through.
“So it exists. People are working on it. I feel optimistic. And I also know that there are a lot of workplaces that are trapped in this sort of, like, industrial, super patriarchal, rabidly individualistic mindset, where you just need to protect yourself against the toxic culture by creating a bubble of love at home, where everyone in your household cares for your well-being as much as you care for theirs,
Explore more insights on burnout in the following video: