The Truth About Burn-Out
Across all industries – from hospitality and healthcare to finance and education – an increasing number of women are suffering from stress exhaustion. As research shows burn-out is leading The Great Resignation, Victoria Joy asks, is it too late to turn it around?
Going far beyond a never-ending to-do list and non-existent coffee breaks, in 2019, burn-out was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and categorised as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. Linking it directly to high levels of specifically workplace stress that haven’t been successfully managed, burn-out symptoms listed in the WHO’s diagnostic manual read: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling negative towards one’s career; reduced professional productivity. In other words, you’re running on empty.
The UK’s NHS website offers a wider range of symptoms, including feeling helpless or trapped, a sense of detachment, increased self-doubt, higher levels of procrastination and feeling overwhelmed.
While the term was used before 2020, for many people it was the Covid-19 pandemic that created a perfect storm of stress; health risks for frontline workers, working remotely that blurred boundaries and cut social interaction, financial insecurity for businesses and furloughed employees, and an increase in general household overwhelm.
Despite the positive progress around mental health awareness, statistics confirm a sobering reality; research conducted by Glassdoor between 2021 and 2022 found that discussion of burn-out among UK workers increased by 48% over 12 months, and Deloitte’s Women at Work 2022: A Global Outlook found that nearly 40% of women actively looking for a new employer cited burn-out as the main reason.
Whether it’s corporate workers checking messages all hours of the day so work tasks and worry permeate home life and negatively impact sleep, or healthcare and hospitality staff putting in dangerous levels of overtime and forgoing breaks, it’s no shock that 35% of women rate their ability to switch off from work as poor/very poor.
As to why burn-out seems to be gender-skewed, not only are women more likely to juggle work with caregiving demands and unpaid household labour (especially those forced to squeeze a full-time workload into part-time hours), which ramps up stress across all areas, but they’re also more impacted by financial insecurity due to the gender pay gap and, more commonly, working in lower-paid industries. Among the plethora of supporting research, one 2021 charity survey, titled ‘An Unequal Burden’, found 35% of young women had their furloughed salary topped up by their employer, compared to 53% of young men.
Trying to treat burn-out with a long-overdue week’s leave or a well-intentioned team social is like attempting to stem a bleeding artery with a single stitch – too little, too late. The key is to put in place systems and safeguards to prevent it in the first place, and both individuals and employers have their part to play.
5 Ways To Help Avoid Burn-out
While it can often feel that an always-on culture is unavoidable, these action points can help you to identify if there are ways to work differently and save yourself before burn-out hits…
- Audit Personal Tech
Having your phone or laptop pinging constantly with notifications from work means there’s no delineation between work and other areas of your life. Mute the notifications outside of working hours and when you’re focusing on a particular task to minimise distractions.
- Lay The Foundations
When we’re stressed, busy or flat-out fatigued, our basic needs are the first things to suffer. So laying the foundations shows yourself compassion, and builds resilience against daily stress. Foundations can include nutritious meals eaten without distraction, natural light on your face in the morning, and nightly good-quality sleep. Start small – choose one – and prioritise it.
- Own Your Identity
If work feels all-consuming, be aware of the language you use to describe it. Instead of saying ‘I am’ (‘I am a teacher’, ‘I am a project manager’) use ‘I work as’ (‘I work as a teacher’, ‘I work as a project manager’). This can help create mental boundaries between work and the rest of your life, reminding you your job is only one aspect of who you are and the life you lead.
- Keep Perfection In Check
Is your need to win approval from others, make the best decisions possible or appear at the top of your game adding to your work stress? Aim to view your workload and specific tasks with fresh eyes – from a place of ‘good enough’ instead of ‘perfect’ – and be honest about how realistic you (and others) are being about what’s achievable.
- Rest And Reset
Ensure you’re setting boundaries in your life outside of work to rest and recalibrate. Finding what truly encourages you to rest may require trial and error, but examples include meditation, socialising with friends, listening to calming music or phone-free activities such as doing jigsaw puzzles.
Victoria Joy is a qualified coach who helps people take back control of their everyday, cutting through the overwhelm to create helpful habits and consistent routines to make life feel easier