Burnout Is Getting Worse. What’s the Culprit?

Burnout is a silent epidemic affecting a vast majority of Americans. 94% of people surveyed reported experiencing burnout at some point, according to a recent Within Health study. 43% said they felt burnt out at that moment.

What is causing this widespread burnout? What is the solution?

You may think that the prevailing inflation is to blame, but financial stress came second (51%). The Within Health survey found the top cause of burnout for 72% of Americans is their job. 

These figures are alarmingly high and point towards a larger issue. Is imminent danger on the horizon?

Work Burnout: Examining the Issues

Working long hours is the number one cause of burnout for 55% of employees surveyed. The increasing demand for high productivity and constant availability has proven harmful. Many people feel like they are “always working.” This continuous pressure to perform is not only affecting job satisfaction, but it can also have serious physical and mental health consequences.

The second highest source of stress for 40% of those surveyed is their boss. Employees constantly feel under scrutiny and cannot do their job to the best of their abilities.

“I became burnt out after endless meetings with executive-level managers talking about changing and evolving, but nothing was getting done,” says Greg Wilson, a Chartered Financial Analyst who retired at age 42 because of burnout. “I demanded change from my boss, but she was not in my corner.”

Unsurprisingly, a toxic work environment is also a significant contributor to burnout. The report shows that 35% of respondents felt their work environment was toxic, negatively affecting their morale and productivity. This toxicity can manifest in various forms, such as office politics, lack of recognition, and cutthroat culture.

“I have three small kids,” Wilson adds. “I was getting jealous watching my wife hang out with them all day. I was stressed from all of the meetings about nothing. I decided my time was better spent with family than in meetings.”

The Quiet Quitting Trend

Reduced productivity and increased sick leave are a few negative consequences that burnout can cause within an organization. It can also result in employees leaving their job. Within Health found that 38% of those who have experienced burnout have quit. 

“I think one thing that happened with the pandemic is that it forced many to slow down and re-evaluate their lives. Where they live, their jobs, their commute… ” said Meghan Punda, Nurse Practioner and owner of Nourished + Well. “Many people are coming out of this pandemic with a new perspective about how they want to live their lives. Part of that may be a career change.”

Quiet quitting is another phenomenon businesses have to face. The concept is not new, but the term has gained prominence in recent years. Quiet quitting happens when employees silently disengage and become apathetic toward their job responsibilities. These people would rather sit back and coast than put in their best effort and risk burnout.

Although this coping mechanism may seem easier, it can also have negative consequences, such as lost opportunities for growth and advancement. Quiet quitting may leave workers feeling trapped in an unfulfilling job.

Health Effects of Burnout

Of those experiencing burnout, 83% feel tired, 67% feel exhausted, and 50% notice changes in their sleep habits. More than half (51%) of respondents experiencing burnout also have depression and feel defeated and helpless (50%).

“I was burning the candle at both ends, working towards a goal of quitting my full-time job to become a full-time freelancer,” says professional photographer Mikkel Woodruff. “I suffered a major panic attack one evening, doing work on my coffee table. I was having trouble breathing as tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was freaking out from the self-induced pressure of striving to achieve my goal and the lack of sleep that ensued. It was a red flag that something had to change.”

Combating Work Burnout

The World Health Organization classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition, but recognizes its impact. It defines burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” This definition presupposes that work burnout is manageable. So what can be done?

Employers, human resource managers, and administrators must recognize burnout as a real issue and implement measures to address it. These leaders should be able to recognize what kind of workplace culture they are fostering and make necessary changes to address any toxicity. They should also communicate their concerns with their employees, prioritize work-life balance, and support those experiencing burnout.

Employees also have a role to play in preventing or effectively handling burnout. 

To combat burnout outside of work, 59% of respondents use exercise, with 52% fighting the feeling by reading, watching TV, and listening to music. Half (50%) cope with burnout by taking a nap. Working on a hobby (35%) and socializing with friends (34%) also made the top five.

“If you don’t like your situation change it. If you can’t change it, move on,” advises Wilson.

Don’t Stress Over Job Stress

Work burnout is not an individual problem; the rot spreads throughout an organization. Society and the country also suffer from the consequences of burnout. 

If you are a business leader, make a change for the better. Your employees and the economy will thank you. If you are a worker, advocate for better policies and prioritize your well-being. Ultimately, the goal should be to create a workplace where employees feel valued, supported, and able to do their best work without burning out.

Everyone has a part to play in combatting burnout and creating a healthier and more sustainable work environment. Play your part!

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Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

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