The Blame for Burnout

Here’s the latest from Practicing Mental Illness:

Rates of burnout, as with rates of every other mental health challenge during this Covid crisis, are soaring. Unfortunately, systems and programs put in place to help may be making the problem worse.

I read a very good article about burnout among doctors in the NHS in the UK. It tells of doctors driven to do better and better ending up so disheartened that they plan to leave the profession. A little bit of reading and some empathetic conversations with people in all sectors of the economy reveal that this may be part of Covid’s long-term legacy.

People working on job sites are finding the demands of working short-staffed and the threat of illness wearing them out. People working from home are becoming unable to stop; distinctions between work time and non-work time have completely blurred. Yes, there’s an end in sight to the virus. But I don’t think these new expectations of more, more, more from workers are going away.

There’s an irony to our attitudes on burnout. We often see people who suffer from burnout as weak or unable to “take it.” Try as they may, they just can’t keep up. Many burned out people certainly view themselves this way. However, it’s incredible dedication to the job, mustering the strength to work constantly, and keeping up with any demands a job may reveal that lead to burnout. Not weakness.

People who just show up and put in their time don’t burn out. The exceptional performers do. Companies need to recognize this, and that it’s a company’s policies, demands and culture that lead these driven employees into poor mental health.

Instead, employers offer stress management programs and employee assistance hotlines, all of which put the responsibility for burnout and the need to address it right back on the worker. When an organization starts losing its best and brightest to breakdowns that organization needs to stop offloading the problem onto the backs of those who suffer. They need to look at the company and change before it’s too late.

Without this deep self-examination by HR departments and company leaders, burnout will continue to worsen, and individuals will continue to suffer and blame themselves.

For most people this long year of Covid has not been a shutdown at all. They’ve been called on to give more, and work harder and longer. Meetings are on Zoom at all hours, kids need help with school at home, and the relationships and social contact that sustain us have been halted. Companies, on the other hand, are reaping the benefit of this new expectation to do more with less nonstop. Companies tend to adapt quickly to new conditions, and change back to more beneficial employee focused policies very slowly. There’s money to be made, of course. And if this money can be made with fewer people doing more, that is a hard culture to break.

I reiterate that people who burnout are not weak, unfocused and without dedication. They are the exact opposite. And as with many during this crisis they suffer without a voice and end up with shattered prospects and little desire to continue. At work, at pleasures, and tragically for many, at any effort to go on.

Stress management programs at companies are well and good. But if a company’s work ethic and culture are causing unbearable stress in the first place, the company needs to stop and adjust. The result of burnout is even more stress, not a time out. After a year of this you’d think we’ve learned something about burnout, its causes, and its effects on mental health. I fear we haven’t got a clue.

If burnout is leading you to question your ability go one, please talk to someone. If it leads to suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Getting Older With Bipolar

The group continues to meet. If you’re over 40 and suffer from a mood disorder, or support someone who does, please join us on Thursday evenings at 7:00p EST. Here’s where you can find the Zoom link.

Meditation

I had a tremendous conversation with Maher Abiad on the Nolimitspreneur podcast. We spoke a lot about the benefits of meditation, and offered some information on how to do it and why. Also, and probably most important, we discussed how people’s expectations of meditation, especially the expectation that it will always be a calming and happy undertaking, lead many people to quit before the positive effects kick in. We also address how meditation can help with self-esteem and goal setting, and tell a helpful story from my book Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis. Please watch it on YouTube here: