Burnout is a big issue that business leaders can’t afford to ignore. In 2022, a McKinsey Health Institute survey found that nearly a third of U.S. workers report burnout symptoms sometimes, often, or always, while more than a third report experiencing moderate distress symptoms — symptoms that impact employee engagement and workplace performance.
It’s easy to create a cliched image of a person with burnout: always exhausted, zoning out in meetings, not meeting expectations, and unable to cope in the workplace. But, that doesn’t mean that if you’re not showing clear signs of burnout then you’re immune to it. In fact, it is a widespread issue, as Jennifer Moss’s book The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It aptly explains.
Unfortunately, though, burnout isn’t that simple.
Hidden in Plain Sight
On the second episode of my newly launched podcast, Unexpected Journey™, I spoke with Jennie Blumenthal, CEO and founder of Corporate Rehab, and author of bestselling book Corporate Rehab: Ditch the Hustle Culture and Thrive Again. The book is based on Jennie’s own experience with burnout, as well as hundreds of interviews with women also suffering from burnout within the corporate culture. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Jennie realized she was suffering from extreme burnout — and didn’t even know it. Turns out, that’s not an uncommon phenomenon. For many corporate leaders addicted to hustle culture, burnout is par for the course, but often unrecognizable.
Basically, “burnout” is a common term for chronic and unmanaged stress in professional environments. According to the World Health Organization, almost 80% of people have gone through burnout in their careers, and almost half of female executives are feeling it right now. Despite these staggering numbers, many of the people Jennie interviewed for her book were unaware that they were even suffering from burnout; to them, the signs and consequences of burnout were just a regular part of life.
Not Dealing with Your Burnout? Here’s How It’s Dealing with You
In Jennie’s research, several key signs of burnout popped up among those hard-working execs who didn’t even realize they were suffering from textbook burnout.
- A physical response
Started losing your hair? Made an impromptu and unexplained trip to the emergency room? Threw up every day for 18 months, but only Monday through Friday? Maybe you’re just exhausted? It might be that chronic and unmanaged stress within the workplace that’s to blame.
While some might take these random ailments and illnesses as a warning sign that something’s wrong, Jennie said, for others, that stress and the physical responses that come with it are things to be pushed through, for productivity’s sake.
She told me, “Women tend to just put their heads down and keep going. There are mouths to feed or babies to take care of or that project to get done or the deal to close. Often, we don’t realize that we hold so much stress within ourselves without having a way to make sure that it’s not just wreaking havoc on our bodies and our minds.”
- A change in attitude and approach
Even if stress hasn’t caused any physical repercussions, it can still reveal itself in other parts of your life, like how you approach your work. You used to be passionate and fervent about it, but now you display a strong air of cynicism. And it’s even worse because it has also taken away your self-belief. You feel like whatever you do, nothing will ever change or become better.
So, if you have a cynical attitude toward work, how can you expect to gain satisfaction from your profession, manage a team, or even access the creativity or innovative mindset that you may need to do your job?
- Fight or flight (or fawn or freeze)
Stress — like burnout stress — can trigger your fight or flight response, or, your freeze or fawn response. These biological functions that would have kept us safe in prehistoric times are harder to navigate and recognize in the jungle that is the office, but they’re hard at work in our bodies just the same.
Has there been an increase in your workplace conflicts lately? Are you actively avoiding your work or coworkers compared to before? Or do you experience a sudden mental blank when you’re in a tense work environment? Perhaps your natural response to stress is to cater to the whims of the difficult customer or superior, even if it won’t benefit you or the team. This may be a means of self-preservation, and that could be the only thing on your mind.
Whether you fight, flee, fawn or freeze, if you’re having these stress reactions, it’s a sign of just that — stress.
Addressing the Elephant
If you’re a leader on the lookout for burnout within your teams, you can look for things like cynicism and a lack of efficacy, as well as a lack of purpose or fulfillment, and “quiet quitting” among your teams, but you can also take the steps necessary to reduce burnout where you can by, firstly, respecting employee boundaries.
“We’re constantly trespassing on people’s time or energy boundaries. We’re asking them to give too much. We’re expecting emails to be returned at 10 p.m. We’re expecting calls on the weekends. [These are] all real examples of things I see … And that’s [viewed] as just the way of doing business as opposed to trampling on boundaries,” Jennie told us.
But what if you’re the one struggling with burnout?
If you find yourself exhibiting the aforestated subdued signs of covert burnout, the primary measure to take, as Jennie suggests, is to be compassionate to yourself. Most likely, you’ve pushed yourself too hard and were not intending to become a victim of burnout – it just happened on its own. Don’t further the sense of defeat you feel by berating yourself. As announced, burnout is a prevalent issue, so you’re not alone in this. Begin assessing the inside and outside elements that led to your burnout and then take action and make alterations as soon as you can.
For leaders who want to simultaneously take something off their own plate, while also helping improve their employees’ experiences, Remote Evolution™ can help. Let’s talk today and remember to follow Unexpected Journey™ wherever you listen to podcasts for more stories like Jennie’s.