Burnout causes and solutions

Does this scenario sound familiar? It’s the middle of winter. You wake up early, in the dark, and nine hours or so later, you return home after a long commute, also in the dark. You pick up a convenience food dinner on the way, catch up on emails to get a jump on the next day, and slump in front of the TV. Good times!

In May 2019, the World Health Organization declared that burnout is a real thing. Named an “occupational phenomenon”, its symptoms include chronic feelings of stress, fatigue, and cynicism but can include shortness of breath, gastrointestinal complaints, headaches, and insomnia. And, while it can hit anyone at any time, burnout victims tend to be high-achieving, diligent folk who everyone counts on to get things done.

A 2019 Canadian workplace survey by Accountemps, a staffing agency, of 600 senior managers found that 96 per cent believed their staff were experiencing burnout. There are a number of things companies can do, such as review workloads, provide flexibility on work hours and workplaces, and encourage staff to take regular breaks away from their desks, for example. But ultimately, the onus is on us to protect ourselves from this modern-day scourge.

Online, All the Time

According to Statista, there were 30.6 million smartphone users in Canada, up from 25.7 in 2012. In 2020, that number is expected to reach 32.5 million over a population of nearly 40 million. There’s no question that we have a smartphone addiction in this country. (Canada outranks the U.S. on social media usage.) In a 2019 survey by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), 20 per cent admit they haven’t gone more than eight hours before jumping back online. Three-quarters of us spend at least 3-4 hours online daily.

The time we spend with our eyes glued to a screen is called the “attention economy” and it is a significant source of feeling burnout. We stay connected because of a fear of missing out (FOMO), whether it’s a newsflash, a text from our boss or client, or a photo of a meal one of our friends ate last week.

Our splintered attention takes a toll on our health, creativity, and productivity. And, despite rising work hours, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, employee productivity is growing slower than ever.

Feel the Burn

One employment trend is the “hybrid job”, a category that’s expected to grow at a rate of 15 per cent over the next decade. Today a growing number of job ads demand that applicants’ have a wide range of technical and non-technical skills. Some examples: marketing roles that require statistical expertise or engineering jobs that also require visual design skills. This is partly due to the rise of automation in the workplace—multi-layered jobs are harder for robots to replicate. Nevertheless, it’s putting added pressure on workers to excel in several, often opposing, skill areas in order to remain employable.

Invisible Work

Invisible work is another sneaky way we fall into overwork—and women are especially susceptible. Having the role of official counsellor, or “agony aunt”, and listening to coworkers’ complaints eats up valuable time and energy. Invisible work also includes being the one who takes notes during meetings and distributes them, organizes lunches and social gatherings, arranges birthday/new baby/get well soon cards and gifts, as well as tidies the kitchen. These types of activities often land on women because they’re an extension of the work they do at home— and they rarely lead to performance bonuses or promotions. Invisible work could be one of the reasons that women experience greater burnout than men.

Star Trek

Being a star employee is often the first step toward burnout. High achievers are prone to taking on too many tasks and not delegating work to others. This creates the need to labour ever longer hours to keep up with demand. In a 2015 study of work teams, researchers found that “extra-milers”, as they called them, raised the overall productivity of their teams but also created a dependency that forced others to rely on them. Other employees see them as the “go-to” person making harder for the “extra-miler” to say ‘no’.

On the Road Again

Commuting is another source of stress leading to burnout. A recent survey by Robert Half, a staffing company, reported that 35 per cent of professionals view their trips to work as stressful. When you multiply each hour of commuting, each way, by the number of work days, that’s a giant ball of aggravation. Working from home occasionally or taking email-free days could take the edge off.

Calendar Chaos

Our work calendars can be a friend— or foe. To dodge overcommitting yourself, a regular calendar audit will help you understand how long certain tasks really take, including commuting, as well time spend on social media. Colour coding appointments helps you see at a glance how much you invest in the most important activities. And, most importantly, a well-constructed calendar should also include scheduled time to de-compress, go for a walk, or just exhale.

Rita Silvan, CIM™️, is personal finance and investment writer and editor. She is the former editor-in-chief of ELLE Canada magazine and is an award-winning journalist and tv media personality. Rita is the editor-in-chief of Golden Girl Finance, an online magazine focusing on women’s financial success. When not writing about all things financial, Rita explores Toronto’s parks with her standard poodle.

Rita Silvan is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.

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