The age of burnout: Why you need a healthy work-life balance

Without this, you might find yourself bereft of energy

By Sanjeev Pradhan Roy

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Published: Fri 18 Aug 2023, 5:05 PM

“Here’s to another day of outward smiles and inward screams.”

Throughput, ROI, productivity, stress... burnout!

As we navigate our careers, expectations and workplaces in a reckless corporatised hamster wheel, glorifying long hours and workaholism, the body clock eventually delivers its verdict.

Sans a healthy work:life balance, conducive family time and much-needed self- love, the ‘burnout’ phenomenon engulfs us gradually but surely.

They say eat your food as medicines now, for you shall not have to eat medicines as food later. This anecdote fits in well with burnout too, as we compromise on our precious mindspace and physical health. Organisations will forget you in a jiffy, ignored family and friends might rally, but the scars of what could have been will continue to haunt.

Burnout is cathartic and comes with our tendency to overextend to comply with despotic corporate whims and fancies. We are “tired” and yet “wired”. Gen Z, however, is leading the way in spelling out their priorities, something millennials can truly learn from.

In professional journals, burnout is defined as a phenomenon that arises from continually experiencing stress in the workplace, resulting in exhaustion, cynicism and a perceived lack of professional accomplishment. The symptoms of workplace burnout come from primarily six buckets, viz unsustainable workload, a perceived lack of control, insufficient rewards for efforts, lack of supportive community, lack of fairness and mismatched values and skills.

As per research studies published in Harvard Review, when we look at voluntary attrition, managers experiencing exhaustion are 1.8 times more likely to leave the company, while managers experiencing cynicism 3 times and managers experiencing lack of professional efficacy 3.4 times more likely to do so. When a manager is impacted on all three dimensions, they are 5.3 times more likely to look at other options.

The other tangent is that employees leave toxic and insensitive managers, not organisations. So charity begins at home really.

Burnout is a phenomenon that is not restricted to only leaders or managers alone, but across the working populace, with varying impact on productivity and growth.

Microsoft’s Work Trend index survey suggests mitigating burnout for employers would be to provide avenues of meaning at work, learning and career development opportunities, flexible working, psychological safety and support, emphasis on self-care and fostering an environment where employees can be “listened to” with empathy and without judgment. I would reasonably argue that wellness programmes targeting individuals are less likely to yield desired results on employee health as compared to systemic solutions, including focus on prevention rather than remediation.

McKinsey surveys on employee burnout points out that there is a persistent disconnect (22 per cent gap) between how employees and employers perceive mental health and well-being in organisations. As per a global survey, on an average, one in four employees experienced burnout, distress and organisational commitment symptoms. In 15 countries assessed in the survey, toxic workplace behaviour was the biggest predictor of burnout symptoms.

To be fair, individual’s resilience and adaptability skills may help to an extent, but do not compensate for the impact of a toxic workplace, wherein the challenges are often insurmountable.

Someone recently joked about how, as an employer, you cannot “yoga” your way out of these real challenges. While there are no silver bullets, there are compelling opportunities for leaders to drive material change, to retain their vital human capital.

Do not take life too seriously, you will never come out of it alive anyway. Burn the candlelight for yourself rather than burning yourself out!

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