Key Highlights

  • +60% of survey respondents in +40 countries experienced burnout often or very often
  • Burnout can be serious for individuals and can be contagious
  • Tips to recognize and deal with burnout from experts below

Burnout More Common than We Admit

In our always-on world, many of us were feeling burned out pre-pandemic. Now, during a more than yearlong pandemic, a new survey recently published in the Harvard Business Reviewtells us that 90% of survey respondents in more than 40 countries felt their work lives getting worse.

60% of those survey respondents said they were “thinly stretched and worn down” often or very often.

Burnout Finally Defined in 2019

The World Health Organization (WHO) finally described burnout in its International Classification of Diseases as chronic workplace stress that is both an employee and an organizational problem that requires solution.

Causes of Burnout

The six main causes of burnout, according to Christina Maslach at the University of California, Berkeley, Susan E. Jackson of Rutgers and Michael Leiter of Deakin University, include:

  • Unsustainable workload
  • Perceived lack of control
  • Insufficient rewards for effort
  • Lack of a supportive community
  • Lack of fairness
  • Mismatched values and skills

Tools for improving well-being such as yoga, wellness tech, mediation apps and/or subsidized gym memberships don’t prevent burnout.  Burnout needs upstream interventions.

Pandemic Is Not “Business as Usual”

According to latest research by the National Bureau of Economic Research, pandemic workdays are longer and tend to be 24/7.  One respondent said, “Everything seems like a rush.  There’s more pressure to produce, and no one respects time boundaries. Emails start at 5:30 AM and don’t end until 10 PM…” because everyone knows most of us are working remotely and have nowhere else to go.Another respondent said, “There’s no respite from work.  I work 9 to 9 almost every day…” and the impact of disruption while working remotely is “enormous.”

How to Beat Burnout

There are, luckily, some things we can do both individually and organizationally to combat burnout, according to researchers.

  • Create/regain some control
    • For remote workers, it’s more important than ever to create a workday routine
    • Get up at the same time daily and get dressed
    • Pretend commute – get up, go for a walk or go exercise during the time it would have taken to commute to work
    • Set time boundaries between work and life
  • Know when you’re working too much
    • Take breaks – five minutes in an hour; one day a week
    • According to Dr. Gaurava Agarwal with Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicinesaid, “…brains aren’t designed to work this hard, this long, chronically.”
  • Deal with “meeting fatigue” and “Zooming fatigue”
    • Ask if this meeting is necessary
    • Ask if it has to be a video call
    • Ask if it has to be longer than 30 minutes
    • Ask for audio-only conference calls for much-needed screen breaks
  • Feeling/creating a sense of purpose
    • Both at work and in life, create time boundaries dedicated to “your” purpose and respect those boundaries – no one else will if you don’t


Thanks to Harvard Business Review and National Public Radio.

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