More Proof That Burnout Is a Global Epidemic

An ever-growing number of workers — from American whiskey distillers to top executives — are succumbing to burnout in the workplace and experts say companies “aren’t ready to cope,” as this Wall Street Journal article notes.

Burnout begins when “a worker feels overwhelmed for a sustained period of time, then apathetic and ultimately numb,” Alden Cass, a psychologist in Manhattan who treats patients with high-stress jobs, told the WSJ.

And while this apathy and burnout was once more common in specific “extreme” professions, such as medicine, it’s a growing epidemic that is affecting every corner of the job market. “Everyone’s job is now an extreme job,” Jeanne Meister, a consultant who advises organizations like Microsoft Corp. on workplace problems, told the WSJ, which may account for why the problem “appears to be worsening, resulting in sleep turnover and health costs.”

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Part of burnout stems from an “always-on” mentality, which may entail bringing work home with you (say, checking email late into the evening, or working strenuous overtime hours). And this phenomenon of needing to be always connected, to work and often technology, is seriously stressing us out. Workplace Options, a company that offers phone-counseling lines for employees, recorded 42,500 calls related to stress and anxiety last month alone, an 18 percent increase from 2016’s average.

Workplace stress and anxiety come at a cost to our health and the economy. WSJ cites a 2016 paper from Harvard and Stanford where researchers estimated the health-care costs associated with work stress are between $125 to $190 billion a year.

Setting healthy boundaries can be difficult for many reasons. As Cass told the WSJ, workers may resist asserting their needs for fear of losing their jobs, while companies worry that addressing burnout will be too expensive.

Burnout researcher Christina Maslach, a professor emerita at University of California Berkeley, told WSJ that companies are resistant to even discuss burnout, let alone begin addressing how to change the culture around it. Maslach cautions that just adding yoga or mindfulness to the mix — while beneficial tools for addressing stress in and outside of the workplace — isn’t enough: Companies need to directly seek solutions for on-the-job stress. And while this doesn’t have to be “wildly expensive,” it will take effort. However starting the conversation about burnout, and investing in a culture that is more mindful of work-related stress, will ultimately amount to a bigger payoff for everyone.

Read the entire WSJ article here.