Burnout is a pandemic. Why don’t we talk more about it?

By Matt Dallisson, 29/10/2019

Stress – from the Latin “stringere”, to squeeze tight, touch or injure – is not bad, per se. Positive stress and adrenaline in the right circumstances can make us stronger, happier and healthier. Yet, in certain work environments, chronic stress provokes anxiety, detachment and fatigue that can lead to burnout.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly every fifth child or teenager and every fourth adult will be affected by burnout at some point in his or her active life. The situation is so widespread in developed countries that the WHO has added burnout to its list of globally recognized diseases, defining it as a syndrome of “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” which “includes feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, results in increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.”

We live in a high-speed world, where digital interconnection, sophisticated technology and social media purportedly make us smarter, faster and more effective. But greater digitization is also causing acute isolation; our connection to other humans and to nature is quietly superseded by FOMO (“fear of missing out”) and social media angst.

Oversized workloads, unreasonable time pressures, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from management and unfair treatment at work correlated most with incidents of burnout. When employees say they often or always have enough time to do all of their work, they are 70% less likely to experience high burnout. Similarly, when employees strongly agree that they are often treated unfairly at work, they are 2.3 times more likely to experience burnout.

Standard protocols for addressing burnout in the workplace are starkly nascent. Those affected by the disease tend not to speak out for fear of reprimand or out of shame. This culture of fear inhibits the early identification of the disease and makes reintegration into the workplace more challenging.

If you are feeling emotional, mental or physical exhaustion, or if you are demotivated, frustrated, cynical or anxious at work, it may be time to ask yourself some hard questions. If burnout goes unaddressed, it can translate into panic attacks, digestive issues, heart disease, immune disorders, migraines, depression and – in the most extreme cases – could lead to suicide.

As we move towards a fast-paced technological age, where we pride ourselves on equality of opportunity and efficiency, let us not forget the importance of being human-centred at work. Once we recognize burnout for the pandemic it is, we can begin the journey towards healthier and happier lives and work.

This content was originally published here.