Updated: Oct 19, 2022
Burnout Was Coming, Pandemic or Not
Employee burnout has not only been a huge topic of conversation during the COVID-19 pandemic—it’s something that virtually all of us have been experiencing. In a 2021 survey by McKinsey & Company, 49% of employees globally reported feeling at least somewhat burned out. The pandemic has been hardest on workers helping on the front lines, including healthcare workers treating COVID patients and mental healthcare professionals supporting a huge boom in demand for therapeutic services.
Because of the work we do at Akili Well, it is our sense from working with employees and teams that people were feeling the effects of burnout well before the pandemic. “Grind culture” is normalized and canonized in work culture, and wellbeing and work-life balance too often takes a back seat. The truth is that we were on the edge of burnout even before the pandemic.
Brenda Boyle, our leadership workshop partner and founder of Fireheart Coaching & Consulting, says, “The pandemic has highlighted how our systems of care and wellbeing are fractured. For example, new moms don’t have nursing rooms at work and their coworkers have to hold up towels or blankets for them for privacy. The murder of George Floyd pushed many people to see and confront the stark racial inequities in the system, and many company executives didn’t know how to respond to these events. They caused us to be stressed and confused, with very little places to turn for support.”
We’ve also observed that the pandemic has disrupted our relationship to work—even our sense of identity. Akili Well founder Josie Santiago says, “For many folks, their identity was wrapped up with their work. We lived, worked, and breathed overwork. Many people are now feeling burnt out and don’t want to go back to their habit of overwork pre-pandemic, but they don’t know how to reemerge with a better balance—even though they desperately want to."
Our identity was wrapped up with our work. We lived, worked, and breathed overwork.
The Signs of Burnout
Feeling sleepy or fatigued
Feeling dissatisfied or apathetic with your work
Feeling cynical or critical at work
Problems with digestion
Changes with your sleep patterns or diet
How are you feeling at your job? Do any of these burnout symptoms sound familiar to your experience? Human Resources professionals themselves report experiencing burnout and overwork—some of them are even expressing that they desperately want support in their own burnout and the burnout of their teams but they are past the point of feeling like they have the luxury of time to do so.
The Antidote to Burnout: Normalizing Wellbeing, Work-Life Balance, and Rest
Divesting from grind culture is divesting from the idea that human beings are going to operate at 100% productivity every single day. The truth is that we all need a break, we all need support, and we all need balance in our lives.
The pandemic blurred the lines between work and home life for many of us, since many of us work from home. Surviving the pandemic (as we still are as of fall/winter 2022) has not been an easy task emotionally, physically, and psychologically. It has shifted our relationship to our jobs, our communities, and our families—and in many cases, it’s put a strain on all of these areas.
To the extent possible, practice compassion for yourself when you aren’t feeling your best. Normalize taking a sick day to catch up on sleep, unplug, and take care of your body. If the burnout you may be experiencing feels acute, take it seriously. Seek the support of a mental health professional, your physician, a friend, or family member.
Practice compassion for yourself when you aren’t feeling your best.
Healing from the Pandemic Has Only Begun
Although some of the United States has loosened its restrictions on mask wearing and social distancing, we are still very much living through the pandemic. Even if the pandemic were officially over now, the burnout and fatigue that we’re experiencing now makes sense.
We are collectively catching our breath and trying to find a new normal, a new pace of life for ourselves. Many of us are feeling irritable, on edge, overstimulated, and more cautious about going about our daily lives than we were before. The healing from the pandemic has only just begun.
The Truth About Reducing Burnout? We Work Better When We’re Well
In our Wellness and Leadership Workshop and team coaching series run by Brenda Boyle and Josie Santiago, one of the five tools we empower HR leaders and their teams is called “Opening the Window of Tolerance.” A popular concept in the psychology field, the window of tolerance is the zone where our brains function most effectively. When we’re in this zone, we can think clearly and rationally, we’re more creative, and we’re more productive.
When we’re stressed—or experiencing fight/flight response due to chronic stress or burnout—we are operating outside of the window of tolerance. We are less productive, we have a harder time solving complex problems, and we get overwhelmed more easily.
Our workshops offer somatic tools to help employees and teams find their way back to the window of tolerance when their stress gets to be too much.
We’re All Learning About Wellbeing in the Workplace Together
Brenda says that many of us are figuring out how to integrate wellbeing into the workplace in real time. “They don’t teach you how to build sustainable people and operations and team culture systems in MBA courses or traditional organizational management,” she says. Learning strategies to reduce burnout and find a work-life balance that works for you is an ongoing practice.
Learning strategies to reduce burnout and find a work-life balance that works for you is an ongoing practice.
Recovering from Burnout: Where We Go From Here
Reconnecting to each other and to your why can also be an effective and refreshing way to dissolve feelings of burnout. There are evidence-based, effective tools that help teams realign to the meaning of their jobs, their personal values as well as the values of the organization they’re a part of, their connections to their teammates, and their individual contribution to the organization.
We only wish more people knew about them.