Burnout – The Scourge of Business and Community Life

Mature and tired businesswoman working on computer until night.

A January 2024 survey conducted by the American Staffing Association (ASA), found that 39% of employees preferred a hybrid remote work schedule and another 32% preferred fulltime remote. Only 29% preferred a full-time in-office schedule.

But the ASA survey asked another seemingly unrelated question about “Burnout”. Since I believe this is the most important issue, “Burnout” will be the major focus of this article.

It is interesting that this ASA survey on primarily preferences for remote work versus in-office, would also ask about “Burnout”. Why? Just by having “Burnout” in the same survey suggests (but does not guarantee) that the survey designers suspected a possible relationship, yet it does not explore that possibility.

I believe there is a relationship, but an indirect one. It begins with “Burnout” and ends with just a couple of the many possible ways to deal with it, i.e. more flexible work scheduling like “remote work” in hybrid or full-time formats, 4-day work week, more vacation time, etc. But, treating or preventing “Burnout” can be much more complex than these, and there seems to be no “silver bullet”.

Burnout

In any case, the survey found that 43% of workers reported being actually “burned out/right now” at the time of the survey (Jan 2024). This high rate may seem surprising but is consistent with other studies which have reported even higher rates. These higher rates were not a reflection that the Burnout was current at the actual time that the studies were made, unlike the ASA survey, but represent employees who have suffered, either currently or in the past, from burnout. All of these high rates are surprising and also concerning considering how critical the issue is.

Definition of Burnout “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas.” (“Psychology Today”)

Real “Burnout” is not like a cold that can come and go and last for a couple of weeks but can last months or even years. A review of the “Effects of Burnout” below seems to confirm this. Certainly, an effect can be of short duration, but an effect like “self-doubt” or “negative outlook” often takes years to develop and does not go away in a couple of weeks.

Burnout Rates by Industry or Profession

For example, when we look at Burnout rates by Industry or profession, for workers in their current role, we get percentage rate figures like the following:

Financial and Insurance 82%,Professional and Business Services, 73%,
Information, Publishing and Telecommunications, 77%,Manufacturing, 70%,
Construction 77%,Education, 65%,
Public Sector76%,Wholesale and Retail, 64%,
Transportation and Utilities 62%.

Causes of Burnout

Heavy Workload 43%Unclear Job Expectations 29%
Lack of Resources 37%Bad Work-Life Balance 26%
Micromanagement 37%Monotonous Tasks 24%
Toxic Work Environment 34%Emotional Nature of the Role 12%
Stress 33%
Lack of Support 32%

These burnout causes are important because they ultimately affect productivity, job satisfaction, and often impact your business’s otherwise highest performers. One of the original books (1980) on this phenomenon bears the title “Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement”. So many of those who suffer burnout are “high achievers.”

Effects of Burnout

But there are many effects of “Burnout” that affect the quality of our mental health like:

Negative Self-conceptSelf-doubtFeeling tired/drained
Loss of MotivationFeeling overwhelmedProcrastination
Negative outlookFeeling detachedFeeling helpless and defeated

Just by reviewing these “effects”, it is clear to see how it may affect job performance and productivity and also family and personal life. In short it can affect the fundamental ability to enjoy life. It is serious and seemingly widespread.

The Cure

When you take a serious look and think about the causes and effects of Burnout, it becomes clear that there is a social dimension to the problem which makes the cure more difficult.

For example, how do you “cure” a Burnout that is caused by a “toxic work environment”, or “Stress”, or “Monotonous tasks”. Even a “heavy  workload”, which is the highest cause of burnout at 43%, is often socially conditioned as an expected performance standard. “If you cannot do it maybe we need to get someone who can”.

Other effects (or symptoms) seem to be related to bad management, like “Lack of resources”, “Lack of Support”, “Unclear Job Expectations”. “Micromanagement”. So, an employee may solve a “Toxic Work Environment” by leaving company A, only to find a new job at company B that is poorly managed with all the Burnout issues that bad management entails.

So, there is a social or cultural dimension to Burnout. Now, what do we do?

Earlier in this article I mentioned one of the first books (1980) on this subject titled, “Burnout – The High Cost of High Achievement”. It was written by Psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger who, according to Wikipedia, was the first to make a formal study of this subject. Most of his work as a psychologist has been in “the understanding and treatment of stress, chronic fatigue, and substance abuse”. In 1999 he received a Life Achievement Award in the practice of Psychology by the American Psychological Foundation.

I met Dr. Freudenberger, at a conference on “Burnout” several years ago and asked him during the Q and A, if he thought entire societies could suffer from Burnout? He responded, “absolutely”. So, the social dimension of Burnout has been confirmed, but that is another subject. Or is it?

It was President Calvin Coolidge who said that “the business of America is business” so, the culture of business would be a significant influencer on the entire American culture. And it follows, I think, that by reforming business, in regard to the “scourge of Burnout”, would have a dramatic and positive effect on millions of individuals, the business community, and our American society in general.

So, the task is not directly to save the country but simply to save the business community from Burnout. What business would not want to eliminate: Toxic work environments, Micromanagement, lack of employee Support, Monotonous tasks (eliminated w/ good staffing software!), Unclear Job Descriptions, Stress, Unreasonably Heavy Workloads?

So, like Nike says, let’s “Just Do it.”

As Always, Stay Safe & Strong. Peace!