Despite what society has you buying into, burnout cannot be cured by self-care. Burnout cannot be cured by meditation. Burnout cannot be cured by a luxurious getaway. That is because burnout is not your fault. The problem with these alluring remedies, programs, and products that promise to alleviate your burnout is that they are implying that burnout is a self-generated phenomenon.
You got burned out.
It’s your problem.
You fix it.
How do you think this belief impacts your workplace? Hmm. If burnout is not their problem, then they don’t have to do anything about it since you’ve got it covered. Organizations can kick their feet up, relax, and continue to conduct business as usual- creating and fostering the dysfunctional working conditions that caused your burnout in the first place.
Burnout is a psychological syndrome which involves a prolonged response to chronic stressors on the job. It is comprised of three key elements: emotional exhaustion, increased cynicism, and decreased self-efficacy (Maslach & Leiter, 2017). The main work factors identified by leading burnout researcher Christina Maslach (1999) that contribute to burnout include an unmanageable workload, lack of autonomy, insufficient rewards, lack of community and social support, unfairness and injustice, and value conflicts between you and your organization.
Although some personality factors can play a role in the development of burnout (my fellow Type A’s- I see you), they play a less critical role. To make this even more interesting, burnout is thought to be a social phenomenon of work groups, and can be described as contagious (Maslach & Leiter, 2017).
Looking at the six work factors, none of them have to do with how resilient or compassionate you are. Coming from a healthcare background and working as an occupational therapist, I have been in unethical settings with unrealistic workload and little autonomy, which is the perfect breeding ground for burnout.
Working in an environment that is less than ideal, moderately uncomfortable, or outright corrosive results in this thing we call burnout- you’re left emotionally drained, detached from your work, and questioning your abilities and skills. Cue the self-care, yoga, crystals, and the rhetoric around fixing your burnout.
Before you yell at me, hear me out- I’m the first to engage in self-care and grounding spiritual practices because it feels good. It’s good for you. If you need a vacation, take that vacation! Knock yourself out in the self-care and wellness aisles- I’m your biggest supporter.
Yet, these things will not make up for the fact that your terrible boss, mean coworkers, feeling unappreciated for your efforts, incredibly high demands, inability to customize your work, or 1000+ other factors are causing your burnout. It’s like putting a band-aid on a wound that requires surgery- superficial approaches will only last so long if the underlying root of the problem is not addressed.
The last thing I want for you is to be stuck in a hamster wheel of enduring a draining and unhealthy work environment, and thinking the next yoga class or bubble bath you take will make everything all better. If you know you’re experiencing burnout, take a deep look at the conditions at work and how it’s impacting you in every part of your life.
If you don’t like what you see and feel, it’s time for a change- speaking up to your boss, moving to a new floor, or finding a new job- I can’t give you that answer, but hopefully this article has prompted you to do some investigating and find the answers for yourself.
Maslach, C., & Leiter, M.P. (2017). Understanding Burnout. In C.L. Cooper & J. Campbell
Quick (Eds.), The Handbook of stress and health: A guide to research and practice (36-56). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell
Maslach, C., & M.P., Leiter. (1999). Six areas of worklife: A model of the organizational
context of burnout. Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, 21(4):472-89