This is the second of a three-part series on burnout, moral injury and workplace exploitation. In part one, we kicked off by discussing how medicine, one of the most notorious careers for extremely high levels of physician burnout, can set people, just like me, on the rocky path to burnout.
Then I invited you to explore whether you might be at risk of moral injury, a concept that not many people have heard of and that is certainly under-reported and under-appreciated. I also asked you to reflect on just a few of the behaviours commonly seen in burnout.
Now it’s time to turn our attention to some traits that may set you up for burnout. You may be surprised to discover that most of them are highly desirable,
People at higher risk of burnout are more likely to:
No, I didn’t think so either. In the right sort of nurturing environment, a lot of them have the makings of strengths found in star players. But they’re also traits that may see you being taken advantage of or exploited if you’re not careful.
Look, I’m not saying there are lots of employers or managers out there who are deliberately trying to exploit their employees. Or that employers’ intentions are to prey on vulnerable people during the selection process, just to find individuals to grind into the dirt without complaining.
Quite the contrary. There are a lot of empathetic employers, managers, and companies who genuinely care about their staff and want the best for their welfare. In fact, employee wellness and compassionate leadership are two very in vogue phrases these days. After all, staff wellbeing is staff well-doing.
But having spent a lot of time researching burnout, reflecting on my own experiences, and talking to people suffering through it or who’ve been through it, we are definitely facing unrealistic cultural norms and beliefs which are colouring people’s expectations of what is fair and achievable. Society expects something unattainable from us.
Frustratingly for me, when I’ve looked at a lot of the burnout research, they tend to discuss employee engagement as its antithesis.
Disengagement may be associated with burnout, but I can’t find any evidence that it’s the cause. Or that focusing on employee engagement will help to reverse burnout.
In fact, looking at the physical effects of burnout, which include changes within your brain (particularly in parts used for memory, focus, attention, fear, planning and regulating emotion), as well as alterations in your production of stress hormones, and changes in your immune system, it seems clear that it’s the constant suppression and management of unrelenting stress that takes its toll on your body and results in disengagement.
To me, it appears that the opposite of burnout is vitality. Particularly when you consider that burnout is one type of vital exhaustion.
Add to this changing work patterns leading to isolation and loss of community support both in work and at home, and increased pressure to constantly improve productivity at the expense of time spent taking breaks, eating, chatting, daydreaming, or going for a walk, and you start to see how your work environment can unwittingly be increasing your risk of burnout.
But it’s not really just your work environment, is it? These unattainable societal and cultural expectations are now deeply embedded in all of our psyches: Our own, our families, friends, colleagues, employers, and even our doctors! Just take a look around at your stressed-out boss or line manager, spinning all the plates with an eye on that promotion, while run ragged.
Remember your own parents, teachers and trainers as you were growing up. Did they instil their work ethic and attitudes into you?
Think of the advertising that influences us all and makes us believe that, yes we can have it all and do it all while looking gorgeous and smelling like a rose.
Is it any wonder we have these beliefs when practically everything and everyone is perpetuating them? And we equally play into it by expecting the same of others. Your CEOs in work may have their focus on productivity and profitability, but societal expectations reward the exploitation of hard-working people. And far too many of us believe that we can be more productive and efficient if we just go into work, get our heads down, focus and work as hard and for as long as we can. But is this really the recipe for enhanced productivity?
In the third and final instalment of this series of posts on burnout, we’ll look at a few ways that both you and your employer can work together to improve your resiliency and vitality to reduce your risk of burnout. Sound good?
Maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging, especially when your loved ones seem to be…
Grief is a natural human emotion that occurs when we experience a significant loss. It…
How grief over chronic illness can leave you so heartsick, you suffer from physical and…
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a common illness that affects millions of people worldwide. Chronic fatigue…
Does eat less exercise more work for weight loss? That's an excellent question. So I've written…