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Burnout Culture at Work: Why It Shouldn’t Be the Norm

The word “burnout” was coined by Herbert Freudenberger, an American psychologist, to describe the symptoms of severe stress caused by certain professions.

While originally used to refer to severe exhaustion experienced by people in “helping professions,” it has since become the term to describe an occupational phenomenon that results from chronic workplace stress.

Some people credit the birth of burnout culture to past economic recessions, and it is clear why. During past recessions, some companies had to downsize, restructure, or close down. To survive, people had to multi-task and overwork, which resulted in burnout culture, and the practice lived on.

Nowadays, many “lean” programs promote burnout culture in the guise of promoting “efficiency.” Unfortunately, burnout does not result in success—and you’ll find out why below.

 A person looking at a board full of tasks.

Why Burnout Culture at Work Persists

Discovering that individuals can do the job of two to three—and sometimes more—employees encouraged many companies to take advantage and assign unreasonable workloads.

Unfortunately, despite knowing that their workload is too much, employees who want to keep their jobs and/or want to make good impressions will try to meet difficult deadlines and compromise their personal time. If they get praised at work for a job well done, they get encouraged to continue the unhealthy cycle. And then burnout becomes synonymous with success and high performance, which is a false perception.

Possible Results of Burnout in the Workplace

Emotional Distress

When one spends too much time at work, they might start to base their self-worth on productivity. This, combined with the lack of support, social activities, and relaxation, increases someone’s risk of developing depression and/or other mental health problems.

Health Decline

The reality of being human is that we are only capable of staying awake for a number of hours per day and that we need energy to perform. Going beyond this capacity can really take a toll on our health and cause problems that can linger or are difficult to treat.

Financial Loss for the Company

When employees are burned out, they can become less motivated and creative. They might also take more leaves or become less punctual as they lose the energy to cope and unconsciously try to avoid the source of their burnout.

This can eventually affect their productivity, which negates the purpose of many “efficiency programs.” According to some studies, burned-out employees can cost a company $3,400 for every $10,000 spent in employee salaries. Not to mention the higher attrition rates among companies with burnout culture at work. If a company has to constantly rehire and retrain to replace resigning employees, then they are losing time and money.

What Employers Can Do About Burnout Culture at Work

Acknowledging the existence of burnout culture is the first step to solving this problem.

a group of employees support one another at work

Here are some ways your organization can eradicate burnout culture:

  • Create clear job descriptions. Deliberately leaving job descriptions unclear to give room for additional responsibilities that may be outside of one’s scope can drain even a high-performing employee. Be fair and clear when assigning tasks.
  • Consider employees’ basic needs. Food, hygiene, sleep, shelter, water, safety—are employees still able to afford them with their salary, schedule, and work environment? If not, your organization will need to make changes.
  • Make wellness programs flexible. If wellness programs are a part of your company’s benefits package, let employees access them when they need to or when they can, instead of forcing them to reschedule activities to make time for benefits. Otherwise, benefits can become nuisances.
  • Conduct anonymous surveys. Employees might be reluctant to raise concerns about mistreatment or mismanagement. Conducting anonymous surveys will encourage them to participate in creating a healthy workplace, which will help your organization give more appropriate solutions to employee concerns.
  • Create an effective employee grievance management system. Assure your employees that their concerns will be heard and addressed by securing procedures for managing grievances. Make sure you have measures in place for both general and serious concerns.

Your Mental Health Matters

Burnout culture at work can be a serious challenge to mental health. It is important to keep a healthy mind to be able to face life’s daily challenges and make positive decisions. If you are experiencing the effects of burnout and feel like you need support, it helps to let your supervisor know, take a break, or consult a doctor.

Freedom From Addiction offers reliable mental health programs that teach effective and rational coping mechanisms.

For more information about our treatments, you can call our 24/7 hotline or leave us a message. Our compassionate treatment counsellors value privacy, so you’re always in a safe space and will be heard without judgment.


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