The story appears on

Page A8

September 17, 2021

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Opinion

Burnout might sneak up on you, gnawing away at you over time

Editor’s Note:

In the following interview Jacinta Jiménez, author of “The Burnout Fix,” talks about prevention, treatment and reintegration in case of burnout. The interview is conducted by Michael Wiederstein, an executive editor at getAbstract.

Q: Dr. Jiménez, the number of workers suffering burnout has sharply increased during the pandemic. What is the reason for this, in your opinion?

A: Long before the onslaught of COVID-19, burnout was a rapidly progressing global epidemic of its own. In 2015, Stanford University researchers estimated that job burnout has cost the US economy up to US$190 billion each year. The World Health Organization included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon. Changes such as hyperconnectivity and globalization have created an always-on-and-always-connected culture that has fundamentally altered how we live and work, but unfortunately, most of us — and the organizations in which we work — are still clinging to outdated formulas and ideas of what it takes to be and remain successful in work and life. Living through 2020 and witnessing the massive levels of disruption that happened in its wake has made this pressing issue even more alarming.

Q: Why?

A: Workers around the world haven’t just been having to work from home, they’ve been working from home while faced with a global pandemic that created significant levels of uncertainty, grief, disconnection and change for many. Slowly but surely, over an extended period of time, our psychological resources have been being taxed throughout the experience of COVID-19. And, in mass, these taxes can add up and take a toll on one’s vitality, health and well-being. In fact, the International Committee of the Red Cross found in a global survey that 51 percent of adults perceive that COVID-19 negatively affected their mental health.

Q: Can we briefly distinguish between burnout and depression here: What distinguishes one from the other — and where do the disease patterns overlap?

A: It is important to highlight that burnout is not a clinical syndrome. There are certainly symptoms of burnout that coincide with symptoms of depression. For example, emotional exhaustion, a core component of burnout, reflects a combination of depressed mood and loss of energy. Research has found that work-related risk factors for burnout are also predictors of depression. Correspondingly, individual risk factors for depression, for example past depressive episodes, are also predictors of burnout. Burnout can result in a depressive process if work-related stress is unresolved and/or addressed in time.

Q: Who is particularly at risk for burnout?

A: Burnout does not discriminate. Research has found it to be present across a variety of industries, job rank and cultures. However, folks may be surprised to learn that burnout isn’t simply a consequence of overworking to the point of exhaustion.

Research has found that burnout comes from six distinct mismatches between people and their job. First, work overload: the presence of high job demands and inadequate resources to complete the job. Second, lack of control: not being given the appropriate level of responsibility or not having access to the tools needed to do our jobs well. Third, insufficient reward: the lack of regular acknowledgment, such as financial, social or intrinsic rewards for work efforts. Fourth, breakdown in the community: high levels of workplace conflict and low levels of interpersonal trust. Fifth, lack of fairness: unfairness in areas such as workload or pay, inappropriate handling of promotions or evaluations, and poor dispute-resolution practices. And sixth, values misalignment: personal values and goals aren’t in alignment with those of the organization.

Q: What does this mean for the lessons that organizations should draw?

A: I strongly believe that in order to maintain our health, vitality and well-being in our new world of work and life, we must actively work with — instead of against — our capacities as human beings. A culture that does not guard against these six person-job mismatches is perpetuating a work environment in which even the most resilient individual will eventually find themselves struggling. We are human beings, not machines! When company cultures ask their people to deny their humanity for the sake of overwork and/or productivity, they are creating an environment that is ripe for burnout. Our capacities as humans must be recognized and honored.

Q: What do you think should be avoided at all costs regarding organizational approaches to burnout prevention?

A: The biggest mistake to avoid is not prioritizing the importance of creating an organizational culture that actively promotes and nurtures resilience-based practices in its people. Given that the workplace is changing at a bewildering pace, teams and organizations need to be increasingly adaptable and flexible. However, research has found that when organizations focus on promoting agility alone — without resilience practices — can result in unanticipated negative consequences.

Q: In your book, you give an enormous amount of helpful advice on learning to assess and prevent the risk of burnout. So, let’s go through some of them, and start with the signs of an imminent burnout: How do you notice them in daily life?

A: The difficult thing about burnout is that it can’t simply be reduced to burnout or not burned out — it’s not an “on and off ” switch. Burnout is far more insidious; it sneaks up on you, gradually gnawing away at you over time. Thanks to a pioneering research by Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter, we know that burnout consists of three interrelated components. When these three things come together, burnout happens. First, exhaustion: immense emotional, physical and/or cognitive fatigue. Second, cynicism: low levels of job engagement. And third, inefficacy: a lack of productivity and feelings of incompetence.

Q: How does one go about this in concrete terms?

A: It is important that both people leaders and employees actively monitor for burnout.

I recommend setting aside a weekly 15-20 minute hold on your calendar each Friday to actively check in with yourself about how you’re doing on these three dimensions.

Jacinta M. Jiménez is a Stanford University and PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium graduate, a board-certified leadership coach and psychologist. The views are her own.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend