Instead of being pushed away and advocated well against, current workforce environments, combined with personal and entrepreneurial mindset have re-embraced the burnout culture- this time calling it hustling with common phrases thrown on t-shirts, mugs, and all over social media such as “Respect the Hustle” “Rise and Grind” “Everyday I’m Hustlin’ ” and so forth. While the intent of the newborn hustle movement are that of working hard to get a high payoff, getting out there, and ignoring the ‘hater’s, this newfound culture has the same undertones of the not-long-forgotten burnout culture- long hours, working your ass off (overworking), pushing through the exhaustion and stress, and killing yourself for an unknown amount of time to achieve a result. You see this consistently when entrepreneurs and business-people talk about how they were ‘burning the midnight oil’ in order to get a product released in time or authors saying they had to ‘hustle so hard’ to meet a book deadline and barely slept, worked 12+ day hours 7 days a week and missed their family time for months or years on end.
This embrace of the new burnout culture has created toxic environments throughout corporations and personal lives- ranging from employers encouraging employees to work extended hours and make personal sacrifices for an unsustainable amount of time to complete special projects, to entrepreneurs and families hustling to achieve a personal goal that has a personal payoff. The rise of the FIRE movement in tandem with the increase in embracing hustle has also raised the question among so many folks: How do I stop it?
What is Burnout?
Burnout isn’t like normal work-life stress, it isn’t just a long busy day at work, or an exhausting week filled with never ending errands for the family- burnout is a longer term slow-creep of physical and emotional exhaustion, negative feelings and actions, and chronic stress brought on by a lifestyle of consistent high-performance and high stress situations. You cannot wake up one day and suddenly be ‘burnt out’, while it may take a while to notice the symptoms and side effects and you wake up one day and finally notice that you are burned out, it takes course over time when, through a multitude of avenues, you live a consistently stressful life that wreaks havoc on your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Some of the most common and noticeable symptoms of burnout are- insomnia, chronic fatigue that starts out as lack of energy and transforms into being physically and emotionally exhausted and drained, forgetfulness and a lack of the ability to concentrate that lead to lack of ability to get work completed, negative emotional consequences including loss of enjoyment and pessimism, feelings of detachment and cynicism, and a frequent state of increased irritability.
What is the Cost of Burnout?
Burnout does not just cost employees their state of mind and sleepless nights, but it also comes at a financial cost to employers with costs piling up from reduced employee productivity and increased absenteeism, costs associated with increased turnover, and medical and insurance expenses related to burnout and work-related stress. In fact, burnout culture costs corporate America roughly $300 billion per year, as estimated by the American Institute of Stress and costs the global economy upwards of $336 billion dollars
If we aren’t careful, we could be on the brink of a pandemic in direct relation to burnout and its costs. The sure-fire way to prevent and stop burnout is to change your lifestyle in accordance with what is causing your burnout, and ensure blockers and precautions are set into place to prevent burnout from occurring again. However, given the cultural aspect of embracing burnout personally and on a corporate-level, preventing burnout and changing your lifestyle to reduce stress is that of privilege and rarity.
Society Must Change Alongside Our Mindset
In the current mandatory-hustle society and culture we have curated over the years, simply taking time off for yourself and avoiding burning out and hustling isn’t much of an option, especially for those whose jobs depend on them working unsustainable hours for lengthy periods of time to meet deadlines and expectations set by upper management who won’t take no for an answer, much less even listen to the complaints and concerns brought about due to the stresses and issues from the pace set. When a workplace culture is created that causes people to reach a point of not being able to carry on any longer and feel as if they do not have a sense of purpose or belonging, the company as a whole becomes quite vulnerable and themselves risk not being able to carry on in their market due to a burnt out and non-motivated staff.
While burnout is nothing new- it has been felt for centuries in many different forms- the very makeup of our society has increased the likelihood of burnout and the impact. From the very tools meant to progress us and move us forward, such as email, social media, cell phones, and other technology advances, the feeling on constantly being connected and, therefore, being able to be contacted, has increased feelings of anxiety over constantly having to be able to connect back and be available at every beck and call of your employer, colleagues, and even friends. Those very tools we invented to increase productivity and convenience are directly contributing to our burnout. The hustle mentality we have created inside and outside of the workplace has lead us to feel ‘on the clock’ 24/7 with no chance to disconnect and recharge more than just our phone batteries.
As a company, employers can decrease their vulnerability and lessen the financial burden on their bottom line by implementing cultural changes that can allow employees to thrive inside and outside of the office, disconnect and recharge, and therefore produce better work and contribute more positively to the culture. Before implementing actual policies and procedures, employers have to take a cultural and human approach first- ensure employees feel supported and like their voice is not only heard, but is valued, by taking consistent and honest feedback from employees and implementing changes that directly or indirectly solve their concerns, recognize when employees are having a hard time and lend an ear to their concerns, and making the priority not productivity rates, but what makes their employees perform their best, and executing on that. In recent years companies have done a slew it policy and procedure revamps in order to attempt to increase employee moral and decrease burnout. However, among all of the snack bars, ‘hip and cool’ collaborative workspaces, and team luncheons, employees must ensure that job characteristics do not mismatch the unconscious and conscious needs of employees within that role (and if they do, the role or person within that role should change). For example, for motive-driven people, a lack of opportunities adds stressors to that individual and does not promote physical well-being, as does an isolating job with little contact with others for people who are high in the need for positive personal relationships.
Furthermore, personalizing and adapting the workload and duties to fit what works best for an employee as much as possible, such as 10 hour work days 4 days a week, or every other week being a four day workweek, and reducing menial and flustering tasks as much as possible, can change employee perception on their stress and workload and decrease feelings of burnout and anxiety.
The Onus is Also on Us
While the burnout blame lies partially with employers and their high demand and little reward systems, there is still a certain amount of personal responsibility we must take for ourselves and those around us in order to mitigate and manage the “hustle until you burnout” culture. For Millennials and other generations that grew into young adulthood and beyond without ever experiencing a lack of internet and ability to be and stay connected, it seems unnatural to disconnect and dare I say, be unavailable for longer than your car ride to the office. Alongside forcing disconnection whenever possible (no phones in the bedroom, no internet after 7pm, etc) identifying your stressors is one of the first steps you must take in order to reduce the burnout creep that you feel. The most popular method for identifying your stress triggers is to keep a ‘stress diary’ as a way to take inventory of situations that trigger feelings of stress, anxiety, frustration, and overwhelm in your day-to-day and then, once you have a decent list, work through each item and come up with at least one way to remedy the situation in a way that would cause you less stress (tip: most of the time the answer is to change your mindset about the situation) and implement each tip one-by-one to see how they effect your triggers and stress levels.
Aside from identifying what makes you feel burnt out and stressed each day and modifying the situation to lessen stress, the most basic item we cheat ourselves on, whether intentionally or not, is getting enough sleep to be able to feel awake, aware, and restored. The price of lack of sleep is costing more than one-third of Americans (per the CDC) more than just the price of extra espresso in the morning, it is costing them their health. Not only does a consistent lack of proper sleep cause feelings of irritability, stress, and burnout, but a pattern of this is associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression. The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep per night and keeping your circadian rhythm in balance is important to get consistent sleep, going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and screen time close to bed all add up to a deeper and quicker sleep in most cases. When you are awake, you can also decrease feelings of overwhelm and helplessness by implementing habits of intentional productivity (LINK HERE) such as delegating tasks to others and timeblocking your calendar as much as possible, and, my personal favorite, learning how to say no more often.
There is no magic pill or quick five-step program to prevent and beat burnout, burnout is a personal and systemic problem that must be faced head-on and with many colleagues and supporters. We can advise you all day and night to get more sleep and practice mindfulness in order to beat burnout, but if you work in an unsupportive and strenuous environment that doesn’t allow for less stress and time away during the 9 to 5, then the real thing is, all of your personal effort may be for not. The best way to tackle burnout and the hustle culture is to not buy into it in your personal life, work closely with your circle to call out the toxic lifestyles we force ourselves into, and to create allyships at your place of work that rally around creating a culture of collaboration and creativity, not a culture of living to work and killing yourself doing it.