I see variations of this article — “How to know burnout when you see it!” — about five times/week. It’s a good topic because burnout and stress are pervasive, especially in American workplaces. I myself sometimes have days where I’m done with deliverables at about 10:42am, so I don’t feel it right now — but I’ve had jobs where I felt it, for sure, and I think it’s pretty normative for most people. I have a history of writing about this stuff too, including here and here.
The core problem of any burnout and stress discussion as relates to work is sheer perception of what work is. To people who rise up ladders at jobs, and thus have decision-making ability, work is about long nights, countless emails, deals, pivots, grinding, hustling, and beating rivals — and for what? A nice salary, nice house, whatever? Less time with your family and friends? But a sense of accomplishment, I guess? It’s a game to be won. Bezos calls his net worth his “Amazon winnings.” Let that sink in.
For those people, burnout and “the way we do work” are the same thing. That’s why this is not a “crisis.” We call it a crisis, i.e. a “Stress Crisis” or a “Burnout Crisis,” but do executives really care? Or do they want to see people answering emails at 11pm, because to them that means “We are growing and hustling?”
The answer is the latter.
Because of the perception of what “work” even is and how much it varies at different levels of work — much like vocabulary — the problem becomes that managers can’t see burnout. They look at someone on their last legs and think “Damn, Judy is productive as hell this month.” They don’t think “We probably need to put some mental health resources towards Judy, give her a break.”
Therein lies kind of the issue.