Is burnout the next global pandemic?
👉 Catching up? Part 2 is here
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Is burnout the next global pandemic?
Rates of burnout are on the rise. The State of Workplace Burnout 2023 Report by Infinite Potential found an increase from 29.6% in 2020 to 38.1% in 2022.
We could be on track to lose more than half of our workforce due to absenteeism and turnover as a result of burnout. How do we stop it?
In this episode, we speak to a panel of expert guests, including
- Cait Donovan, Burnout Coach & Host of Fried: The Burnout Podcast
- William Hasek, PhD, Board Certified Clinical Psychologist
- Sally Clarke – Burnout and Well-being Researcher, Expert and Best-Selling Author
In this episode, we speak to a panel of expert guests, including
- Cait Donovan – Burnout Coach and Host of Fried: The Burnuot Podcast
- William Hasek, PhD – Board Certified Clinical Psychologist
- Sally Clarke – Burnout and Well-being Researcher, Expert and Best-Selling Author
Facing bravely into a complex and emotional topic, we cover:
- What burnout is. Really.
- The difference between burnout and a bad day
- If some people/roles are more susceptible than others.
- Burnout and the ‘snowflake’ generation
- How to tell if you’re burnt out, with real-life examples.
Stay tuned for Part 2 for more from our expert guest about how burnout can affect your business if we don’t act now.
Listen in your browser using the player below, or find the episode in your favourite app.
All the links mentioned in the show.
Read The State of Burnout 2023 Report:
- Website: https://caitdonovan.com/speaking
- Request a conversation: https://caitdonovan.as.me/inquiry
- Listen to Fried: The Burnout Podcast: https://friedtheburnoutpodcast.com
- Join the Fried Facebook Community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/friedtheburnoutpodcast
- Watch Cait’s Speaker Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPTLgV7FU-I
- Follow Cait on Instagram: @friedtheburnoutpodcast
- Website: https://www.salcla.com/
- Twitter: @salcla
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sallyclarkeevolve/
- Instagram: @salcla.
For more on psychological safety, check out ‘The Secret to Building Great Teams with Stephan Wiedner: https://chrt.fm/track/28555/traffic.megaphone.fm/HS6779121311.mp3?updated=1670331446
For more on the RX7, go to Oblonghq.com and book your free consultation: https://oblonghq.com/book/
Connect with your hosts
- Connect with Al on LinkedIn
- Connect with Leanne on LinkedIn
- Join the discussion about this episode on LinkedIn
- Email: podcast@TruthLiesandWork.com
- Follow us on Instagram @truthlieswork
- Chat with us on Twitter @truthlieswork
- YouTube channel for the podcast @TruthLiesWork
- Check us out on TikTok (LOL!!!) @truthlieswork
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⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!
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[00:00:00.170] – Sally
Rashes and headaches. I was barely sleeping. I’d lost quite a lot of weight.
[00:00:11.730] – Al Elliott
Hello and welcome to Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture Podcast. We aim to simplify the science of people. My name is Al and I’m a business owner.
[00:00:20.190] – Leanne Elliott
My name is Lea, a business psychologist.
[00:00:22.060] – Al Elliott
And welcome. We are talking all about burnout over the next a couple of episodes, some chunky episodes. Coming up today we’ve got a panel on Burnout with three expert guests. Firstly, we got Will Hasseck, who’s a board certified clinical psychologist. Then we have Kate Donovan, who’s a burnout coach and podcaster. And finally we have Sally Clark, who’s a well being and burnout researcher and expert. Now, Leanne is obviously another expert and her suggestion is that burnout is the pandemic that we just didn’t see coming. We’ve seen Quiet Quitting and there’s a fair bit on our podcast about Quiet quitting. It’s in about the great resignation. But the big risk, we think, in 2023 and 2024 is Burnout. Sole, what do we need to know about Burnout?
[00:01:05.770] – Leanne Elliott
The first thing to know about Burnout is that it is on the up. So, as you mentioned, there are wonderful guest, Sally Clark, she is one of the researchers behind Infinite Potentials, the state of workplace. Wellbeing, 2023, and it had some quite sad reading, to be honest, in terms of the prevalence of burnout, it’s going up. It was estimated to be about 29% in 2020, 34% in 2021 and 38% in 2022. One might say that’s not a huge surprise given the stress and challenge and uncertainty that we went through with the pandemic. And yeah, things like Quiet Quitting and the great resignation, I think are indicative of people trying to find alternatives to burnout, so making big bold decisions before they burn out. But yet the reality is that the continuing stress in our lives, the post pandemic trauma we’re all still dealing with, and the shifts that we’re seeing in the workplace in terms of reevaluating how work fits into our lives, I think we’re all just freaking exhausted at this point. And I think burnout is significantly going to be a significant problem in 2023 if we don’t act now.
[00:02:27.150] – Al Elliott
No, I think what’s interesting is that people who are slightly older generation so generation X and Boomers, which I’m 45, so I fall into the Generation X. There’s been a kind of a thing where you don’t burn out, has always been there, but you don’t really talk about it, you joke about it. It wasn’t a thing in the go off with stress, you just got on with it and of course, that’s not very healthy at all. Now we’ve there’s a lot less stigma attached to it. I think it is good that we are standing to talk about it a bit more.
[00:02:53.860] – Leanne Elliott
Yes, I I agree. And I think that this the scary thing about burnout is it’s not it’s not just a case of, oh, I’m exhausted, I need a break. It has serious physical health connotations. I mean, in terms of heart disease, in terms of cancer rates, they’re all linked to stress and anecdotally. You do hear of people who retire and then pass away within a few months. It’s similar to how you, you’ve been working really hard, you take time off and then you get colds and flu. Because when we’re under stress, our immune system is in our overdrive, so when it relaxes, it al comes flooding in. So it’s not even just a mental health issue, this is also a physical health issue.
[00:03:34.870] – Al Elliott
Yeah. And I think it’s good that we’re talking about it. And what’s really going to be really good over the next few episodes is we have three or four really good guests, some of who have experienced it, some of who are sort of clinically trained and therefore can talk about it. Should we just go and meet our panel now?
[00:03:50.600] – Sally
[00:03:51.080] – Al Elliott
Firstly, we’ve got Will Hasseck, who’s a board certified clinical psychologist.
[00:03:56.070] – Will
My name is William Hasseck, I’m a board certified clinical psychologist. I’m in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
[00:04:03.770] – Leanne Elliott
And next, we have burnout coach and Podcaster. Kate Donovan.
[00:04:07.910] – Cait
I am a Burnout coach, a keynote speaker and author of podcaster. I work with organisations to reduce burnout so they can keep top talent. And I work with individuals to reduce burnout so they can not hate their lives anymore.
[00:04:21.530] – Al Elliott
And finally, we’re going to go meet Sally Clark, who’s a wellbeing and burnout researcher and expert with a great story.
[00:04:26.580] – Sally
So I’m a former finance lawyer. I had a burnout in 2010 that was quite catastrophic and I was very privileged to be able to quit my role as a lawyer and shift into a really different trajectory. I became yoga teacher, shifted into meditation retreat, the leading retreats around the world. And then a few years later, I became really curious about the experience that I’d been through. I think I felt quite a lot of shame about going through a burnout. In fact, I didn’t even like using the word at the time. So I started really delving into some research about what burnout is and particularly what causes it. That led me to writing two books about burnout and becoming a burnout researcher and now publishing an annual study into burnout. And I’m now also a co director of an organisation called Human Leaders. And our mission is to really make work a place where humans, business and society can thrive. So really changing work to be embedded with well being.
[00:05:22.780] – Leanne Elliott
Brilliant. Just some really great guests there to help us understand everything. Burnout, I guess to give you a bit of context from what we’re hoping to achieve over the next few episodes is really just help each other understand what is burnout. How do we know if we’re burnout? How do we know if our teams are burnt out? Why does it happen? Is it something that some people are more susceptible to? Others and then of course, because we’re everything people and culture. Why should leaders care about burnout? What does it mean for your business? And crucially, what can we do to prevent burnout from happening in the future?
[00:06:01.350] – Al Elliott
So should we start off with a clinical definition of burnout? From Kate?
[00:06:05.100] – Cait
I have a very strong belief that we all have to start with the scientific definition as it’s given today. I don’t necessarily I say that with the caveat of I don’t necessarily agree with the current definition, but I think we should always start there because then at least we are starting at some sort of consensus. So the World Health Organisation adopted the definition from Christina MASLOCK and researchers of burnout that says burnout is a multicomponent occupational phenomenon which consists of three things. The first is physical and emotional exhaustion. The second is cynicism and detachment. And the third is a lack of productivity or a lack of feeling that your work is impactful.
[00:06:46.070] – Leanne Elliott
And to help us dig a bit deeper, let’s hear from our second guest. Will?
[00:06:50.210] – Will
The research on burnout kind of shows that burnout has basically three components. So one of those is emotional exhaustion. So when somebody is burnt out, they just feel depleted, exhausted, like they have no energy left to give to their job. And sometimes that can manifest physically too. They just will describe just feeling tired all the time. The second component is sometimes called like detachment or depersonalization. So that kind of involves people developing a very cynical attitude toward work, toward the people they work with, and often toward the world more generally. There’s just intense kind of pessimism that comes out. And then the last is a diminished sense of personal accomplishment. So they’re kind of feeling like they’re not doing anything significant. They’re not working toward any goals that matter to them, that their career, and perhaps their life more generally isn’t moving in a significant direction anymore.
[00:08:03.630] – Al Elliott
So I think what’s interesting is asking what the difference is between a bad day and burnout?
[00:08:08.230] – Will
That’s a good question. I think one of the things I would consider most is how pervasive and how kind of long this has been going on. Right. That if somebody is having a bad day and it’s just sort of, I don’t know, coloured their perception and they’re just having just a negative attitude about everything, I don’t know that’s to be expected. Everyone has a day like that. But I think when that’s going on for weeks at a time and when you’re seeing like even the work tasks that they enjoyed in the past, they just no longer have the same energy about them, no longer the same passion, that’s when it starts to become concerning.
[00:09:01.360] – Leanne Elliott
Will hit on the key there. What’s the difference between a bad day and burnout? Burnout is a result of a persistence of state of prolonged stress and with that comes lots of physical and psychological symptoms that we will be able to observe in ourselves and in the people around us. So let’s hear a bit more from Kate and her research findings on how people experience burnout.
[00:09:27.150] – Cait
I did my own research on this. The top symptoms, outside of the three components that I just mentioned as the definition, the top symptoms that I saw over the people that I surveyed, who were all self proclaimed as burnt out. So let that be clear that the subjects were in charge of their own definition of burnout. The top three things were headaches, migraines and neck and shoulder tension. So a lot going on up here. When we think of stress, what do we think of? Right. Headaches, neck tension, we’re right in line with that. Then we go down the gamut. So some sort of disregulated digestion in some way, shape or form? No libido with women, issues with regularity in their menstrual cycle. One of the things, the way that people describe it usually is an inability to manage their emotions. Like they have an emotional reaction to a situation and it just comes right out of their mouth. Their philtre is absolutely gone, which, if you look at the physiology of burnout, is true. Your prefrontal cortex, where you manage your emotions, has actually diminished. There’s less nerve cells there, there’s less neuronal connectivity in that part of your brain when you’re burnt out.
[00:10:36.490] – Cait
So you can’t manage your emotions the.
[00:10:38.520] – Sally
Way that you used to.
[00:10:39.310] – Cait
So that’s a big one that comes up for people. A lot of people say, I’m afraid of the person that I’ve turned into. I don’t want to be this father, I don’t want to be this mother, I don’t want to be this friend.
[00:10:48.650] – Al Elliott
I think that a bad day. He just suggests something that’s different to a good day. So you could have like, a grumpy client or an audit or perhaps a real talk from your manager, something like that. So burnout does require context. It’s not just an individual having a bad day, it’s an environment influencing many bad days in a row. Let’s hear some more on this from Sally.
[00:11:11.180] – Sally
I think there’s really multiple things at work here, and one is that we tend to still because when that happens to the individual, that happens to people, we tend to still frame it as an individual issue, when really all of my research, both from my books and in the study, the causes of burnout are, in fact, systemic and cultural. Whether that’s in an organisation or even just in our broader society. The way we talk and think about work, the beliefs that we have about work, that kind of we then internalise. So it’s a really pervasive kind of number of causes.
[00:11:45.830] – Leanne Elliott
I think January is a particularly high risk time for burnout. I think many of us will go into the Christmas break thinking, we’ve got time off. I’ll reset, I’ll get the rest that I need and then come back in January and actually not feel any better. If you are concerned that you are experiencing burnout, let’s just recap those three components of burnout again. So physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment and cynicism. So being pessimistic as well, and diminished personal accomplishments. So a feeling that your work is not providing any meaning, purpose or value within your life. So that’s what the definition of burnout is. What are the biggest misconceptions about burnout? I asked Will.
[00:12:31.380] – Will
Burnout isn’t sort of just a response to stress. I think that’s something that people often get wrong. It’s, oh, work, they’re just really overwhelmed and they’re getting burnt out. I mean, a person can have a stressful job without getting burnt out. I think when people start to get burnt out, they’ve kind of lost hope. It’s like they’ve tried a lot of different things to deal with the work stress. They’re starting to feel trapped, they’re starting to feel hopeless, they’re starting to feel like there’s nothing they can really do to change their circumstances. Because one big mistake that I see with burnout is people focus on the exhaustion piece of it. I think that’s because if you talk to a burnt out person, that’s the thing that’s going to kind of jump to mind to them first. It’s what they’re feeling the most. But that’s only one. Obviously one of the three components, I would argue. It’s not even necessarily the most significant component. Right. Unfortunately, I think when a lot of businesses are asking about burnout, they’re only asking about the exhaustion component.
[00:13:49.460] – Leanne Elliott
A really important point there from Will, there are three main components of burnout. Exhaustion is just one. Let’s hear about another misconception on burnout from Kate.
[00:13:59.970] – Cait
I think the thing that’s missing from that definition for me, I know why they’re doing it, but I think the thing that’s missing from that definition is an acceptance of the fact that it’s not just about the workplace. So this is very specifically in the World Health Organisation definition, a workplace phenomenon, an occupational phenomenon. This is not a disease, this is not a syndrome, this is a workplace phenomenon. And it doesn’t happen outside of that context. And that doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, especially because when I burnt out myself, I was an entrepreneur, so I was creating my own phenomenon, if you know what I mean. I was in charge of everything. I could decide how many hours I worked and what kind of systems were in place and how people were treated and how I treated myself, and I still burnt out. So I think that there’s still places for this definition to grow and mature over time. I think, of course, it exists outside of work. Burnout is if we’re going to look at the physiology and the psychology of burnout, burnout is the result of long term chronic stress.
[00:15:10.010] – Cait
So why would that only be related to the workplace? That can be related to caregiving cana be related to just being a parent these days. It can be related to poverty, it can be related we can go into social determinants of health, it can be related to so many things disability, chronic illness.
[00:15:28.480] – Leanne Elliott
Kate’s right to raise that as a point that the definition is fairly new in terms of acceptance by the World Health Organisation, it is not yet present within the DSM Five. We’ve talked about that before. So, yeah, there is definitely room for growth here. Let’s hear from Sally.
[00:15:46.470] – Sally
Just knowing that burnout is not a weakness, burnout is not a sign of failure. It happens to some of the most brilliant people. It really is something that happens to people who are highly intelligent and who’s not for lack of trying. It’s just not your fault as an individual, and finding help and talking to people and engaging the support systems around you is really key and you deserve that healing. You deserve to live a full and vibrant life.
[00:16:16.660] – Al Elliott
So I’m curious, Brian, do you think there are some people or roles that are more susceptible to burnout?
[00:16:21.310] – Leanne Elliott
As Sally said, burnout is not a sign of weakness. Burnout isn’t something that happens to people who just can’t hack the pace. Burnout can happen to anyone in any industry, at any level. And in fact, even the most recent data, we might have thought that people managers might experience burnout at a different rate than non people managers. The latest data shows that isn’t the case. And surprisingly, as well, those that have caring responsibilities at home experience burnout the same rate as those who do not, which I thought was initially quite surprising, because I think if you’re balancing kind of caring and work, you might be more susceptible to burnout. But then equally, if we unpack that a little bit more, people who have perhaps caring responsibilities for families at home are probably much more likely to have a strong support network around them. And that in itself is going to help protect you against burnout. There are some trends in demographics. The under 45s typically suffer with burnout more frequently and marginally females. However, other research does dispute this, as will explain.
[00:17:23.440] – Will
There is a recent study that was done trying to look at rates of burnout between men and women, and previously research had suggested that women burnt out more than men or more frequently. But this study really challenged that and it kind of showed men and women burn out at comparable rates, but in different ways that women tend to show more signs of exhaustion, whereas men tend to show more signs of that detachment. Depersonalization. Right. So if you’re not looking at all the components, you’re going to miss big chunks of your workforce that might be kind of burnt out. Interestingly, a lot of people who are very driven and ambitious are at risk for burnout. The research shows that people who are really conscientious hardworking want to follow the rules want to meet expectations are at risk for burnout. People that are very agile thinkers, kind of always looking for the next where am I going to go next? What’s this next big opportunity or at risk?
[00:18:48.540] – Leanne Elliott
And finally, there’s also an argument for an association between mental health disorders and burnout. Here’s Kate.
[00:18:54.300] – Cait
I believe that if there is some sort of vulnerability to a mental illness, burnout can help trigger it or make you more vulnerable. I have seen people go through manic depressive episodes and be diagnosed with bipolar after going through burnout. Were the symptoms there enough beforehand to be diagnosed? Maybe not, but sometimes it is a trigger for things that are sort of latent and waiting in the background to show up. And having things like anxiety and depression make it more difficult to manage other things in your life. So yeah, of course almost everything with burnout is a closed circle.
[00:19:31.290] – Leanne Elliott
From a research perspective, the correlation between mental health and burnout is a bit muddy. We don’t really have an overall consensus, but what I can tell you is the research does show is there is an association between depression and burnout and specifically that scale of emotional exhaustion is a core component of burnout, is positively related to depressive symptoms. In terms of consequences, well, we found that in people experiencing both burnout and depression, it’s associated with it with cognitive function such as increased recall of negative words and also a decreased recall of positive words. Similarly with anxiety we found a relationship between burnout and both state and trait based anxiety. So state being more environmental, trait being more innate. And within the workplace, people who have reported high levels of anxiety have also reported higher levels of burnout. But as I said, there isn’t a consensus. This may well be just down to lack of interest in the topic. As I mentioned before, the World Health Organisation only agreed a definition of burnout in 2019. So the research is early days in terms of really understanding burnout as a standalone definition and these early systematic reviews are just coming in.
[00:20:49.180] – Leanne Elliott
So I think it is fair to say there is an association. The exact relation with that we’re still trying to figure out. There is also an argument that there might be a biological basis for people experiencing burnout more than others or being more susceptible to it. That does seem to be biomarkers that are linked to stress related mental disorders such as depression, burnout and chronic stress. There may be a common biological basis there as well, but again, research is new. Other research has also shown us that some professions impacted particularly high stress roles such as teachers or health workers. Again though, that might just be the bias in the research because the research and burnout has tended to focus on those professional groups. And then of course we can’t possibly do a podcast without talking about the gen ZS, can we? So recent data does suggest that younger people are more susceptible to burnout. And this has been a shift in the last few years, which is really interesting. As you know, our expert guest Sally is one of the researchers behind Infinite Potential as a state of workplace burnout 2023. So let’s hear more on that.
[00:21:54.700] – Sally
I think the first was that we saw an enormous spike this year in the rate of burnout among the 18 to 24 year old demographic. So in the last couple of years, the highest rates of burnout were sort of around middle management. And this year we saw a more than 20 percentile jump in that 18 to 24 year age demographic. And it’s also the entry level position that’s where we’re seeing the highest rate of burnout. And I found that really interesting because I think it really speaks to a lot of the stresses that young people have been under through the pandemic. And I think to some extent also the fact that quite a lot of these people who are responding to the survey, they may have commenced their careers straight out of college or university into a remote work environment. So this was a very stressful time to be starting our careers. And I think for those of us who are a bit older, who maybe already had some relationships built at work and sort of understood the ways of working, shifting to a working from home situation was actually, for a lot of us, quite.
[00:23:00.000] – Sally
They had some benefits, whether it was autonomy, agency, flexibility, these kinds of things. But I think for the younger generation, the expectations that they may have had about how their careers would look were really decimated by the nature of how they started their careers because of the pandemic. I’m sure there are other factors involved and I’ve been really interested to have some conversations with younger people to try and understand those and al put those together in an article hopefully soon. But that was certainly a really stand out fine thing for me.
[00:23:29.100] – Al Elliott
I think we have to remember that if someone has entered the workforce five years ago so let’s say their argument’s sake, they are 21 and they start at 16, and the pandemic was like two of those years, even two and a half, we’re talking almost like 50% of their work experience, or experience of work has been during a pandemic. A lot of that at home. So I think what is interesting is that we hear this like, snowflake term bandied around and I think it seems to be that people are thinking that, oh, the younger people, they just can’t hack the pace of hostile culture. So is this the proof that the snowflake generation are unable to hack it? Or is it just one of the reasons why the expectations of employees are shifting? So let’s see what our experts think here’s.
[00:24:13.170] – Cait
Kate, it’s okay for people to think that they’re wrong, but it’s okay for people to think that I’m not really here to convince everyone. There it is. Over 40 years of research on this. There’s not really much to discuss, so I don’t usually bother. I don’t believe that I’m, in any of my professions, require me to do that. If people want to believe that this is nonsense, then they believe it’s nonsense until they are leadership in a company that just lost 50% of their employees and all of their top performers. Then they might talk about it. The thing is, the world is changing. The demands of the later millennials I’m the earliest millennial years, right? The demands of the later millennials and Gen Z are different than the demands of the early millennials and before us. People want different lives now. And when they can’t get them, when they’re not getting them, they are not able to just push through anymore. It’s time to just pay attention and make some change.
[00:25:14.640] – Al Elliott
We also asked Will about these generational shifts in the workplace.
[00:25:18.680] – Will
I think there’s a change happening in how we think about work now. I think expectations are changing as millennials and Gen Z enter the workforce. There’s a lot of research showing that younger generations have different expectations about what they want out of work and that they’re not going to tolerate abusive or controlling work environments. It’s an interesting question about why that shift has happened, and I’m not really sure anyone has a clear answer at this point, but it certainly is happening. I think one thing that might be going on with a leader like that is they’re just maybe not recognising the depth of the kind of cultural change that’s happening around them. I actually think you and Leanne talked about podcast on Quiet Quitting. I listened to, and I think you mentioned this, and I identified with it for sure. Both my parents, very successful in their careers, very hard working, but they really burnt the candle at both ends. It took a toll on them, and thank goodness they recently retired. But I looked back and saw just years and years of them working so hard and really questioning, like, why am I doing this?
[00:26:49.260] – Will
Am I really doing anything meaningful in my job? And I think it took a toll on them. Not only do I feel for them, but I don’t think anybody should have to feel that way at work.
[00:27:07.280] – Leanne Elliott
I’ve experienced periods of high stress throughout my career, and if I’m being honest, one period of burnout I remember and lead up to that being told things like, you need to toughen up. You need to be more resilient. You need a thicker skin. And you know what? As a leader, you might be thinking about the same about some of the people in your team. You might have even said some of the same things. This approach is flawed, and here’s Sally to explain why.
[00:27:35.770] – Sally
It’s a really great point, and it’s one that really sort of makes me a little bit incensed because I really find it quite cruel to some extent that there is this constant focus on the individual should be more resilient. We are offering the individual more meditation apps and yoga classes, and I say this as a qualified yoga and meditation teacher. That will not prevent burnout. I like to use the metaphor of if we have, for example, a toxic lake and the fish are all getting sick, we don’t look at each individual fish and try to make it better and heal it. We look at the water quality and we detoxify the water and we improve the quality of the lake so that the fish become healthy. And I think that’s how we need to frame burnout as well. That if you have a healthy, high functioning individual in a toxic environment, eventually that chronic workplace stress will wear them down. And it doesn’t matter how many things they put into place necessarily when they’re in that environment, it really is often just a matter of time before burnout occurs.
[00:28:39.140] – Leanne Elliott
I worry, Al, sometimes I sound like a broken record, but I’m going to say it again. You might not like the generational shifts that are happening within the workplace right now, but they’re happening. So get on board, get with it, and start thinking about how you can do things differently, how you can do things better, because they are coming, al, you told me this the other day and it blew my mind.
[00:29:02.980] – Al Elliott
So I did a little bit of maths. So I looked at a few websites for definitions of Gen Z, Gen X, boomers, all that kind of thing, and I’ve discovered there’s a key date here now, that’s the January the first, 2024. And that’s when millennials and Gen Z will finally make up the majority of the workforce because baby boomers are already retiring and Gen X will start the mass early retirement. So basically it means that we’re now going to have more people who are working for us who are Gen Z and millennials than are not. So of course we need to change the way we look at it. But the other thing is we need to think about this, is that the youngest Gen X, Gen X of the generation, which is 1977 backwards for about 15 years, I think they’ll be turning 50 in 2026. So that means that then well over two thirds of employees between 18 and 65 will be either Millennials or Gen Z. So we can’t win the boomers. By 2026, the boomers, baby boomers have gone. They’ve all retired. US, me, the Gen X, we’re turning 50. So we’ve only really got sort of ten or 15 years worth of work left in us.
[00:30:13.650] – Al Elliott
So particularly if you like a digital creative agency where the average age is about 36, then just in eight years, which is what, 2031, it’ll be exclusively Gen Zed. So I don’t think we. Can say, oh, well, poor snowflakes, because they’re the Zoomers, which is what the Gen Zed like to refer to. I think the Zoomers and the millennials, they just don’t know what work is because the fact is that they are going to be your entire workforce. So we need to do something about this. We need to change the way that we think.
[00:30:46.270] – Cait
[00:30:47.100] – Leanne Elliott
That was brilliant. And quite some sobering thoughts there as well, aren’t there? Yeah, I think it’s also really important if we’re talking about shift, we need to talk about burnout as well as part of the hybrid conversation. And this is another really important finding in Sally’s recent research, leaders haven’t quite figured out how to make flexibility work well. But as we’ve said, there is a massive opportunity for leaders to reimagine how and where we work and what that balance looks like. Hybrid work and flexibility are things that people are craving and still want. So how do we manage that? And how do we bring hybrid into the burnout conversation? Let’s hear from Sally.
[00:31:29.000] – Sally
Yeah, so it was certainly we we also asked some questions about where people are working and our finding was that it was actually people who are working 80% or more from home who show the highest rate of burnout. The lowest rate of burnout was that was those who were in a hybrid work situation where they’re working two to three days a week from the office. Now, I’m an introvert and I was a little rattled, I think, by these findings because I sort of thought, don’t take working home from home away from me. I really enjoy it. But I think what we need to, and it’s correlation, not causation. So we’re certainly not saying that working from home causes burnout, nor that being in the office does. But I think what those findings showed to me was that the hybrid work conversation is one that we really need to have very mindfully and we really need to involve people sort of in this conversation. And I think, again, as I said, a lot of us have found this sense of autonomy, agency, yoga pants, being able to throw some watering on during the day, maybe pops into the shop.
[00:32:34.680] – Sally
There’s some flexibility in the way that we work that was opened up as a result of the pandemic. And at the same time, we also know that we’re human. We really need interpersonal connection. To feel a sense of engagement and to feel trust and respect in the workplace is really key. And I really see that as being to the extent that is possible, when that can happen in person, that’s really impactful. So I think if leaders can navigate this shift to a hybrid work environment where they can meet the needs of the team and also of the individuals which will evolve, we’re not sort of stagnant beings. These things will shift as the phases of life shift, but being able to hold that flexibility and meet the needs of the team and the individuals as well. I think that it’s quite a complex issue and I understand that for some leaders it may be very tempting to just say, no, that’s it, everyone has to be back in the office now.
[00:33:33.410] – Al Elliott
You know who you are, don’t be taken away from these from this podcast. Oh, well, I’ll just call everyone back in the office because I want to avoid burnout. That’s not what Sally’s saying there, is it, Leanne?
[00:33:44.760] – Leanne Elliott
It’s not what her research found. And what the other research I’ve seen recently from the UK has found is that from what we know so far, and bear in mind, these are early days of of post COVID hybrid working. But what we found so far is that hybrid working. So working two to three days from the office, two to three days at home is correlated with higher levels of wellbeing. But as I said, is this a post pandemic haze or can hybrid working really facilitate higher levels of well being into the future? I asked Sally.
[00:34:21.100] – Sally
I think there’s a lot to be said for shifting to a way of working that is perhaps reducing our working hours, the four day work week. There’s a lot of focus on that at the moment and I think we can’t just arbitrarily chop a day off the week and expect things to get better. But when we actually use that as a means of reframing and redesigning how we work. So really looking at those systems of work, are they inefficient, how are we communicating? How are our meetings being driven? Are we able to do what we need to do in the space of time that we’re allocated? And if not, what’s inhibiting that? What’s stopping us from getting our work done? And so I think there’s certainly, I think, a really beautiful opportunity that this shift is now offering us to really and again, I think there’s this natural tendency for humans to kind of want to go back to what was, to revert to how things were. But for those again, who have the courage and the curiosity to maybe hold space to ask some deeper questions, I think we can really shift to a way of working that enables humans to thrive and actually it also improves the bottom line for business as well.
[00:35:36.170] – Sally
So it really is something that I think can have multifaceted impact and on that, I think also we talk a lot about the impact of burnout on businesses and on organisations. I think at a societal level, if we can really improve our working lives and reduce those sources of product workplace stress so the burnout isn’t occurring, I think of the friendships that will be improved, the family relationships that will be improved because someone isn’t in burnout. And even down to us as citizens on the planet, how we can be more involved and engaged when we’re not burnt out, I think there’s a huge amount of impact that those kind of shifts and conversations can have.
[00:36:19.680] – Al Elliott
That’s a great point. And I think also we have to remember that there is a big risk of burnout for people who are in the wrong role or potentially the wrong workplace. And they can’t move because of financial concerns because maybe it’s the only place that they can actually work at the level in which they want to work. So these are people who are very much at risk of burnout. So if you are listening and you’re one of those people, then Will has some great advice to help you manage your emotions and navigate your workplace.
[00:36:49.640] – Will
Yeah, so I think for a person like that, I’d recommend a couple of different strategies. One would be finding your allies in the workforce. Even if they’re sort of working against the tide or swimming against the tide, I guarantee there’s going to be probably other people there that are feeling that finding ways they can kind of build their support network within the organisation is going to be really important. I think also really making sure that they are prioritising work in the right way. I know we just talked about some of the organisational risk factors, but burnout isn’t just an organisational issue. I mean, it’s an individual issue, too. Different people have different levels of susceptibility to burnout. I think it’s really important when somebody who’s like that is in an environment where their well being isn’t going to be attended to by the organisation, that they’re doing everything on their end to make sure that they are setting boundaries around their work, time, around when they can be contacted after work. I mean, sometimes I have to work with people on some assertiveness, talking to their manager, I’m not answering emails after whatever hour I’ve got to be with my family, making sure that they’re involving themselves in meaningful activities and relationships outside of work.
[00:38:28.300] – Will
And I think also kind of positioning themselves long term to probably leave that workforce if it’s not going to change. So maybe they can’t leave now, but maybe thinking about, okay, what are those longer term goals you can work towards, who can, whatever, three, four, five years from now, jump to an organisation that is a better fit for you?
[00:38:50.850] – Leanne Elliott
So, just a very briefly recap the question. Are some people or roles more susceptible to burnout than others? Headline no. And this is why we are saying burnout as a pandemic you didn’t see coming. Burnout transcends, profession level, gender, age, geography. It really does not discriminate. Burnout is a result of prolonged stress and we can all, as humans, experience that. It’s not about the snowflake generation, it’s just not. And I think that word we’re now going to ban from the podcast in 2023.
[00:39:31.600] – Al Elliott
Yeah, I’m slightly concerned because I think I might have used it in an interview yesterday, but yes, I’ll bleep it out. So, yeah, I think what we’re really talking about here is that this has been going on for a while, but it’s the first time that, thanks to Zuma’s millennials, we’re actually talking about it and we’re open talking about it, we don’t feel like we have to cover it up like perhaps the previous generation did. You know, I know people of the boomer age who clearly were burnt out, but they just kept going and kept going and then other things happened in their lives that sort of was the fallout from that. So I’m curious here, because I want to know, how would you know you’re burnt out? You mentioned before, Leanne, that you looked back and went, I think I was burnt out back in that period, but at the time I’m not sure, because I think it was when we were together. I’m not sure that you knew you were. So I want to know, how do you know if you’re burnt out?
[00:40:29.360] – Leanne Elliott
I think you’re right. It’s so hard when you’re in it to recognise you’re burning out. I think I thought I might be burning out and looking back and understanding what burner actually is. More hours, definitely burnout. And lastly, exhaustion. The cynicism, the pessimism, the detachment, definitely experienced that. Burnout does have a definition and it does have some agreed comparisons. But as always, this isn’t about statistics, this is about individuals and human stories. Our guests were generous enough to share their own experiences of stress and in some cases, burnout. So let’s hear from Wilfurst.
[00:41:05.160] – Will
One of my first jobs out of school after I got my PhD and I love being a psychologist, it’s a very enjoyable job, so I was excited and I got this job, it paid really well, so great. I’m doing this thing I went to school for, I’m making good money. I was excited to start, bar none, the worst job I have ever had in my entire life. I only stayed there for three months before I was like, I can’t take this anymore. And the impact it had on me was just like I was not only stressed out, but physically. I mean, I remember I would wake up in the middle of the night when I was working there with this just searing pain in my stomach, like somebody had just, like, stabbed me in the stomach. And I had never felt anything like that before in my life. And thank goodness I had a good support system, colleagues, my wife, friends, and were really telling me, you got to get out of there. And the stomach pain went away, the stress went away. I don’t think, though, I realised just how much of a toll it was taking on me until I left.
[00:42:32.460] – Will
And, I mean, I can’t imagine if I had stayed there for years, I mean, it probably would have had much more like permanent, long standing effects on me. And sadly, I see that sometimes in the people I work with that they’ve been in a stressful job for so long, it’s probably had a permanent irreversible effect on their health at some level. And work should not hurt. I know it’s a job, there’s a reason they pay you to do it. It’s not going to be fun all the time, but and it’s not going to be engaging all the time, but it it should not be something that that is a source of profound pain and suffering like that.
[00:43:18.110] – Leanne Elliott
I love what the Will Shed has experienced, and I think just a couple of things I’d like just to pick up on. Will is a psychologist, I’m a psychologist. We’re not saying creating these lovely, harmonious environments where everyone can do what they want whenever they want, and that’s not how it works. But work shouldn’t hurt, and I think you suggested that Will should get that on a T shirt out.
[00:43:42.930] – Al Elliott
I think I did. Yeah. He’s so honest about things, and I say we’ve got someone next week as well who’s equally honest. I just love hearing these human stories because I’m probably the same as most listeners. We’re not scientists where you can understand all these complex ideas. We just want to hear the story and go, okay, yeah, I resonate with that. Or I know someone who yeah, and.
[00:44:03.900] – Leanne Elliott
I don’t think you can underestimate the physical symptoms of stress. Will mentioned a few there. I’ve suffered with skin problems, with rashes, with vertigo, getting dizzy when I stand up, with literally feeling of pressure on my shoulders. And Kate delves into this a little bit more as she shares her personal experience with burnout.
[00:44:22.680] – Cait
I burnt out horribly and stayed in a burnout cycle for six or seven years. I didn’t know what burnout was, so I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t handle it because I didn’t know what was going on. I was angry and resentful all the time, every time anyone asked me even to go to lunch, like my friends. I was living in Prague at the time, and in Warsaw. This started living in Warsaw and continued through my time in Prague, which was a lovely place to live, and I had a beautiful life, and I was very lucky. And all these beautiful things. My friends would write and say, hey, let’s have lunch this week. And my immediate response would be like, don’t they know how busy I am? I was working 25 hours a week. It just it none of it made sense. I at the very worst part physically. From the tram to my apartment, there was a four minute walk, and it was up a hill, and I had a dog while we have a dog. And so I would get home from work. I would be leaving work at 01:00, so I worked eight to 130 or eight to two on Mondays and Wednesdays.
[00:45:26.040] – Cait
It’s not that many hours. I would leave at 02:00 and be done for the day. Should be a beautiful life, right? I’d get on the tram, I’d get back to my stop, I’d look up the hill and I would think, like, I don’t know how I’m going to make it up this hill. And then once I get there, I don’t know how I’m going to walk the dog. I don’t know if I can do it. And I would start my journey up the hill and I would stop on someone’s stoop halfway up, because I literally, physically could not get there. This is coming from someone who’s been an athlete her whole life. I was a competitive gymnast for ten years. I was captain of my field hockey team. I ran track. I cross country, skied 120 kilometres over a week in Finland. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t function. And it just crushed me because I couldn’t figure out what was going on. My blood work was fine, everything was working, but I couldn’t walk four minutes up a hill.
[00:46:29.900] – Leanne Elliott
So as you heard that Kate was really struggling to get a handle on her house. It wasn’t until she found an article that things all started to make sense.
[00:46:37.990] – Cait
I read that article and I thought, okay, at least now I have something to work with. There are plenty of reasons why my stress management system would be off kilter. I grew up in an addictive household. I mean, there’s reasons for it. So I understood as soon as I saw it, I got it. I was like, okay, I get this. I can see what’s happening here. And as a typical rule, because I grew up in very close to the poverty line and didn’t have a lot of access to things, I do everything myself. I’m a big do it yourselfer because it’s cost effective. For the most part. At this point was the first time in my life where I realised that I was not going to be able to DIY this. I just wasn’t going to be able to do it. Because if I could have done it, I would have done it already. With all of my knowledge and with all of my experience with patients, and with as much help as I had given other people, this I was not going to be able to do on my own. So I hired a therapist first.
[00:47:36.250] – Cait
I went through my first few weeks of therapy and then I hired a coach. Those are very different processes and I needed them both. Once I was through a lot of those things and I started to get some energy back, I hired a functional medicine practitioner. I overhauled my diet. I took a bunch of supplements and slowly weighted my way out. It took about a year, 15 months to get myself back.
[00:48:04.580] – Al Elliott
If you ever doubted the physical implications or physical health implications of burnout, then just listen to that. The lady is a freaking athlete. It’s just kind of heartbreaking. I feel that you could hear the emotion and she relived it in the way that she spoke. So we also asked Sally about her experience of burnout.
[00:48:27.620] – Sally
But when I look back, I was in abject denial. So I was having physical symptoms, so I was having quite a lot of rashes and headaches, I was barely sleeping, I’d lost quite a lot of weight. Anyone who sort of showed any concern to me, I’d just tell them that they didn’t understand corporate law and basically told them to get lost. And it was actually living in Amsterdam. And I was flying to the city of Nant in France to visit my brother because he was living there. And I’d worked till really late, jumped into a taxi, sped to the airport. I don’t remember anything about the flight. I just remember arriving at the arrivals hall in Nom and laying eyes on my brother and collapsing to the floor and I started crying and I couldn’t stop. And it took my body giving way underneath me for me to acknowledge that there was something wrong. And over that weekend with my brother, I said I’m miserable and I’ve been miserable for a while. We talked about what my options were and when I went back to Amsterdam, I spoke to the partner that I was working for and started that journey of acknowledging what I was going through and I was very privileged to be in a position where I could leave that job.
[00:49:45.300] – Sally
And so I quit and left probably about five months after that point. I was also very lucky to be in the Netherlands where there’s there’s health, health care legislation and infrastructure around burnout that that exists there. But it was, you know, I think full recovery took probably a couple of years after that for me to really get to a place where it’s very difficult to compare because I really felt like quite a new version of myself, a much more authentic and happier version of myself. But it’s I see it a lot with the clients that I work with in my coaching and people that I speak to, that it is something where we really want to just be back, we want to be full of energy and using our incredible capacities to the best that we can. And it can be a very frustrating and slow process of healing, which is probably one of the reasons that my mission is to really embed wellbeing at work so that the word burnout becomes redundant.
[00:50:41.520] – Leanne Elliott
What I find really interesting about all of our experts and their experiences of burnout is the acknowledgement that this took many years to go through a full recovery and that it has a very real and potential impact on your long term health. Burnout isn’t stress, burnout isn’t a bad day. Burnout isn’t not being able to hack hustle culture. Burnout is a significant issue that we need to deal with within our organisations. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think we could have asked any more of our experts to put it so beautifully. Why burnout is important and as business leaders, as business owners, why we have a responsibility to prevent people from hitting rock bottom.
[00:51:32.260] – Al Elliott
Yeah. And I mean, let’s look at it from a business case point of view. You’ve got someone who’s a superstar, they’re doing really well and they’re putting all the hours in. This is great. And then they just keep to keep putting more and more hours in and then they burn out and then they quit. And you’re like, well shit, what am I going to do? Because only if I lost my best person, therefore probably business function is down, maybe sales, maybe creative, whatever. But you also then have to spend all the money to find someone else and the likelihood of finding someone else who’s as good as that previous person is probably slim. So the whole thing is it’s not fluff. There is a business case for this because if you had a piece of equipment and you were running it twenty four seven and then it broke after six weeks, you’d look back and go, shit, I wish not done that. I should have just, you know, given it a bit of a break, I would have, should have turned it off for, for overnight or something. The, you know, it there is a business case for this.
[00:52:23.690] – Leanne Elliott
I didn’t see it as well. And equally, if you’re a business leader, burnout is an issue you need to take seriously for yourself. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done ourselves. We’ve all seen other people push themselves to the limits. You are not immune. Look at our guest here. We had a professional athlete and some of his expertise in healthcare. We had a corporate lawyer operating at the highest possible level of her field. We had a board certified clinical psychologist. Nobody is immune. You are not immune. And if you are pushing yourself and if any of these experiences, these emotions, these symptoms resonate with you, please, please acknowledge that and recognise that because now is the time to act before you go past the point of no return.
[00:53:13.220] – Al Elliott
Okay? I mean, we’re halfway through this. We’re going to do a second part of this. There’s a lot of stuff to get through. What’s going up next in the next episode or the next part of this? Part two is how do I know if my team is burnt out? We’re going to look into that. We’re going to ask, why does burnout happen? We’re going to say, what does burnout actually mean for my business? Now we’ve talked a little bit more about that. The actual business case. We’re going to go up into to more of that and ask our experts about that. Then we’re going to talk about how we can prevent burnout. And finally we’re going to talk about the resources that you can use to help prevent Burnout, both in yourself, your leadership team, or your entire business. So I’m being exhausted after that leanne bit.
[00:53:52.080] – Leanne Elliott
[00:53:52.650] – Al Elliott
I didn’t want to make that joke because I feel like it might be.
[00:53:55.410] – Leanne Elliott
Because we know that isn’t Burnout. We know now, we’ve educated ourselves and our listeners. But yes, I think it’s time for a break, time to rest, recharge, and we will be back with part two of our episode on Burnout. The pandemic you didn’t see coming.
[00:54:11.290] – Al Elliott
See you soon. And by the way, if you haven’t subscribed yet, then please do. If you subscribe, you’ll make sure that every episode comes directly to your app. And also, it really helps us to grow the show and get more and more people to listen to it, because the more people subscribe, the more likely it is that Apple or whatever, Google, are going to be able to show this to other people. So if you enjoyed this episode and you’re not already subscribed, click that subscribe button. See you next time. Bye.
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