“Let us #PrayTogether that people who suffer from depression* or burn-out will find support and a light that opens them up to life.” In November 2021, Pope Francis tweeted a call to prayer that echoed across Twitter, and Catholic and secular media alike. Last year, web searches for “signs of burnout” surged 221% - but burnout is still largely misunderstood. Here are three myths about burnout that we need to clear up.
Myth #1: Burnout is a new word and a product of the pandemic.
While burnout itself was a hot topic of 2021, it’s not a new concept. Coined in the 1970s, burnout was classified by the World Health Organization in 2019 as a syndrome that stems from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Characteristics of burnout include constant feelings of exhaustion, cynicism towards work, and reduced performance. Since burnout is a result of accumulated stress, constant exposure to stressors contribute to the syndrome. In other words, you don’t wake up one day and suddenly experience the symptoms of burnout - prolonged stress leads to it.
Myth #2: Men make up most of the workforce, so they experience burnout more often than women.
While a majority of the American workforce is male, nearly half of working women reported feeling burnt out as a result of work. Historically and especially during the pandemic, women have had more home and caregiving tasks than men. As primary caregivers and often homemakers too, women have added responsibilities that conflict with their time to decompress and rest.
Myth #3: Mission-driven workers don’t experience burnout.
In reality, “burnout [is] common in fields in which people consider the work their calling.” Even with a service-driven approach to work, we can’t escape the realities of burnout. The Mayo Clinic cites that two risk factors for burnout include working in a “helping profession” and working in a role that you’re so passionate about that it spills into your personal life. As an example, lay people who serve the Church can also suffer from burnout since the “top-down, clerical-heavy structure … can cause lay employees to feel that their voices are not heard or respected.” While a lay person might feel that she has to work long hours to support a mission, she may not feel comfortable speaking up about needing a break if she doesn’t feel seen or heard.
Burnout is a Buzzword - Until It Happens to You
While you might not be experiencing burnout now, knowing the risks can help you or a colleague down the line. It’s also important to recognize that work alone might not cause burnout. The impact of big life changes and challenging situations can spillover into our work, causing strains on our work-life balance and ultimately on our attitude and performance. And when our identity is tied to the work we do, imagine the impact of burnout on our personal lives. Now imagine that scaled to the community level - burnout is a collective problem.
6 Resources to Help You Tackle Burnout
- Make sure you’re getting the right type of rest you need.
- Read about the Mayo Clinic’s burnout symptoms.
- Leading an organization or team? Read HBR’s article to learn about the actions companies can take.
* Burnout can be related to depression or other mental health issues. If you’re wondering whether you’re experiencing symptoms beyond burnout, please seek professional help.