The Silent Pandemic: Burnout 

The Silent Pandemic: Burnout 

I hungrily demolish articles (often written by those much more clever than myself) on the impact living in an emotional overdraft has on business leaders. I loved this article on LinkedIn from Chen Hascalovitz, a PhD candidate in Population Health, who is brilliant at addressing the complex challenges at the intersection of economic policy and mental health. Chen delves into the complexities of burnout, offering insights that resonate deeply with my work on the idea of “emotional overdraft.” While my book explores the drivers and behaviours leading to this state of emotional overdraft, Chen’s research provides a nuanced understanding of the root causes of burnout, which are intricately linked to these behaviours.

She says: Once dismissed as mere exhaustion or stress, burnout is now recognised as a serious syndrome by the World Health Organization. Its symptoms—ranging from energy depletion to diminished professional efficacy—mirror those of profound psychological distress that transcends the boundaries of traditional stress. Unlike acute stress responses that dissipate with time, burnout persists, leaving individuals trapped in a cycle of chronic exhaustion and disillusionment.

I wanted to dive into some of Chen’s great observations, so here goes: 

Understanding the Root Causes of Burnout

Burnout is not merely a reaction to being overworked or stressed, but rather the interplay of overwork with a lack of autonomy, control, and perceived meaning in one’s work. This leads to feelings of cognitive dissonance, frustration, hopelessness, and exhaustion. The symptoms of burnout encompass physical, emotional, and cognitive manifestations, including persistent fatigue despite rest, emotional detachment, reduced performance, impaired concentration, heightened irritability, sleep disturbances, headaches, muscle tension, feelings of ineffectiveness, social withdrawal, and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.

This explanation aligns closely with what I call “emotional overdraft”—a state where leaders subsidise their business success at the cost of their physical or mental wellbeing. Through my research, I’ve identified ten drivers and broad behaviours that contribute to this state, such as a relentless drive for perfection, an inability to delegate, and a lack of self-worth tied to productivity. 

The Role of Cognitive and Emotional Dissonance

The imbalance of high workloads and minimal control creates a breeding ground for cognitive dissonance and a pervasive sense of injustice and disconnection. Underpayment, lack of compensation commensurate with effort, and roles that individuals are overqualified for exacerbate frustration and disillusionment.

In my book, I discuss how these imbalances manifest in leaders’ behaviours. For instance, the belief that “running a business is inherently stressful and supposed to feel hard” leads to leaders pushing themselves beyond their limits. This belief, coupled with unrealistic expectations and the pressure to perform, drives them deeper into their emotional overdraft, perpetuating the cycle of burnout.

Perfectionism: A Double-Edged Sword

While striving for excellence can drive innovation and growth, perfectionism can also fuel feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. The relentless pursuit of unattainable standards leaves individuals vulnerable to burnout.

Perfectionism is a common trait among leaders, often celebrated as a virtue but, in reality, it contributes significantly to their emotional overdraft. Leaders who constantly push for perfection often neglect their own needs, leading to chronic stress and burnout.

Technological Disruption and Social Jet Lag

The omnipresence of screens and the blurring of boundaries between work and leisure time have led to a phenomenon known as social jet lag. This disruption impairs sleep quality and exacerbates feelings of fatigue and burnout.

Technological advancements have certainly revolutionised our work patterns, but they have also introduced new challenges. Leaders are often expected to be available 24/7, which blurs the lines between work and personal life, further draining their emotional resources.

The Interplay of Parental Class and Burnout

Parental socioeconomic status is among the strongest predictors of an individual’s income and socioeconomic trajectory. The inability to bridge the gap between one’s current circumstances and the lofty expectations instilled by familial upbringing breeds a profound sense of disillusionment and despair.

This insight from Chen’s research highlights the structural inequalities that underpin burnout. Many leaders grapple with unmet aspirations and the pressure to replicate or exceed the socioeconomic success of their parents, which can drive them into their emotional overdraft.

Navigating the Pursuit of Passion

Economic pressures and societal expectations often force individuals to prioritise financial stability over personal fulfilment, making the pursuit of passion elusive.

By understanding what drives their behaviours – and you can find out yours by taking the free emotional overdraft assessment here – leaders can make better choices and find a healthier balance between their personal fulfilment and professional responsibilities.

Chen Hascalovitz’s article on burnout provides a comprehensive look at the systemic issues contributing to this silent pandemic. By understanding the root causes and addressing the structural barriers, we can create workplaces where individuals thrive rather than merely survive.

Both Chen’s research and my book underscore the need for a holistic approach to addressing burnout—one that acknowledges the critical importance of autonomy, control, and meaning in fostering resilience and well-being. By dismantling the structural barriers that perpetuate this imbalance, we can pave the way for a future where burnout is no longer the norm, and leaders can achieve business success without sacrificing their physical and mental health.

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