As more and more people report experiencing burnout, burnout has become a growing societal concern. It is a growing concern, but we do not know what it is nor do we know what kind of thing it is.
What it is? Is it, as some think, mental and physical exhaustion combined with distance from colleagues and professional inefficacy? Or is it something else?
And, pray, what kind of thing is it? An “occupational phenomenon” as the WHO thinks? A “mental illness?” Or something else entirely?
We do not know what it is, and we do not know what kind of thing it is. What is more, we do not know where it comes from and why, just now, burnout has become so prevalent in the healthcare and tech industries.
Medieval peasants, colonial America farmers, Victorian factory workers, office workers living around midcentury—none of these reported burnout regardless of the number of hours they worked, the conditions they worked in, or the work they did. Burnout is for us—why?
Because we do not know what it is nor what kind of thing it is nor whence it came, we do not know what it really means for us, what it is telling us, and what is revealing to us about ourselves.
And what is burnout revealing to us? Burnout is a mirror; burnout is who we are. Looking within ourselves, we find it. Looking within it, we find ourselves. The meaning we seek through work, the identities we fashion through work: these are the conditions that give birth to burnout even as burnout discloses just far how we have been willing to go–and just how much farther toward complete exhaustion we may venture still…
I’m now giving public talks on the relationship between burnout and Total Work. Feel free to reach out to me if you’re in the healthcare industry or tech space and if you’re concerned about burnout.