Last week, California congressman Mark Takano introduced proposed legislation to reduce the US national standard workweek from 40 to 32 hours.
Take a moment to let that sink in. A 32-hour workweek.
4 workdays. 3 leisure. No change to your salary.
It’s not law yet, but even the fact that it’s being proposed is huge. It represents a shift in how we conceptualize work. Profound changes to work culture that would have seemed impossible a few year ago are not just becoming feasible — these ideas are entering the mainstream.
To be clear, this is not about working four 10…
Many of us grew up believing emotions were bad.
“Girls shouldn’t be angry.”
“Boys shouldn’t let emotions show.”
“Stop that incessant laughter.”
“Don’t be sad.”
When the message was emotions are bad — when we were punished for our feelings — we didn’t learned the basic truths of emotions and the wisdom they offer.
When we are in chronic workplace stress, burnout is often a matter of when, not if. Here’s why.
Stress of itself is not bad. We need stress to grow and learn.
Chronic stress is different.
When you are subject to ongoing, chronic workplace stress, eventually, you are pretty likely to start experiencing one or more of the four dimensions of burnout:
And once you’re in burnout, you will generally lack the perspective and motivation you need to change things and…
When we are overwhelmed by chronic workplace stress, it can be tempting to quit and head straight into another job.
I totally get this.
When I was in the middle of my burnout, my boss offered to find me an in-house legal role with one of our clients.
Not because I wasn’t tempted (I was).
Not because it didn’t make a lot of sense (it did).
But because I knew, intrinsically, that going straight into another job — a different version of the same one I had been doing when I burnt out — would not make me…
Angela came to me after hitting a wall — she woke up one day and could not lift her head. As a software engineer based in Paris, she had been working 80-hour weeks as long as she could remember. Now, her body had given way.
As she put it in her email, “I hate typing these words, but I need help. Now.”
Over the course of the next few months, we identified the following phases in her burnout, which had played out over years.
>> overworking, high on caffeine, mega-productive, “killing it”
>> exhaustion starting to creep in, less productive…
Right now, mental health issues are at the forefront of popular culture.
This is great: shedding light on these topics forms an important step towards destigmatizing mental health issues such as burnout.
But much more needs to change, to end burnout stigma.
A stigma is a barrier rooted in prejudice, avoidance, rejection, and discrimination due to a lack of understanding.
In burnout, stigma usually plays out in two forms.
Leading researchers Dr. Christine Maslach and Dr. Michael Leiter frame burnout “as a breakdown in the relationship between you and your work context.”
As Dr. Leiter explained to me, “When people enter workplaces, both sides have expectations, and problems occur when expectations are not met.”
Often, the expectations placed on individuals by employers are unreasonable, unfair and incommensurate with the salary and benefits offered in return.
At the same time, as employees, our expectations that work and work alone will shape our identity and satisfy our demand for purpose and existential meaning are high to the point of being unrealistic.
“The wellbeing of our people is our top priority.”
“We offer yoga classes.”
“You’re an industrial athlete.”
“You’re not an employee, you’re family.”
There are so many ways that companies express how much they want us to believe that they prioritize employee wellness.
All too often, though, this is nothing more than BS posturing. At best, it’s misleading, at worst, it’s outright false advertising that hurts employees every day.
Companies are not idiots (even if they are sometimes run by them).
They know wellness is hot.
According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an occupational phenomenon caused by chronic workplace stress.
Which has us all wondering, of course, “what causes chronic workplace stress?”
The answer might be confronting, but it will also help you recover from burnout and live an authentic, fulfilling life.
Or to paraphrase Gloria Steinem, the truth about burnout will set you free, but first it will piss you off.
Chronic workplace stress is caused by two factors:
(1) toxic work culture and
(2) toxic beliefs about work.
When I was burning out, I didn’t know anyone else who had burned out as a lawyer. Mental health issues were shrouded in shame. This made the process incredibly lonely, and the loneliness was compounded by the sense that everyone else seemed fine. Colleagues were subject to the same pressures but seemed to be thriving. What little energy I had went into masking my misery, until the night I collapsed at Nantes airport and my life changed forever.
Thankfully, today, the support available to people looking to leave the law has increased, thanks in part to the work of two…