As we continue to balance working from home, returning to in-person work, modified school and childcare access, and shifting social safety rules, burnout has continued to be one of the most discussed and urgent issues for many of us. Over the past few months, workplace happiness expert and author of the upcoming The Burnout Epidemic Jennifer Moss has been tirelessly sharing her findings and insight across interviews, articles, and podcasts. This blog will summarize some of her important takeaways, highlighting what individuals can do to help themselves and what organizations can learn so they can protect frontline teams from burnout.
First up is a piece in CNBC that underscored the disparity in burnout between men and women. In it, Jennifer noted that a lack of fairness is a key element of burnout, which is something women were already experiencing in the workplace before the pandemic. By and large, women are trying to juggle shifting work expectations along with increased housework and caregiving needs—which adds up to as much as 20 hours per week on average. Jennifer points to this as an obvious source of massive burnout among working women.
“How can we expect them to still meet pre-Covid goals around productivity, also ask them to be engaged and ask them to take on 20 more hours of extra work per week, and then just say it is business as usual?” Moss said.
“It is completely unsustainable and it is unfair to many groups who can’t meet those goals because they just don’t have the physical time in the day to meet them.”
While some workplaces have begun to shift expectations or put policies in place to help women in this regard, Jennifer offered some strategies in the meantime to help mitigate the issue before it overwhelms them.
Have transparent and honest conversations with your peers and boss about your goals and flexibility around them, suggested Moss.
Also, have more self-compassion. Prioritize what is urgent and what you can let go.
The same goes for the work at home, like emptying the dishwasher or folding laundry.
“This brain fog, fatigue and chronic stress has made those small tasks really exhausting,” Moss explained.
Moss likes to schedule a fake commute — instead of working during what would have been your commute time to the office, enjoy your breakfast away from the computer.
While you may feel too exhausted, picking up the phone to speak with a friend for 10 minutes will be critical to you getting through this, Moss said.
Meanwhile, in an article Jennifer penned herself for CBC, she highlights the work of Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith on sleep vs. rest. While sleep is certainly important for our health, it’s only part of one category of the various kinds of rest we need. With Dr. Dalton-Smith’s help, Jennifer outlines the seven types of rest that should be a regular part of our routine to maintain a healthy physical and mental state. Those types of rest are:
- Active Rest – “restorative activities such as yoga, stretching and massage therapy that help improve the body’s circulation and flexibility.”
- Mental Rest – Too many of us are jumping from task to task with no breather in between.
- Sensory Rest – We’re more attached to our screens and other electronic distractions than ever in this moment. Our senses need a break from all the chatter and scrolling.
- Creative Rest – “It may seem like a frivolous type of rest, but it really isn’t. We require system thinking to solve basic and complex problems.”
- Emotional Rest – Spaces to express ourselves authentically, turn off our “please others” instincts, and talk/vent/share with empathy.
- Social Rest – Maybe this means chances for alone time, or simply interacting with different people—some relationships revive us, some exhaust us.
- Spiritual Rest – “According to Dr. Dalton-Smith, we need to, ‘connect beyond the physical and mental and feel a deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance and purpose.’”
Jennifer goes on to acknowledge that it can be hard to fathom integrating all these different asks on our time when we’re already feeling burned out, exhausted, and pushed to our limits. To that end, she uses the second half of the article provides many helpful, small-scale tips to find more rest that only require a few minutes a day.
For workplace managers and team leaders, there’s a helpful discussion in Forbes between Jennifer and interviewer Rachel Montañez. In it, Jennifer talks about there being an opportunity to come up with solutions for longstanding issues of burnout and stress that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. For more proactive organizations, Jennifer offered insight into how they can begin their approach.
Montañez: What advice would you give to an organization that wants to create a wellbeing strategy?
Moss: Well, I think first, know what are wellbeing tactics and what are burnout prevention strategies. So often, we use wellbeing strategies when we need preventive measures. We may give everyone an app like a wellness app, increase gym membership subsidies or provide meals for people and all of these different tools that are really excellent for optimization. It’s actually imperative for us to have self-care still.
But when organizations don’t realize that a root cause of burnout is based on inequity like a wage gap, chronic overwork and legacy of overwork, it’s steep in privilege to suggest that an employee say no to more work. I mean, there’s so much bias and history around just saying no, and we get that recommendation a lot.
As well as understanding the root causes of burnout, all direct managers need to have a mental health 101 and understand where all of their support systems are inside the workplace. We found in our research that those of the respondents that said that they couldn’t talk about mental health at work, 67% of them were more at risk of burnout or burning out. Managers should be able to have transparent conversations and create a culture of psychological safety with their employees.
Finally, if you’d like to explore more of Jennifer’s advice, tips, expertise, and research, check out her recent podcast appearances on The 80 Percent, The Superwoman Code, and Take My Advice (I’m Not Using It).
Jennifer Moss is an award-winning journalist, author and international public speaker specializing in happiness and wellness at work. Her book, Unlocking Happiness at Work, received the distinguished UK Business Book of the Year Award. Moss works with a wide range of organizations on how to develop and measure their happiness strategies for improved performance. Her inspiring and evidence-based presentations help leaders and their teams find joy and grow to become more resilient and successful.