June 17

Burnout, It’s a Thing…

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On the 28th May this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) included burnout in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. It is not classified as a medical condition.

Now that’s quite something. Ultimately, common sense prevails. The good news is that the WHO will be developing evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace, which I look forward to exploring.

I recently listened to The TED Interview with Chris Anderson, head of TED talking to Kai-Fu Lee, Technologist on the high-stakes battle between the West and China in AI and what it means for the future of work.

I was struck by the potential long term effects on people and society when the conversation turned to how a 9-9-6 work week is considered a good work/life balance in many Chinese start-up environments including giants like Alibaba. That’s 9am to 9pm, six days a week (rather than seven). And whilst this is standard start-up stuff around the world, the knock-on effects on mental health are yet to be fully realised.

The Burnout Badge…
Is often worn like a badge of honour according to Trendwatching’s latest quarterly report on The Future of Wellbeing. “Entrepreneurship porn glorifies the #hustle and makes slowing down shameful. CEO’s like Jack Ma and Elon Musk wear burnout as a badge of honour. To Ma, working 996 (9 am to 9 pm, 6 days per week) is “bliss”; according to Musk, nobody “changed the world on 40 hours a week.”

All well and good, however, just how many burnout survivors are burnout success stories?

Despite the entrepreneurship porn…
Mental health issues in the workplace are often still perceived as a personal weakness, relegated to the hush-hush, dank, darkened corners of failure, inadequacy and shame. What struck me about the WHO’s classification is this: “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

So let’s manage workplace stress better. Much better. Burnout is not fun, it’s not just a hashtag or a badge. It’s a desperately depleting, dehumanising rock-bottom and a gruelling fight to get well again.

In my last missive…
I explored bringing our whole selves to work, leading with our heads, hearts and gut intuition. Naturally, this comes with the need to take full responsibility for our own “whole life balance”.

As Ronnie Stangler M.D., CEO of Genome Advisory, representing the Aspen Brain Trust this week at the New York Academy of Sciences said (in relation to brain health): “What we are learning is that cutting edge science is confirming common sense; eat well, sleep well, play well, live well, love well and move as much as possible!”

So how…
Can we avoid creating a toxic burnout culture in our businesses, and more importantly, mitigate the risks of burnout for ourselves, our teams and the people we care about? A powerful starting point is to develop a lifelong quest for self-knowledge. Know yourself well. Then merge this with a robust determination for whole-self-care and accept nothing less for those around you. And no, you don’t necessarily need to OM on a mountain top, take an ashram sabbatical or dance naked in the desert at Burning Man. Unless you want to of course.



#hustle, Burnout, Entrepreneurship Porn, ICD-11, The Future of Wellbeing, The TED Interview, Trendwatching, World Health Organisation

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