Let's talk about burnout

Hi everyone, I’ve been working on the issue of burnout for many years, both as a psychologist and as a researcher. I noticed that no matter where one is working - profit, nonprofit, activism, Middle East or North America, healthcare, social change - some of the underlying issues and causes of burnout are the same.

I wrote a book on ways to prevent and deal with it which has been well-received, though I sense that people still feel the stigma and shame around burning out as if it was a personal failure. People don’t like to talk about it, yet, wherever I go I find that burnout is a huge problem. We are overwhelmed and obsessed with the idea of wellbeing and self-care, bur we rarely ask why. Burnout is the outcome of a broken way of working, if it weren’t for the burnt out lifestyle we are immersed in, we wouldn’t need all the costly “wellness” training, retreats and workshops that the selfcare industry wants to sell us.

I’m interested in raising awareness around burnout and why it’s not just a personal problem. I think workshops are dead, and so I’m envisaging a new way of having meaningful conversations, especially with those who come in with ideals and don’t want to end up jaded and burnt out.

I read about the idea of the trauma tour @ybe and I wonder if a similar model could be adapted for burnout. I’m open to ideas, and interested in testing them. If you’d like to share ideas, generate an event, etc. leave a comment or send me a message (btw this needs to be sustainable financially).




Hello and welcome!

Burnout is quite present in the Edgeryders discussion. As I recall it, a lot of people report having been through it, or being on the verge of it.

There is one thing I don’t understand:

As I understand it, people go into wellbeing so that they can prevent several bad things. Among these, burnout is paramount. For example, @woodbinehealth and @fxcoughlin put mental health and wellbeing right at the center of their effort to build what they call “health autonomy”. The idea seems to be that, if you do wellbeing seriously, you are just not going to burn out. Because you are going to make space in your life, take long walks, be in your body, whatever people do. But maybe you have in mind a different, more capital intensive type of wellbeing.

I don’t know where @ybe is with her model. Back when we were talking more, it seemed to me that she just wanted to do it. She thought about it in terms of action, rather than in terms of developing a model… but I might be wrong.

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The self-care model is often individual-centered: you do your bit of self-care (yoga, walk, mindfulness, whatever people chose to do) and you have a good work-life balance and you won’t burnout. Not really, because burnout is more about “how” we work, that “how much”. So it’s more nuanced than the work-life balance model. Burnout is not a problem of the individual but of the system, of the way we work, of how organisations are run (often bureaucratic, no matter if flat of top-down) and of the work culture itself. I have encountered people who take care of themselves but work in toxic work environments, and this includes activist groups or social change organisations. So self-care becomes a crutch to plough through. Burnout is often misunderstood because it’s tackled at an individual level only, instead we need an approach that is both individual and systemic. I hope the conversation will continue…


Aha, I see.

You see, there is an Edgeryders company living in symbiosis with online community. I am one of its founders. We are very aware of the risk of burnout, and have tried to tackle the issue by extreme decentralization, insisting that the responsibility of breadwinning be spread across as many people as possible. That way, you can coast a bit without endangering the livelihood of others.

But we are aware we are in a position of privilege. We have both the right and the strength to design our own way of working, so we do it. Most people are not in a position to do that. In theory they could take up the fight for systemic change, but that would likely lead to… burnout. Working in the system is hard, but not as hard as changing it.

For some time now, I have been raving about a novel called Walkaway, by Cory Doctorow. It does look quite deep into what a completely different organizing principle for work would look like. We have been discussing it over here.

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Let me place here my 2cents ideas (I do hope it’s more valuable for you than that)

I guess if back-health issues was main problem last century, burnout is the new problem this century (even if it’s not yet finished and I realize soon it could be, with the AI and machines, a “bore-out” issues ("what I’m useful for now, as machines replaced me).

The main problem is simple, from school (even as a baby/child), we are not prepared to face any situation that could lead in burnout. I don’t know how’s school new system, but with all the “homework” and the “put all this in your head and try to see if it percolates”, the emphasis is more on the quantity (learn all, master all, be a machine!) than the quality ("I don’t like 70% of the topics, I love litterature > ok, then just learn the basics of all and dive deep in litterature)

It is also in our society DNA (which is definitely NOT in our human DNA) the fact to “work hard”, to “do something valuable” if you want to exist socially (work, consume, pay, stay on the road - or commute/work/sleep) and do things just because you have to pay your bills, avoid anything that make you passionate and that is “useless” to the society

As someone said, it’s not a good sign of health to be adapted to a sick society. I was on burnout last year. Why? Because I allowed it. I say yes, yes, yes to all and I DON’T listen to myself, to my body, my source, … If I well calculate, from 2016 to 2017, I lost more than two thousand hours (let say + 40% with transport commute, mind out-work thinking…) just because I complied to a job I don’t like

So now I guess it’s hard for me to fit again into society, at least for any salary job.

Burn out doesn’t come in one shot! It is drops on a glass, and it takes weeks, sometimes months, but the glass is full after a while and if your soul can handle, your body, your inner source Genius will tell you sooner or later “I can’t handle anymore”. I got the chance to listen to it, to go to the doctor, that saw my (shaking depleted) condition and accepted to place me in sickleave time for 2 weeks… Happily (YESSS… happily), 6 weeks after it was my 1-year contract end and they didn’t decide to renew it. Because of that. Because I was depleted one day on the morning, 13 months ago, and because I quit at 3pm and decided to listen to my body

For me it’s really important, when your plate is full and you can’t handle anymore, to say NO
It’s so easy to get manipulated, to be poisoned by enterprise culture, sorry for the comparison because it may be false, but as generals and soldiers, pharaoh and pyramid-workers, we can compare with managers and employees.

Happily there are some Mg that are not so bossy, and some even decide to change the rules (cf in Germany, some Mg decided to let the whole team decide - agile mode). But mainly we have to change a LOOOOT of things in our society. First the crap “country-GDP” competition. It costs and destroy a lot, human-side, nature-side. Also the enterprise DNA (an enterprise is made for one goal, to make profit. So to increase the sell and to reduce the charge. So if a manager could increase company profit in doing a pool of tasks for less employees, he will do it (no matter after what happens, burnouts, sickness, turnovers…)
And also our customer action. Do we want quality over price? Do we accept to use gross products and take time, or to place our industrial food on microwave and to pay the price of unhealthy?
Do we want to consume fairtrade, human-made, love-made, for its right price, or do we want to entertain industry and poverty?

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