Reviews | The problem of burnout in our society
About 600 days after my undergraduate institution announced that we would not be returning to campus after spring break, I find myself stripped of the growth, gains and shine that I was meant to achieve during that ” extended downtime. As people worked on their fitness, learned new skills, and spent more time at home, my sleep schedule was chaotic, and I started therapy for the first time in the month before I started graduate school.
Realizing that burnout, among other factors, led to my existential troubles was really difficult. We live in a world where our parents’ generation considers us lazy and unmotivated when we blame burnout, and study must pass the time. 500 first words of his report justifying the concept of professional burnout to his audience before embarking on his reflections. So I was desperate to know if my bad fit was the product of bad self-discipline or really reasonable. I didn’t know where to place the blame and flirted with the idea of no longer having any blame or shame as I went through this transitional and young period of my life.
More and more, this burnout problem seemed bigger to me than me. It seemed institutional. The society in which I lived was becoming more and more difficult to satisfy. When I finished my summer internship this year, I was a human shell. I threw in respectable standards for basic personal care. The 16 hour days exhausted me completely, physically, emotionally and creatively; its impact was so severe that I returned to campus with my high-level self that was nowhere to be found during the first few weeks of school. A slave to my own apathy, I saw my responsibilities slip from my attention while simultaneously neglecting to give my hobbies the love they deserved. In retrospect, it seemed that since the middle of my college career, periods of burnout had plagued my life every few months like clockwork.
I really started to wonder: how did everyone deal with these pressures? Going through job descriptions made me anxious; I have constantly seen “must be prepared to work overtime as needed”. When I asked “how are your working hours?” For recruiters from a potential employer, it was no longer a courtesy – I was increasingly afraid of being hired in a “fast-paced, multi-hats” environment. My hope for other countries was quickly dashed. I had heard of the “996 “ (9 a.m. – 9 p.m., 6 days a week) Chinese work culture; Japan suffered from extreme overwork, while South Korea and Mexico competed for the highest number of hours worked according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
My generation is increasingly going through the worst of both worlds as active members of society. We are meant to be available 24/7 and committed to our business unlike any expectation that never existed in previous generations, but the stress and anxiety that comes with it is relentlessly outdated organizational policies and messy government. Young workers between the the ages of 20 and 34 are at the top of the numbers Americans who are neither working nor looking for work. That policies be instituted for employers to set publicly adopted labor standards, to report and collect data on employee satisfaction and the sustainability of their jobs, to create a national paid family and medical leave plan, etc., one thing is clear – we need our government to step in and regulate. Slowdown in the growth of the labor force minimizes the competitiveness and economic strength of the United States; if our government is not interested in the welfare of the American people, then they should be motivated by the first one at the very least.
Looking back, it is clear that societal pressures strongly impacted my education. I grew up with two very hardworking and possibly overworked parents with “9-5” corporate jobs. As a baby, I was sent to live with my aunt, who resided in a town 800 miles away while my parents still found their place in America; my parents brought me home after I became a toddler only because my grandparents came to live with us. I have spent many summers at home alone, starting at an age far below what would have been appropriate, and until the last day of high school I never made it home before 7 or 8 p.m., despite the end of school at 2:30 p.m. and most clubs end of activities around 4 p.m. I will never know the extent of the sacrifices they endured in my prime, but I feared for my ability to sustain a personal life when I finally became a working adult.
I don’t know what my outlook on life should be when companies benefit to happier citizens, and yet we are the most overworked developed country in the world. Quarantine may have seemed to give us more time on the surface, but it also gave people more time to deal with pre-existing responsibilities that may have been overlooked before the pandemic. These included childcare responsibilities for parents or family commitments for people of all ages. These dark circumstances, often out of our control and due to the lack of resources integrated into the pillars of our society, create a stressed and mentally ill person workforce, permeating every corner of the company with employee relations.
So shouldn’t our goal be to move forward towards a reality where all citizens can sustain a livelihood?
Fortunately, perhaps, all is not lost. Recently, some governing bodies have stepped in to curb the overwhelming hold of these fundamental pillars of our livelihoods. Like the Chinese government repressed on Work Culture 996, ByteDance, owner of TikTok, became one of the first companies to pioneer of a new work culture among the booming Chinese tech companies. This “1075” system involves a work schedule of 10 am to 7 pm for five days a week. Although actual working conditions take time to adjust to the newly adopted mandates, the Japanese and South Korean governments have published new amendments reduce the maximum number of weekly working hours. In Europe, many countries are highly rated by the OECD for the best work-life balance, with Denmark in the lead. National policies in Europe also allow much more generous parental rights, vacation leave and sick pay compared to those in the United States Although some American companies are follow in the footsteps with the help of federal leadership, others can follow suit.
If you were my father, you would tell me about my disappointing efforts for the “carpe diem!” were due to a lack of discipline, but as I continue to unlearn and learn habits to build a more sustainable life, I wonder to what extent this is not my doing. I wonder to what extent this conversation is still in the hands of forces much larger than mine.