Burnout Culture is Killing Productivity

If you think you or someone on your team is starting to get burnt out, it’s not a red flag.  It’s a warning siren.  When you’ve gotten to that point, productivity is already impacted long term.  

Your burnout has probably already affected family and friends, not to mention one of your greatest assets, your relationship with yourself. 

With the pandemic, the school year starting, a divisive election in the works, and racial inequality, it’s a banner season for stressors.  So why do we expect the same productivity output?  Culture change takes energy.  Making sure our family’s basic needs are met right now is demanding center stage in our brain.  (Thanks, Maslow for making us aware of our hierarchy of needs!) 

I know all too well the long-term toll burnout takes on a life.  As a musician and educator, I’ve toyed with burnout most of my career, from pushing through to the end of the semester to pulling out all the stops for a recital.  Sure, I’d have to take a weekend or a month or a summer to recover, but that’s what everyone does, right? 

Last summer, I played with burnout too much and lost…big time.  After putting on a clarinet festival with a colleague and having most of my dissertation left to write (on top of already completing four years of grueling doctoral work), I was mentally paralyzed.  

I decided to recover as much as I could and forge forward.  I feared that if I didn’t complete my degree that fall, I might never finish it.  Fast forward to January, and I have my doctorate, but at what cost?  I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted.  

My brain wasn’t working right, my body was a mess, and I was in a perpetual state of resentment.  I often found myself at a loss for the right word (such as calling an aquarium a water zoo), and I even caught myself unable to recall my own address.  I joked to others that I’d used all my words in my dissertation, but it wasn’t funny.  

I wasn’t the only one making light of burnout. For example, I remember hearing a student once humble brag about not having time to take a shower.  Grad school felt like a competition to see who could sacrifice the most.  

Burnout isn’t something to humble brag about.  It’s time to put the oxygen mask on your face first (thanks, airline industry!) and practice radical selfcare.  The resulting lack of productivity is long term.  Months later, I can still feel the effects.  The toll it took on my life and my relationships is evident in a hundred little ways and still some big ones. 

Burnout culture places a priority on short-term productivity, consequences be damned, while sacrificing long-term productivity and quality of life. 

So what do you do as a leader to make a dent in burnout culture?  As a culture consultant and coach, I’m seeing concerned team leaders and employers having discussions about self-care, allowing more time off, and providing their employees with helpful resources. 

Those things are all great, but if you aren’t modeling selfcare, they could just be lip service.  You can’t simply tell people; you must show them and hold them accountable. 

Are you demanding selfcare? 

Is it a weekly deliverable? 

Are you proving how important it is by practicing it yourself? 

Mindset matters, too.  Do you really believe burnout is a productivity killer or do you secretly value a burnout badge of honor?  If you think people won’t notice, think again. 

If you are struggling with burnout yourself, don’t wait for permission to make radical changes in your work and lifestyle.  Believe me, the long-term effects aren’t worth it. 

These are difficult times for sure, but they are providing us with an opportunity to re-evaluate burnout culture.  Embrace this opportunity and make real and lasting change, inside and out. 

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