It’s 2 am, my youngest of 3 has just woken up from a bad dream, and now I lie awake trying to go back to sleep. My head is spinning with the 73 things on my to-do list today and my heart is already racing thinking about trying to get it all done. The dreadful sense of “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” consumes me. My anxiety levels are already high as I begin my day.
My alarm goes off at 4:45 am and I jump into the shower craving the cup of coffee (or 4) that is brewing in my kitchen. Working in finance on the West Coast requires an early start and after confirming with our nanny who arrives at 5:30 am all the details and logistics of the day I rush off to work, my brain working on overdrive trying to remember all the meetings on my calendar and if I am prepared for them.
At 3 pm I rush out the door to do a school pickup, tip-toeing down a back hallway so my male colleagues who mostly have stay-at-home wives and can stay late don’t see me sneaking out “early.” And so the 2nd shift begins full of carpooling to/from activities, dinner prep, homework, showers, reading time, and then coaching a kid through a hard day at bedtime. Even with an equal and involved partner (and full-time nanny), we were both drowning every day.
I lived this life day in and day out for years until a panic attack at work forced me to reevaluate if the pace of my life was sustainable. I spent a lot of time researching my corporate wellness benefits searching for help. Time spent researching led to lost productivity. I also saw lots of doctors, therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, etc all aimed at solving for what chronic stress and exhaustion were doing to my body.
And then the pandemic hit, and after homeschooling 3 kids during the spring of 2020, I finally decided to give up my director title and high paid salary and take a risk on something that I felt truly passionate about:
Female leaders and professionals need access to more targeted resources and support to help them succeed in their careers.
Despite recent job gains, it’s estimated that 1.1 million women have left the labor force since COVID hit. A 2021 Indeed Study reports that over half the US workforce reported feeling burned out with women (and in particular mothers) being at higher risk. It is also estimated that women take on an extra 200 hours a year of non promotable tasks (think ERG work, onboarding a new hire, and mentoring) contributing to higher rates of burnout.
And recent Gallup workplace studies cite that nearly 1 million people miss work per day because of stress, and that depression induced absenteeism costs US companies ~$75 billion annually when you include treatment costs. Now that is a lot of money for the bottom line!
61% of job seekers cited greater work-life balance and wellbeing as very important when seeking out their next job role. So, what are workers and companies supposed to do to tackle our current “burnout epidemic?” What can we do as individuals, managers, and leaders to help shift the expectations of our 24/7 connected culture?
First, and at the highest level, let’s start demanding it from our employers. Could your mental health benefits be bulked up? Does your employer give you access to a coaching program? Do they provide you with a wellness stipend? Do they prioritize mental health/wellness as a culture? Are there generous parental leave policies? Speak up, talk to your manager or leaders, ask your HR or benefits group the hard questions. And if you are interviewing, do your due diligence and make sure to ask about all of this!
And leaders, do you have someone tasked with evaluating how your benefits can better support your employees? Are you really offering value or is it just a box checking exercise to say you offer it? How do you compare to your peers? Are you losing out on talent because you are lean in this area?
Second, don’t be afraid to have an open dialogue with your manager, your team, or your C-levels if you are struggling. The more transparency we have around burnout and its connection to our mental health and physical health, the more awareness we build.
Third, realize that burnout is cultural and that unless we begin to set better boundaries, our employers will ALMOST ALWAYS take our time (if we are willing to give it). So, at the individual level, it’s really up to us.
Identify your stress triggers. A stress trigger is a recurring pattern that generally elicits a strong emotional reaction. By learning to recognize your stress triggers, you can implement strategies to reduce them before the reaction occurs.
Set better boundaries. Time is equal, everyone has the same amount, 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 8,760 hours in a year. Yet there are many factors that influence how we spend our finite amount of time. Setting work/home life boundaries shows your manager, your team, your employer that you have a backbone and that you value your time outside work. Guard your time and calendar, pause before taking on an additional task and be transparent about personal appointments (ie picking up the kids or going to the doctor).
Avoid information overload: the human brain is in a constant state of distraction resulting in cognitive overload leading to increased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). Information overload affects productivity, impacts our ability to make timely decisions, and essentially shuts down our brains. Try to focus on one task at a time, turn off phone alerts, close down email, and limit the number of tabs you have open at one time to reduce overload.
Learn to disconnect and actively relax. Finding ways to actively relax brings us more joy, leading to less burnout, and better job performance. Actively relaxing is NOT scrolling through your phone, looking at social media or binge-watching Netlfix. Try taking a bath, lighting a candle, reading a book for pleasure, going for a hike or walk, connecting with a friend in person, or enjoying hobbies outside of work.