In 1980 smallpox, one of the world’s deadliest diseases, was officially eradicated. It took a little under 200 years from the development of the vaccine to the final demise of the disease. (That’s no criticism – we have the answer to many of the world’s ills in our hands and yet we don’t act with wisdom or speed.) Smallpox remains the only human disease to have ever been eradicated. I can only imagine that many once thought it an impossible task.
In 2019 burnout became classified by the WHO. That means that our places of work now so regularly cause people to shut down and cease to able to function that the phenomenon is a globally recognised cause of ill health. From teachers, to technicians, to designers, to doctors – people are becoming ill from the work that they do.
No one intended for this to happen. In raising minimum standards of education for all children, the intention wasn’t to cause debilitating stress for teachers (and children). In aiming for economic growth, the intention wasn’t to deplete the people delivering the services. It may not have been the intention but it is the impact.
The impact is serious. It causes people to lose their physical and mental health, their careers, their homes – people lose their lives. It is not the gruesome death of infectious disease but it’s certainly tortuous.
So shall we all take the vaccine? It’d be nice wouldn’t it. But as small pox shows, even a vaccine isn’t a quick fix.
We can’t vaccinate but we can stop the spread and we can build our immunity.
We can learn some new skills that will prevent burnout from taking hold of our lives. The skills of self care, of boundary setting and enforcing, the skills of calming breath and mindfulness, the skill of slowing down and listening to ourselves and each other, the skill of recognising and expressing out emotions.
These skills sound soft and unproductive but they are far from it. They are the key to us learning to thrive in our rapidly changing world. They are the skills that will transform our work places into productive communities in which we learn, grow, teach, contribute and provide for our loved ones. These skills allow us to adapt, to develop resilience, to access our innate creativity. These skills allow us to collaborate and find new solutions – and most importantly these skills give build our immunity to burnout.
We can move mountains in this zone. With burnout we can barely move.
There isn’t a bad guy to blame here, but somewhere along the way organisations public and private forgot to care. They forget to care about the impact of their goals on the people doing the work.
It’s time to make that care a priority for the health of all our people, our places and our profits.
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