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. Smallpox remains the only human disease to have ever been eradicated. I can only imagine that many once thought it an impossible task. Over that span of 200 years many spent their lifetime fighting the disease and not seeing the final outcome, but playing their part along the way.
In 2019 burnout became classified by the WHO. That means that our places of work now so regularly cause people to mentally and physically shut down and lose ability to function that the phenomenon is a globally recognised cause of ill health. From teachers to technicians, designers to doctors – people in all professions 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 for example, the intention wasn’t to cause great 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 often the impact – and it’s the overwhelming stress and self-depletion that causes burnout.
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. We can learn these skills individually and collectively and change the system as we do.
These skills may 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.
To see how close you are to burnout, check out the wellbeing spectrum.
To make wellbeing a regular part of your work place visit book a consultation.