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The Burnout Epidemic Part 1

2018 has thrown Hollywood into a whirlwind with the unpleasant number of celebrity suicides that have occurred. Notable fashion designer Kate Spade, world-renowned chef Anthony Bourdain, and Swedish musician, producer, and DJ Avicii are some of the most recent tragedies in celeb suicides, gaining worldwide coverage and condolences from millions of fans. While the news coverage has garnered support and kind words from beloved fans, these public deaths have had adverse effects on media consumers.

Several articles warn against the explicit exposure of celebrity suicides in fear of what is called “suicide contagion.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2014) defines suicide contagion as “… the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors.” Millions of people quietly suffer from depression and never get the proper help they need to heal; which results in the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. In fact, a 2018 study from the CDC revealed that 54 percent of people who died by suicide were unaware of any mental health conditions they may have had. With suicide rates rising more than 30 percent in half of all states since the late 1990s, it is not surprising that people have become all too familiar with suicide announcements being a trending topic on their social media platforms.

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Public mourning has become a new way of social media users connecting with each other; sharing their favorite memories of the late celebrity, and even personal stories of how the star has changed their lives for the better—sometimes crediting them with once saving their lives from suicide. But what about those who are still suffering from depression and often have thoughts of self-harm? The prolonged exposure to these celebrity deaths definitely proves the theory that money can’t buy happiness, but watching or subconsciously listening to repetitive news reports that recycle the same unfortunate news negatively affects those who are still battling with depression and other mental illnesses.

Celebrities are public figures who are held to a standard that is sometimes unrealistic. They are under the microscope of the public eye and are criticized and scrutinized on a large scale for their human decisions. The cliché “nobody’s perfect” doesn’t seem to apply to celebrities, who have somehow been obligated to be the gatekeepers of how people should behave, look, dress, and live. While the wealth they’ve accumulated over the course of their careers affords them the best in healthcare, it cannot prevent mental instability; making it even harder for those who aren’t able to afford therapists or medication to cope with their issues on their own.

In the age where using our phones to receive news and checking emails comes as naturally as breathing, it is much easier to see how celebrities and average everyday people have a hard time creating work-life boundaries. For celebrities, their work is their life, and vice versa. Part of their daily job is to keep up a favorable reputation, whilst never getting into trouble, making bad love life decisions, gaining or losing too much weight, and a plethora of other things that are deemed as part of life for those who don’t hold a spotlight. Average working people, however, do suffer from their own work-life boundary issues, with jobs becoming more demanding an integrated into personal lives.

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Cellphones, tablets, and laptops have made it easy to access your work beyond office hours; and the more you do it, the more your employer expects of you outside of the office. So, how exactly does one crack the code of a perfect work-life balance? There is no one-size-fits-all solution that everyone should follow because the complexities of people lives vary, but there may be a method to the madness as your life changes.

“Effectively managing boundaries can help you effectively balance your career with your personal life demands, but can also help you be more effective as a leader who manages others” (Kossek, 2016). Creating boundaries between your work and personal life isn’t always easy, but there are ways to make it a possibility. Kossek (2016) says that boundaries can be both physical and psychological; where one is the ability set allotted times to physically disconnect from mobile devices that ping with work alerts and the other is able to mentally disconnect from work and its demanding requests.

A 2018 study from the CDC revealed that 54 percent of people who died by suicide were unaware of any mental health conditions they may have had.

Kossek’s article goes further on to explain that national studies show that 75 percent of working parents say they do not have enough time for their children or their spouse (Kossek, 2016). As family dynamics change and responsibilities at work become more and more demanding, it becomes harder not to blur the lines of work and personal. Those who have decided to merge their work and personal lives in order to keep up with both simultaneously are called integrators. While those who find harmony in keeping the two world separate are aptly called separators.

Integrators are those who have no issue taking work on family vacations, or answering business calls during T.V. time. They are heavily attached to their careers, but also want to appease those who are part of their non-work lives by still spending time with them. While killing two birds with one stone seems to be a logical solution, it can lead to “job creep” (Kossek, 2016). The result of job creep is your work eventually taking too much of your personal time, causing you to lose focus on your personal life.

Separators are self-explanatory; these people like to keep their work and personal lives completely detached from each other. They have specific times to work, and specific times to relax and enjoy their life outside of their cubical. Being a separator seems like the most logical and simple solution to having a harmonious life, but it can be the opposite for some. Depending on the field of work, duties may call at any time of the day or night. This type of work can lead to the overlapping of work into the personal life with no intended decision to do so but is a possibility. This type of nonstop work can lead to physical exhaustion, which in turn can result in employee burnout.

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Burnout is the mental and physical state of exhaustion, most often caused by being overworked at one’s job. A recent study with the Kronos.com Employee Engagement Series shows that 95 percent of HR leaders admit to burnout being a leading cause in the decline of employee retention. Their national survey of 614 HR leaders from organizations of all size uncovered shocking information about the burnout epidemic. According to the results, nearly half of HR coordinators (46 percent) say employee burnout is responsible for up to half (20 to 50 percent) of their annual turnover (Kronos, 2017). Surprisingly though, smaller organizations with 100-500 employees have less of a window to experience burnout, in comparison to organizations with 2,500+ employees.

Heinemann and Heinemann (2017) studied spikes of interest in mental health articles that include the burnout syndrome from 1978 to 2010. The term “burnout” was popularized by German psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, in 1974, when he noticed similar symptoms in himself and his colleagues, which they described as feeling “burned out” (Heinemann and Heinemann, 2017). The authors later realized that peak interest in the burnout syndrome didn’t necessarily correlate to the number of people discussing their malaise publicly, but just a growing societal interest in mental health in general (Heinemann and Heinemann, 2017).

That fact does not, however, take away the importance of recognizing the burnout syndrome across different fields of work. “Burnout has been studied and diagnosed in a variety of occupations such as medical staff, teachers, social workers, and people working in the financial sector” (Heinemann and Heinemann, 2017). People who decide to work in said fields also decide to take on the physical, emotional, and financial stress of others, contributing to their eventual burnout. On top of the external stresses from other people, professionals in these fields are facing socioeconomic pressures as the tide of the economy turn usually for the worst. In fact, in the previously mentioned Kronos study (2017), unfair wages and compensation accounted for 41 percent as the top contributor for burnout, with unreasonable workload and too much overtime coming in second and third at 32 percent each.

While the burnout syndrome is anything but new, it has only recently been discussed among a number of different professions as the noticeable rise in burnouts actually occur. Please be sure to read the next blog post that will discuss how to spot the burnout syndrome in yourself or others, and how preventing burnouts can help avoid detrimental life changes.

Jennifer Marcenelle BSN, RN, HNB-BC
Jennifer Marcenelle is a board-certified and registered nurse with over 30 years of experience in the medical industry. She currently holds degrees in nursing and holistic healing, with a specialization in burnouts.

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