Understanding The Great Exhaustion

In recent years, a concerning trend has emerged in the workforce: exhaustion.

People are not just tired from the day-to-day grind; they’re experiencing a pervasive sense of drain that impacts their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This phenomenon, aptly termed “The Great Exhaustion” reflects a deeper issue.

And really, after enduring a pandemic, recession, inflation, housing scarcity, and other global stressors, can you blame anyone?

From unsustainable lifestyles to exposure to stress beyond our control and financial insecurity, the root causes of exhaustion run deep.  Understanding these factors is the first step towards addressing them effectively within your own company.

In a recent Time article, Why We’re More Exhausted Than Ever by Emily Ballesteros, three critical factors emerge: unsustainable lifestyles, exposure to uncontrollable stress, and financial insecurity. These elements, often overlooked, play a pivotal role in shaping our physical and mental well-being.

These personal stressors don’t exist in isolation; they inevitably permeate into the workplace, hindering employee performance and overall productivity. As employers, it’s imperative to recognize these challenges and provide support mechanisms for team members.

In this blog, we’ll dive more into Ballesteros’ three factors of exhaustion, and explore how teams can foster a culture of understanding and offer resources for holistic well-being. By the end, you’ll learn key strategies to help your employees mitigate the effects of exhaustion and empower them to thrive in the face of adversity.

Factor #1: Unsustainable Lifestyles

Ballesteros asserts that our modern lifestyle, which often prioritizes work over fundamental human needs, is one of the key contributors to our exhaustion. The erosion of work-life balance consumes our daily experience. Contrary to prioritizing social connections, movement, and meaningful work, many people find themselves trapped in a cycle of constant demands and unfulfilling obligations.

The relentless pursuit of productivity and success has led to an unsustainable lifestyle, contributing to widespread chronic stress and burnout. In this fast-paced world, individuals often sacrifice their well-being in the pursuit of professional advancement, neglecting crucial aspects of their physical and mental health.

We all need to ask where we draw the line between hustle culture and self-care.

To address these challenges, employers can take proactive steps such as fostering a workplace culture that prioritizes purpose-driven work by giving employees the opportunity to pursue their interests and expand their capabilities within the company at large – even between departments. (Pro Tip: Leveraging skills strategies to grow adjacent capabilities is a killer way to bring potential to life.)

Such opportunities allow team members to grow and learn, providing them with a sense of purpose which is key for self-fulfillment and satisfaction – the opposite of burnout.

There is a meme going around the self-care universe these days that reads: when you are utterly spent, sometimes it’s not that you are doing too much, but that you’re not doing enough to set your soul on fire. Creating opportunities for your teams to follow their professional curiosity is a great way to try and offer a path of enrichment to your people

Of course, for the very, very crispy on your teams, you can also consider encouraging the utilization of allocated vacation time and promoting open discussions about work-life balance struggles between employees. By implementing these measures, employers can help mitigate the impact of unsustainable lifestyles on their employees’ well-being and productivity instead of perpetuating stressful environments.

Factor #2: Stressors

Another key component of exhaustion cited by Ballesteros is stress, especially when it comes from sources out of our control. While manageable stress can empower us and build resilience, uncontrollable stressors such as climate disasters, violence, and economic instability leave individuals feeling helpless and drained.

When it feels like the world is falling apart, how can we expect individuals to maintain their motivation? The disconnect between the effort put into work and the quality of life it affords leads to frustration and disappointment.

Constant exposure to such stressors can take a toll on everyone, making it crucial to find ways to mitigate their impact. Cultivating mindfulness practices, engaging in regular hobbies or physical activity, and fostering strong social connections can help individuals navigate through periods of upheaval.

Further, offering space for a support system within your company and encouraging career development can give employees some control in times of uncertainty. For example, start a book club or an affinity-related slack channel (e.g. pet channel, a kids channel, a hobbies channel, a music channel) for employees to share personal updates and connect with their peers outside work-related issues.

Factor #3: Financial Insecurity

The final factor in exhaustion, according to Ballesteros, is financial insecurity. Between the rising cost of living, inflation, and stagnant wages, many folks today feel trapped in unsatisfying work.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to mitigate exhaustion for you and your team. First, it’s important that we all make conscious decisions about how we spend our time and energy, so we can reclaim a sense of balance and fulfillment in our lives. For work, this can look like scheduling in time throughout your day to exercise, pick up your kids from school, or even complete a 5-minute meditation.

It’s also important that when the workday is over, we’re getting enough sleep, spending time with loved ones, and engaging in activities that bring joy. These small changes add up to make a significant difference in combating exhaustion.

Fighting Exhaustion from the Inside Out

It’s also essential for organizations and policymakers to recognize the systemic issues that contribute to exhaustion and work towards creating environments that prioritize employee well-being. Flexible work arrangements, adequate compensation, and access to resources for mental health support are just a few examples of measures that can alleviate the burden of exhaustion in the workforce.

“The Great Exhaustion” is a multifaceted issue that’s going to require a holistic approach to promote any kind of meaningful change. By acknowledging the root causes of exhaustion and taking proactive steps to prioritize self-care and well-being, individuals can reclaim control over their lives and work towards a healthier, more fulfilling future. Creating a better work environment for all will ultimately create more productive and satisfied employees.

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