“Why isn’t burnout over-emphasised?”
Hey everyone, welcome back to the series where I talk about the pandemic and how it affects us all! 🙂
But seriously, there is something that I would like to talk about.
Everyone’s been doing online classes for a while now. The asynchronous lectures, the synchronous lectures, readings, lecture notes, group discussions; everything takes place on this one 13-inch screen with a keyboard attached by a hinge (I’m talking about our laptops lol). Plus, everything takes place within our homes; the one place we used to view as a place of rest.It is now converted into a place of constant connection to work. We’re always online, and we have had to develop the ability to work from anywhere you want.
“Our homes are now converted into places of constant connection to work. We’re always online, and we have had to develop the ability to work from anywhere you want. “
This development, if abstracted from the situation which necessitated it, is very cool. You could work from wherever you want! It could be up in the mountains, by the seaside, on a boat drifting on a beautiful lake, or anywhere you could fancy. Recently, many countries (like Barbados and Bermuda) have been offering schemes allowing remote workers to do just that.
However, there is another side to this coin. Let’s revisit the statement “we are always connected.” We are constantly online; be it on social media, surfing the web, on Microsoft Teams and Zoom, or working on academic assignments and applications. The classroom and workspace is no longer limited to a particular spatial location; it moves along with us, every step of the way.
“The classroom and workspace moves along with us, every step of the way.”
Combine this with the insane focus on “productivity” that we all have. By “productivity”, I mean the idea that we should be extracting every single ounce of work that is humanly (and often inhumanly) possible from the 86,400 seconds that we have in a day. I don’t think productivity, in its true sense, would ever mean achieving all of this at the cost of our physical and mental well-being, but that is what I (and maybe I speak for some others) see depicted as “productivity” across the media channels I follow.
“What happens when the need to work every single moment of the day combines with a workplace that is joined to you at the hip? You constantly feel like you’re not doing enough.”
Let me illustrate with an example: my own working schedule. I’ve been waking up quite “late” (11:30ish, on days I don’t have early classes), which means that I have missed out on many of the early hours of “productive time” I could’ve encashed on this day. My first instinct is to check my phone in the morning, though I am at no risk of missing a communication that would change the fate of the world if not responded to first thing in the morning. I look at social media, and I see my peers working, albeit through a very impersonal lens (I don’t know the struggles they go through on a daily basis). I go to YouTube, and I see vlogs and videos about “productivity” and being creative ALL the time. Then, I realise that I have to finish watching the lectures for classes next week. Once I’ve worked on those, I realise I need to do the readings. Once I’ve done that, I realise I need to work on some applications and build my portfolio of written pieces up. Then, I give myself a break; but, thinking about the work I still need to do and a constant feeling that I’m not being “productive”, the break is cut short, and I am “back on the grind”. Another set of lectures, another social media break, another temporary complex, another crisis-induced spur of “productivity”. Before you know it, it’s 3 a.m. I forgot to prep for the seminar I have at 10. Let’s get on with it, then.
This doesn’t happen each and every day, but it repeats fairly frequently for me. No longer do we get that 5-10 minute walking break between back-to-back lectures or seminars. No longer do we have the 20-30 minute-long bus ride, where we can listen to music and relax after a tough day (cause you can’t really do much else of a bus ride; it isn’t taking away from “productive” hours). They are little things, compared to the losses people suffer amidst a pandemic. I just want to say that we should not lose sight of the fact that these losses are nonetheless significant in their impact on our mental well-being.
“I just want to say that we should not lose sight of the fact that there are losses which are nonetheless significant in their impact on our mental well-being.”
In all the chatter about “productivity”, I have seen little-to-no mention of an ever-increasing phenomenon: burnout. It is difficult to define burnout, because there is a dispute among medical professionals on defining the term. Essentially, burnout implies an extreme level of stress, due to a plethora of factors usually relating to the work done by an individual, which leads to them feeling exhausted, burnt out, unmotivated to do any of the tasks that are a part of their daily schedules over a long period. The symptoms of burnout overlap with other psychosomatic diseases, such as depression and chronic anxiety, which sheds a light on why the definition of burnout is so unclear. Medical professionals do not want to misdiagnose physical and psychosomatic illnesses as burnout.
Well, if this constant focus on “productivity” can induce symptoms that are akin to those expressed due to health issues, why do we focus so much on it? Do we really value the net output created by an individual more than how they feel and experience life on a daily basis?
“Do we really value the net output created by an individual more than how they feel and experience life on a daily basis?”
The question I want to ask is, why isn’t burnout emphasised on social media? Why are people who are unwilling to risk burnout, and take the time to care for their mental health and take breaks, seen as “unproductive”? I understand that some do love the “hustle culture” and the value it adds to their lives; but then, why is it glorified in social media? Why is it often seen as the be-all, end-all? What about everyone who works better on a schedule drastically different to the “hustle”, achieving all their targets while preserving their schedules and taking time off? Are they not productive?I don’t have the answers to the questions I ask, but I would like you to think about it. Engage with this in the comments; I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
“The question I want to ask is, why isn’t burnout emphasised on social media? Why are people who are unwilling to risk burnout, and take the time to care for their mental health and take breaks, seen as “unproductive”?”
What I can say, though, is that there needs to be a conscious shift from “productivity” to burnout awareness in the media we consume. Social media is a warped lens, condensing a day into a highlights reel of 30 seconds or less. I actively engage with it, so I am also guilty of doing this, but I would like to start making an effort to move away from this. The highlights reel can also include the struggles we go through on a daily basis; the struggle to motivate ourselves to work through the day, to reassure ourselves that this pandemic will come to an end soon, and to push ourselves to look forward to the day things go back to ‘normal’, whatever that may be. Living through a pandemic is hard work. Our public personas don’t necessarily reflect that. All I ask is that we make a concerted effort to change that. Is that too much to ask?
“The highlights reel can also include the struggles we go through on a daily basis; the struggle to motivate ourselves to work through the day, to reassure ourselves that this pandemic will come to an end soon, and to push ourselves to look forward to the day things go back to ‘normal’, whatever that may be.Living through a pandemic is hard work. Our public personas don’t necessarily reflect that.”
P.S. Thanks are due to Haaris Malik for the idea for this piece.