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Excellence and Expertise

Beat burnout and overcome grind culture by becoming more sustainably-minded

Miami University expert speaks about the cultural values that perpetuate burnout and why it can have a profound impact on our personal and professional lives

megan kuykendoll
Excellence and Expertise

Beat burnout and overcome grind culture by becoming more sustainably-minded

Many of us are finding that our habits of overwork are not leading to better living, and no profession seems safe. More than half of workers now report feeling burned out, and over two-thirds say it's become worse since the pandemic. A Miami University expert discusses how burnout leads to feelings of exhaustion, helplessness, cynicism, disengagement, and reduced efficacy and capacity at work, as well as what we can do to overcome it. 

Megan Kuykendoll, coordinator of eLearning and Instructor of Family Science and Social Work and a Certified Family Life Educator, is an expert on family resource management.

“We all have those little voices that are telling us we didn't do enough, or we could have done a little bit more. But a lot of those messages are not coming from inside us -- even though they feel like they are -- because we live in a system that prioritizes work. So when thinking about cultural expectations, we also need to think about sustainable expectations. What would be the amount of work that you could do regularly without feeling desperate for the weekend? That can give you a better picture of what sustainable looks like.”

“You'll see in the statistics all the unused vacation days that people don't take because of that fear of not doing enough. We need to give ourselves space to take time off, and we need to make that more normalized to reduce that shame. The same with sick days. If you choose to slog through not feeling well because it’s easier than having extra work when you get back, that probably means we need more people to help share the load of work.”

“Burnout not only reduces our capacity to be successful at work, it can harm our personal lives. Relationships take energy and effort, and when we are constantly depleted by extreme work-related stress, it’s harder to experience pleasure, to be compassionate, empathetic, to listen, and to support the people in our life.”

 “Our personal values also impact burnout because our values affect our decision-making. If we take on extra projects to get that next promotion, we should ask ourselves, ‘Why do I want that promotion?’ Is it for money? Is it the prestige? If you value or need those things, go for it. But maybe you don’t, especially if it means less stress in other areas of life. There are many benefits to certain work environments that we don't always see when we're so focused on the dollars.”

How to reduce burnout and become more sustainably-minded:

• Pick an activity that helps you feel rejuvenated and schedule it in. When it's on your calendar, it feels more important than just having it on a mental to-do list.

• Build extra buffer or flexible time into your schedule. Just like having extra savings for financial emergencies, build in extra time for other unexpected events (school closures, caregiving changes, illness, etc.). If you can't take a day off to recover from an illness, you’re stretched too thin.

• Develop minimum daily/weekly goals. Often our to-do lists are aspirational and based on our best days. But what does "enough" look like on an average day?

• Say, “no.” It can be hard, especially if we are passionate about our work. But think about the short term and long term goals. If it’s something you really care about, will you be able to give it the full time and energy it deserves? Or will a delay or a different approach result in a better outcome?

• Reframe your thinking. Rather than trying to avoid burnout, think about building capacity instead. You certainly don't want burnout. But what is it you DO want?

Hear Kuykendoll discuss this issue further on a new episode of the Reframe Podcast titled, Burnout is Breaking Us. How to Survive Grind Culture.