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Brett McKay | December 9, 2022

Are you burnt out? Probably.

Work culture is making all of us sick.

A report from Statistics Canada found that one quarter of nurses intended to quit or change jobs in the next three years, with burnout and stress cited as major factors. In a 2020 study by MI4, half of nurses and 20 percent of physicians who participated said they were ready to quit.

Nearly all teachers in Alberta report experiencing fatigue and high levels of stress, and a third are planning on leaving the profession or the province as a result, according to the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s most recent survey.

The crises in healthcare and education have taken centre stage in the pandemic, but the problem of burnout transcends industry. Eighty-four percent of Canadian workers say they’ve experienced burnout, according to a survey conducted by Hanover Research. A third of those surveyed said it was high or extreme.

The term burnout encompasses a lot. The condition is a response to long-term exposure to stress and, according to the World Health Organization, includes feelings of energy depletion or physical exhaustion, cynicism or a distant attitude towards ones work or colleagues, and reduced professional efficacy.

The first thing Emily Moore noticed were the physical symptoms. She was going to bed earlier every night and getting up later. But even with twelve or more hours of sleep, the sluggish lack of energy was hard to shake.

“(The symptoms) are very similar to classic depression symptoms, like sleep disruption and just feeling lethargic all the time, and not really having the energy to do anything. That can be from getting to your job to brushing your teeth,” Moore said.

Moore is an event promotor in the arts a culture industry. It’s a job that gives her the chance to create memorable nights of live performance like the ones that pulled her into the music scene decades ago. That love of music makes it easier to persevere despite the workplace problems or the burden of stress that have led to spur-the-moment resignations in her past. At the same time, it complicates the experience of burnout when it does creep in.

“We kind of fucked ourselves in the way that we took this thing that we love doing and made it a job,” she said, noting my own choice to work as a writer, and my history of burnout.

“I used to love doing this. And with the state of the world how it is right now, it’s increasingly difficult to get that dopamine rush of putting on a really good show and seeing like a hundred happy faces. And that’s why I started doing it, right?”

Like healthcare workers and teachers, Moore attributes additional stressors to problems brought on by the pandemic. Much of the population are still justifiably wary of large gatherings and many of her peers left the industry entirely over the last few years looking for more stable work. Underlying this is the culture of sacrifice that runs through the arts industry, where passion for one’s work can blindly leads people beyond their capacity.

“Burnout is reaching epidemic proportions among North American workers today. It’s not so much that something has gone wrong with us but rather that there have been fundamental changes in the workplace and the nature of our jobs,” authors Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter wrote in their book The Truth About Burnout.

The workplace today is a cold, hostile, demanding environment, both economically and psychologically. People are emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted,” the authors explained. “The daily demands of the job, the family, and everything in between erode their energy and enthusiasm. The joy of success and the thrill of achievement are more and more difficult to attain.”

The endemic levels suggest that the conditions causing burnout aren’t limited to any one employer or profession. Over the last 40 years, worker productivity has increased 3.9 times as much as their pay. Unsurprisingly, unfair compensation, excessive workload, and demands to work overtime and after-hours are the most frequent complaints of people experiencing burnout. Also high on the list is the inability to find work-life balance, as the ever-connected nature of our lives lends itself to a state where we’re also never really clocked out.

“I think people are realizing how unnatural life is right now,” Moore said. The temporary reprieve from normal working life forced by the pandemic offered “a break from the pressure do the whole nine-to-five grind. And people are like realizing now that this is a very unnatural way to live as a human being – as an animal on this planet.”

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