When did we start associating being “productive” or “on top of your game” or “hardworking” with being mentally, emotionally, and physically burnt out?

Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. As a result, you may experience feelings of being overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and even incapable of accomplishing simple tasks. Most of the time, burnout comes from stress from overworking ourselves.

The culture has hit millennials the hardest, where the line between work and life continues to blur. Whether you work freelance or from home to typical office jobs, we’re constantly pressured to be at the top of our game. This can be attributed to the sad fact that anyone can be replaced, just like that. As a result, we’re conditioned to work extremely hard and perform extremely well in all aspects of our job.

How does this manifest in real life? You’re likely to go overtime with work hours, staying late to finish up a deliverable, or spreading yourself thin with so many assignments to different projects. If you’re burnt out – or if people frequently see you being burnt out – they start associating it to the amount of work you do. If looked at in a vacuum, the results of being burnt out appear to be good. As you work yourself to the bone, you’re probably meeting deadlines earlier or on time by working until the wee hours of the morning to submit something once the workday starts. On the outside, people start seeing you as determined and hardworking. As a culture, we’ve started to applaud that behavior. Fast forward to now where we all subconsciously applaud people working so hard that they become emotionally and physically overwhelmed.

This manifests in two ways: if you’re burnt out, there’s no incentive to stop. People applaud your behavior, and we’re conditioned to let it slide because we’re “productive” or “hardworking”. On the other hand, if you’re surrounded by a culture that normalizes working yourself to the bone, you’re more likely to keep pushing yourself to emulate that behavior to keep up and keep your job. It’s a vicious cycle of normalizing harm.

Normalizing this behavior is not healthy, and is something we shouldn’t applaud. Working yourself to death as the only way to keep your job shouldn’t be the message we send out to everyone, especially young professionals just getting their start in the “real world”. We’re creating a generation of people willing to sacrifice themselves to be productive. While working hard and being diligent is a good value, there’s a clear line before it turns into something toxic.

At the end of the day, we’re all human and we all have limitations. The reason we have limits is because we’re more than just an employee or a boss. We need to take care of ourselves so that we have time for the other joys of life like family and friends, hobbies, or things that make us happy. The only way we can do that is if we stop glorifying burnout.

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