So many workers are at risk for burnout because the degraded reality of our jobs since the 1970s coincides with a too-lofty ideal of work. The gap between our ideals and our experience at work is too great for us to bear. That means, if we want to halt the burnout epidemic, we need to close the gap, both by improving working conditions and lowering our ideals. Because our burnout culture results as much from our ideas as from the concrete facts of our jobs, we will need different ethical and spiritual expectations for work as much as we will need better pay, schedules, and support. In fact, we will need a new set of ideals to guide us as we construct those conditions.
Referring to the work of Henry David Thoreau, Malesic talks about the importance of genius.
We have all read the standard advice on business and wellness websites for how to prevent or heal your burnout. Get more sleep. Learn to say no. Organise your tasks by urgency and importance. Meditate. These are all basically superstitions: individual, symbolic actions that are disconnected from burnout’s real causes. Our workplaces and cultural ideals contribute more to our burnout than our personal organisation methods do. Still, individuals are not powerless in the face of burnout. We do have a role to play in aligning our ideals with our reality at work. And Thoreau, the individualist who preached self-reliance, can help us identify it.
Too much work and too little autonomy contribute to burnout; Thoreau’s program limits work in order to foster self-determination. Thoreau’s individualistic streak means he undervalues community. But he wants to create conditions in which people who recognise their own dignity can follow their genius and thus perform a higher labour: to harmonise themselves with their supreme sense of value.
Malesic talks about the notion of work, what constitutes burnout and the challenge of our self-impossed penance with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens on The Minefield podcast.