By Andrés Muñoz

The day is ending, and as the sun sets, you look at your inbox. Eight unread emails. You might think, “it’s not that much, I’ll power through them and call it a night”. You soldier on, as your job is important to you, and you want to prove you’re a motivated and productive employee.

An hour later, you’ve received a few replies, and other emails have arrived; the unread count has bumped up to twelve. What would you do? 

Drivers And Outcomes Of Exhaustion

In a harsh world where every single one of us must make ends meet with the tools we have at our disposal, the people who work the most are broadly seen as the ones who are the most ambitious, driven, and relentless in their quest to succeed in life. Should they be slighted for that? Absolutely not. 

Just like the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant, our experience is limited when it comes to knowing the points of view of others. We do not understand what motivates a person to work crazy hours. Sometimes it’s the desire for recognition; other times, it’s unbridled passion or relentless ambition, but the truth is that most of the time, it is a raw necessity. More of that later.

Many employees nowadays would keep going, sending those emails well into the night. While seasonality might make a company experience a lot of traffic and a higher workload than usual at specific times, more and more humans are now working themselves into exhaustion. This results in adverse outcomes for the employee, the company, and the clients it does business with. 

While working more might paint a picture of being more productive, nothing could be farther from the truth. People can’t work extensive hours without suffering from harmful side effects. Take the pandemic lockdowns, for instance. With nobody being able to go out, many people found work as a “coping mechanism”, resulting in marathon shifts that drained peoples’ desire to do anything. Furthermore, a World Health Organisation study stated that working over 55 hours a week increases the risk of heart disease by 17% and stroke by 35%.

Boundaries must be established and mechanisms created to prevent burnout across all sectors. Many companies have incorporated a healthier culture that fosters the wellbeing of their workforce. A company’s human resources are humans, after all, not just producers of profit. Notable and recent examples are Kickstarter with their four-day workweek and Asana winning’s “Best Place to Work” award for five years in a row. Trials on four-day work weeks are ongoing in several countries right now. 

A Weary World

There is a harsh reality we must face: if you’re in a position where you can set boundaries at work, take time off when needed, and freely disconnect thanks to a culture of wellness, you’re more privileged than a vast percentage of the people on this planet. 

Seven out of ten people in the world live on $10 USD or less per day. Miners in Africa, street vendors in Latin America, farmers in Southeast Asia… their working conditions are infinitely different from those in developed countries. They can’t afford the luxury of taking a break; the concept of “leaving those emails for tomorrow” is nonexistent. 

A person living in poverty has an entirely different situation than a wealthier individual due to blisteringly unfair conditions society has imposed on them and billions of others worldwide. Their hard work does not stem from the more affluent individual’s wish to keep a comfortable financial position but from the sheer necessity of avoiding being unable to provide for themselves and their loved ones. 

For every person with the time to make sourdough bread or practise yoga to stay healthy during the pandemic, thousands, if not millions, of people had to risk infection by going out into the world to make ends meet. Mexico City is a prime example, with 60% of the urban area’s population working in informal jobs. That makes about 5.5 million tired, stressed, and worried people risking infection during COVID’s deadliest stage. 

As a society, we should strive to create better opportunities to prevent burnout for everyone. Now, as individuals, while we won’t be able to eliminate world poverty and exhaustion overnight, we can plant the seeds through individual actions that provide these opportunities. We can keep the systems that deny these opportunities in check, and as wishful as it may sound, we can watch out for each other more. 

Burnout is real, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. If possible, take some time to enhance your relaxation and get help. But above all, ensure that those around you, whoever they may be, also have a chance to unplug for a while and recover their wellbeing.