Author: Katie Johnston Source: Boston Globe
Janna Koretz saw a number of her classmates from Cornell University go on to “big jobs” after they graduated, only to burn out quickly from the intensity of the work. So Koretz, a clinical psychologist, decided to open a practice in Boston that addressed their needs. Nearly six years later, her business, Azimuth Psychological, focuses exclusively on people in high-pressure careers, and she can’t hire therapists fast enough. “It’s just sort of blown up,” she said.
As our jobs become all-consuming, with employees answering e-mails around the clock and companies trying to squeeze higher profits out of fewer people, more attention is being paid to the effect all of this is having on workers’ psyches.
In May, the World Health Organization announced that it is developing guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace and unveiled an expanded definition of “burnout,” based on new research in its International Classification of Diseases. Burnout is a syndrome resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to WHO’s description, characterized by feelings of exhaustion, reduced effectiveness, and negative or disconnected feelings toward one’s job.
Burnout is an issue for workers across the board, from highly paid executives to lower-wage workers who have to string together multiple jobs or deal with unpredictable schedules that can wreak havoc on arranging child care and paying bills.
Last year, an Amnesty International researcher who killed himself at his Paris office allegedly left a suicide note about his heavy workload, prompting an external review that found employees were under “exceptional stress.”
France went so far as to enact a labor law in 2017 that gives employees the right to disconnect from e-mail and smartphones when they aren’t in the office, and the New York City Council introduced a similar measure last year.
The expectation that workers stay tethered to their jobs after hours can lead to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion, according to a 2016 study that found participants spent an average of eight hours a week dealing with e-mail off the clock.
And this “always on” mind-set is tough to shake. In Boston, 60 percent of workers said that they would be tempted to check e-mail after hours even it was banned, according to a survey by the staffing company Robert Half Technology.
Boston is riddled with “workaholism,” said Koretz, the psychologist, from the proliferation of tech startups with free food and Ping-Pong tables that encourage people to stay at the office to the many high-achieving graduate students who flock here for school. Young people trying to stand out from the crowd are particularly susceptible to burnout, she said.
“It’s hard to tell your boss when you’re 24 that you’re not going to respond to them at 11 p.m,” said Koretz, whose website features a “burnout calculator” that allows users to respond to 10 statements, such as “I feel trapped by my job,” on a scale of 1 to 5 and then generates a score.
In a recent survey of more than 2,000 millennials by the Illinois psychiatric center Yellowbrick, 96 percent of respondents said burnout affected their everyday life. The majority felt pressure to find the “perfect” job, work long hours, and always be accessible through Slack or e-mail.