“I’m just exhausted. I need a long vacation or maybe I just need a different job. Work just never stops. I wake up with stress and I go to bed with stress”.

It comes up in conversations with clients across the globe time and again: the overwhelm of work stress dominating the lives and work environments of people who seem to be infused with a permanent sense of background panic.

Work stress, overwhelm and burnout

Many people are more than familiar with work stress, feelings of overwhelm and even burnout. Ongoing developments and attention for an ever-growing burnout problem in organizations, has also captured the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO), defining burnout as follows:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

The costs of a burnout

Looking at the financial consequences of work stress, the numbers don’t lie either. Forbes pointed out earlier this year that in the U.S. only:

  • Burnout costs between $125 billion and $190 billion every year in healthcare costs. Researchers estimate that workplace stress accounts for 8% of national spending on healthcare.
  • Burnout often leads to disengaged employees, who cost their employers 34% of their annual salary as a result.
  • Burnout is responsible for a significant amount of employee turnover, between 20% and 50% or more, depending on the organization.

These numbers are no joke and a serious invitation for organizations to look at how they are actively addressing work related stress. An invitation to respond to challenges around employee-wellbeing. An invitation to deal with excessive amount of funds lost to cover for the consequences of work environments that seem far from optimal both on the level of employee satisfaction and hard cash flow.

The need to create a healthier work-life balance

And so, many people find my virtual doorstep with a big cry out: I need to create a healthier work-life balance because my life is completely dominated by work and I feel completely overwhelmed. I need to work out more often, drink less and eat healthier I need a break. But change seems to be quite the challenge when buried under the rubble of work stress. And from under there, work-life balance looks like the blanket solution to everything.

Yet why then, does that balance feel like having to walk on a high wire? Why is it such a struggle to get there? Because life is not the equivalent of careful steps in a linear direction. Life is not the perfect hold of a balancing stick. Life is a hustle and bustle of events, feelings to feel, thoughts to think, things to do.

Create a happier life

Work-life balance is nothing more than a desired euphoric equilibrium. A balance at complete odds with the realities of work and life? What are work environments when they become a barrier to having a life in the first place? Employees do themselves immensely short when work turns into a stressor that needs to be limited so they can have an actual life.

So, instead of fighting against work and the endless to do list that’s in the way of a happier life, why not start looking at the things that create that happier life in the first place? What would employees become aware of if they’d consciously track all the things they do over the course of a few days and list every single thing as either inspiring or draining?

 

Being part of a healthy and happy environment

Almost 2020, it is no longer a question what employees are looking for at the core of their work-environment and it’s contribution to the overall quality of life. Being part of a healthy and happy environment leads to people who “produce more, deliver better service to customers and clients, have significantly more loyalty to the organization, reduced absenteeism and contribute more to the bottom line than their burnt-out colleagues” (Borysenko, May 2019, Forbes). Organizations should no longer want to escape taking responsibility for those present-day realities.

 

In the meanwhile, employees can start ridding themselves of the pressure of creating the mythical work-life balance. Instead they can focus on choosing more of what inspires and energizes them, while at the same time letting go of what drains energy on a day to day basis.

Once that awareness goes hand in hand with what we really desire, we are left with the strongest power given to us: Choice.

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