When Passion Leads to Burnout
You’ve no doubt heard the well-worn advice that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” It’s a nice idea but a total myth.
When we equate work we love with “not really working,” it propagates a belief that if we love it so much, we should do more of it — all of the time, actually. Who needs a day off when you’re not really working?! There’s a whole cottage industry committed to proliferating this mindset — from books, to talks, and even kitsch stores selling piles of “Work is Bliss” quotes on merchandise.
This type of mentality leads to burnout, and the consequences can be both dire and hard to detect.
As an expert in workplace happiness and someone who speaks internationally about workplace well-being, it’s easy for me to be consumed by my passion for the topic.
I love my work, and as such, can easily fall victim to burnout. It’s one of the ironies of my job. Yet, I would never claim that it doesn’t ever feel like work. It is more like being involved in a complicated love affair.
One minute it’s thrilling, passionate, engaging. The next, it’s exhausting and overwhelming, and I feel like I need a break.
For decades, the term “burnout” has been deprioritized — wrongly accused of being some made-up, first-world crisis, most likely drummed up by millennials and Gen Zers who want more work-life balance. The truth is, the younger workforce has it right. And as they increase the demand for more meaningful work (even claiming they’ll take 32% less pay for the trade-off), burnout — specifically purpose-driven burnout — will continue to be a growing concern.
In a Gallup survey of 7,500 full-time employees, 23% reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while 63% said they experience it sometimes.
Recently, The World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases, IDC-11, claiming that it “refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context…a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed…”
The ICD-11 was drafted in response to recommendations from global health experts with an intended goal of ending the debate over how to define burnout and whether it should be considered a medical condition.
It will now be globally recognized as a syndrome, not a disease, but the clear definition from the WHO should increase the number of healthcare providers and insurers who acknowledge, treat, and cover the symptoms.