The Great Burnout

I close my eyes and am just drifting off for an afternoon nap when it is interrupted by the kid with a homework question or the partner asking how to reply to a colleague or a colleague asking about something that’s written in the documentation.

If it wasn’t a nap I might have been focussed on writing some code, watching a video or reading a book.

The Conversation recently published an article entitled The ‘great resignation’ didn’t happen in Australia, but the ‘great burnout’ did, claiming that the pandemic has lead to widespread exhaustion and mental health issues across the Australian workforce. While the pandemic has definitely had a large impact, I believe that it goes beyond that. Certainly in my case.

Fundamental to the sense of being overwhelmed with work is the idea that other people’s time is more precious than yours. Instead of an opportunity to prioritise and focus on your own work, we are being constantly bombarded with requests to assist others with their tasks.

Modern technology has helped enable this. Instant messaging systems now display your availability, meaning you can interrupt others instantly without needing to look up their phone number and pick up a handset. Shared calendars show when you have space for a meeting, which can be done remotely without the effort of booking a room and ensuring that participants can physically attend. The pandemic has ensured greater familiarity with these systems, but they were already in use before it began.

The ease of this communication means that, rather than doing research themselves and putting thought into requests, employees can take the simple action of asking their favourite expert directly.

Corporate drives for efficiency and productivity have also increased the number of services that employees are expected to manage themselves. Sometimes this empowers you with access and control you might have lacked before, but it can also consume your time. Once these duties might have been the responsibility of somebody else in the organisation, now you are expected to learn how to use the system and carry out those administration tasks yourself. Furthermore, you need to keep abreast of the constant changes.

Those same drives mean that team sizes are minimised while output demands only increase. There is no slack. Additional team members means an additional training burden as they get up to speed, taking further time away from your regular duties.

Meanwhile, management is constantly reshuffling and reorganising as executives come and go, each one trying to make their mark while lacking the institutional knowledge of what has been done before.

Our lives outside of work have also changed. As our cities get busier and more highly populated both daily and weekend commutes take longer and are more packed and stressful. Those with kids may find their spare time busy with sports activities and assistance with homework. And the housework still needs to be done!

What the pandemic did was to limit some of our escapes from the constant grind. Not only did the boundaries blur between home and work, so did the opportunity to escape both with travel or even a night out at the pub, restaurant or cinema. Me time was now family time was office time.

With the waning of the pandemic things have not gone back to the way they were. Some of this has been good, with flexible working arrangements giving back family or home time that was stolen by commutes to the office. But it has also coincided with a period of high inflation and higher interest rates, meaning that you can’t even afford to enjoy many of the pleasures now that they are available again and now feel the stress of paying the bills.

And not only are you not getting a wage rise commensurate with the rate of inflation, you are also not getting compensated for your increased productivity and efforts over the past years. Corporate productivity gains are not passed on to employees. In a supposedly tight labour market, somebody else might get paid more to join your company, but you probably won’t be.

You are working harder without reward. Is it any surprise you feel burnt out?


Irreverently irrelevant. Sysadmin, developer, web dude in a science research agency. WordPress, Japan, planes, trains, Arduino, Raspberry Pi/Pico, puns, dad jokes, etc

Tags: ,

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s