Connectivity, Loss of Identity and Signs of Burnout
There’s every indication that more and more people are showing signs of burnout related to our always-on world.
Technology has had a big role in changing our relationship to work. That change is continuing at a very rapid rate in our time, perhaps even more rapidly that ever before. As a result, the signs of burnout that are associated with being connected 24/7 are more and more apparent in the lives of many business and professional people.
Though information technology seems to play a key role in the intensity, rapidity and depth of this type of issue, it shares the familiar characteristics of all burnout. While long hours are very often a precursor to burnout, the banner signs of burnout are well-known:
- physical symptoms such as skin rash or hair loss; and,
- lack of any feeling of achievement at work.
What is really at the root of this epidemic of burnout?
Connectivity and Distorted Identity
Very often social media and other forms of connectivity (text, email) act like office politics on steroids. We know from research that they can easily lead to endless struggles to find status and a sense of self-worth that comes through recognition by the peer group. Often this can mean finding false identity in endless work hours, or in markers of corporate or social status. Depending on the nature of the job, this can lead to a strong sense of being out of touch with who I really am, and of “the genuine me” not being valued. One key symptom of this may occur when an individual is never feeling ready to face the job or to face co-workers.
Yet, social science research shows what we might intuitively expect. Finding value in a work role doesn’t actually come from this kind of jostling for status and social position. As the research of a leading authority, Yale’s Prof. Amy Wrzesniewski has shown, the single biggest factor in finding value in work is finding work meaningful — the belief that my work somehow makes a real difference to people, or somehow makes the world a better place.
If my work doesn’t somehow give me this sense of meaningful contribution, the sense that I’m giving myself to some lasting meaning or value, it’s likely that I’m not going to feel any great sense of value in my work. If, on top of that, work makes all kinds of demands on me that are either over my boundaries, or, at odds with who I really am, there is then a very high likelihood that I’m going to start displaying the signs of burnout.
Toxic Work Persona?
As we face unprecedented levels of burnout, it’s important for each of us to ask ourselves whether our work is something that we find personally meaningful, and that we can see as an expression of who we really are. Because if who we really are isn’t acceptable in our workplace, we can pretty much take it as given that there will be pressure on us to adopt patterns of behaviour that are over our boundaries or that don’t line up with my real identity.
It’s not uncommon in many business cultures to glorify working hard, late at night or early in the morning. It can become a badge of honour to work longer and harder hours than your co-workers. Consider quotes like the following, which you can find all over social media:
“All the late nights and early mornings will pay off.”
“If you’re not going where you want to be in your life … consider what you’re doing between 7 p.m. and 12 a.m.”
These quotes embody common attitudes that lead to a person being attributed status or being seen as virtuous in many workplaces now. No one is saying that working hard is not a good thing. But /a-midlife-transitions know that working without limits or boundaries greatly increases the odds of damaging your physical or mental health.
If you’re working in an environment where what is exalted as “good work” is something that consistently takes you outside of your boundaries, two things are true. First, the persona or social presentation that the work environment expects of its workers may well be toxic for you. Second, if you persist in that environment, even though, at a deep level, you really know it’s wrong for you, then you may well be in denial, and you may well be hurting yourself.
Identity and Vocation
Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner [person]: [s]he is called.~ C.G. Jung
We discussed above how it’s necessary to feel that our work is of benefit, or that it makes a positive contribution, in some way or other, if we are going to feel that it’s meaningful,. Jung would tell us that, the more we feel that our work is really a genuine expression of the person we most fundamentally are, the more we will find it of value, and the more likely we are to feel that it is bringing something of benefit.
This idea of work as an expression of who we most fundamentally are, is central to Jung’s concept of vocation. Certainly vocation is about more than just the work we do, but it certainly includes our work. The fundamental idea of Jungian vocation is living out who we most fundamentally are.
From Jung’s perspective, the way to best counteract or reverse the signs of burnout involves recovering, or just plain discovering our true identity, and understanding what really resonates with “the inner person”, as Jung might say, in terms of work.
Trying to recover this sense of what really resonates, and what makes us feel truly alive, is a journey toward wholeness that we can all embark on today. Working with a /a-midlife-transition, and getting to know ourselves in much more intimate detail, can also be a tremendous benefit when we’re on the road to our truest vocation.