Burnout is worse than ever?
Maybe not so much. Like the poor, it's always been with us. From The Week.
"I'm so tired."
We hear this complaint all the time. These days, it seems everyone is exhausted. Everyone is at the end of their rope. Everyone needs some time off.
Indeed, 53 percent of American workers report feeling burnt out. It's easy to blame this on modern work culture. After all, the average American clocks in a 47-hour workweek. Meanwhile, we're spending more and more time in front of our computer screens, to our own detriment: Recent research says emails cause emotional exhaustion. A 2014 study found that using a smartphone before bed made workers more tired and less productive the next day. And on top of all that, we've got a tumultuous political cycle to contend with. A new survey from the Pew Research Center found that 59 percent of Americans already feel fatigued by election coverage.
Exhaustion can feel like the by-product of a new and modern era, where work has slithered past the four walls of the office or the three walls of the cubicle into the home; where emails invite themselves on our beach vacations; where the media consistently reminds us of climate change, terrorism, and the chaotic political scene.
Surely, it wasn't always this way? There was a time when the sun and the seasons dictated work schedules and instead of clocking in on Sunday people observed the Sabbath, and everything was just so ... simple.
Actually, as much as we'd like to think that our feelings of exhaustion are unique to today, it turns out our ancestors weren't more relaxed or less worn out. "At any point in history, people have experienced exhaustion and theorized it in many different ways," says Anna Katharina Schaffner, a medical researcher at the University of Kent and the author of the new book, Exhaustion: A History, which chronicles the trajectory of exhaustion discourse, from ancient Greece through the Renaissance, Industrial Revolution, post-war era, to modernity. "For each era, exhaustion was this hybrid creature, which was not only understood through biological and physical contexts, but at times, also wrapped up in the social and political climates as well."
What could be comforting to the fried, 21st-century worker is that regardless of the epoch, regardless of whether humans were living in agrarian societies or were bystanders to a world that was modernizing at an unprecedented velocity, people were tired. Really tired. But how they sought to explain their weariness changed over time.