Burnout is eroding our mental and physical well-being, demanding urgent recognition and action.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, another health crisis has crept stealthily into our lives, affecting millions across the globe, yet often going unnoticed and unaddressed: burnout. While not a traditional virus, burnout is a modern-day pandemic that is silently spreading, sapping the physical and mental well-being of individuals from all walks of life.
Sufferers report experiencing constant self-doubt, a mean inner critic, health issues, and a lack of energy. The mobile tech company Kiwi recently published a study which ranked Dubai as the most overworked city in the world, which suggests burnout’s presence throughout the city. In fact, the 2023 study by the McKinsey Health Institute (MHI), levels of burnout in the GCC are higher than the global average. One in three GCC residents say they have experienced symptoms of burnout, compared to one in four globally.
I have seen how burnout is the currently hidden epidemic, lurking in the shadows, and I believe for our sanity and future wellbeing we must acknowledge its existence and consequences. The data speaks for itself, as two thirds of GCC residents in the 2023 MHI report also reported experiencing symptoms of poor mental health and wellbeing.
Burnout is more than just feeling tired or stressed; it is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by chronic work-related stressors. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised it as an “occupational phenomenon” in 2019, highlighting its severity. My clients have described feeling fed up and hopeless; that anxiety and fear are running the show.
Unfortunately, similar to Covid-19, burnout doesn’t discriminate. It affects people across professions, ages, and backgrounds. From entrepreneurs running businesses to students grappling with remote learning to parents juggling work and home responsibilities, burnout is ubiquitous. It knows no boundaries, and it’s rapidly becoming a global crisis.
Scarily, the consequences of burnout are far-reaching. It not only impacts an individual’s mental and physical health but also their productivity and relationships. Burnout can exacerbate a person’s anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Physically, it can lead to sleep disturbances, heart problems, and a weakened immune system. In the office, burnout can result in decreased job performance, increased absenteeism, and higher turnover rates, causing economic ramifications that ripple through society.
Only by acknowledging and addressing burnout can we hope to build a healthier and more resilient society.
Several factors have catalyzed the burnout pandemic. The blurring of work and personal life due to remote working, our 24/7 accessibility through smartphones, and the constant pressure to be productive have made it difficult for individuals to disconnect and recharge. In recent years most countries reported a significant reduction in work during the numerous lockdowns, whereas Dubai seemed to go into overdrive — and there has been no sign of this stopping ever since.
To combat this hidden pandemic, it’s crucial to acknowledge its existence and prioritize our well-being. Employers must create work environments that promote work-life balance, offer mental health support, and encourage open conversations about burnout. Unfortunately, the 2023 MHI study also revealed that over half of employees in the GCC have reported experiencing high levels of toxic behavior at their workplace.
Top performing companies such as Google, Accenture, Microsoft, Nike, and Salesforce have dominated their industries and have invested in their employee’s well-being. Nike and Google’s offices have wellness facilities onsite in order to encourage their employees to move and take care of their physical health. Microsoft provides a “Wellness Budget” for their employees to use on their physical, mental, or emotional well-being which is later reimbursed by the company. Today, the top talent are no longer satisfied with just a good salary but also a healthy company culture and work-life balance.
Taking a step back, individuals must recognize the signs of burnout in themselves and seek help when needed. I have seen the benefits of teaching my clients how to regulate their nervous system to enable their bodies to come back into balance. This involves various modalities such as mindfulness and self-exploration, overcoming self-limiting beliefs to build a healthy lifestyle complete with established boundaries. I teach my clients how to use different tools and exercises so that when they are feeling stressed they can manage it better and are able to move through stressful situations with a lot more ease. My clients are not just only more successful at work, but happier in all areas of their lives as stress and anxiety no longer feel like an endless burden they have to endure.
On a macro level, governments and policymakers should also take steps to address systemic issues contributing to burnout. We have seen how in 2019, the UAE unveiled the National Wellbeing Strategy 2031, which included a comprehensive ten-year plan to further improve the quality of the lives of the country’s citizens and residents.
Ultimately, burnout is the current global pandemic that no one can afford to ignore. Its insidious nature and widespread impact make it a pressing concern that demands immediate attention. As we continue to navigate the challenges of the modern world, it’s essential to prioritize mental, emotional, and physical well-being, breaking the silence surrounding burnout and working collectively to mitigate its devastating effects. Only by acknowledging and addressing burnout can we hope to build a healthier and more resilient society.
This op-ed was written by Kai Simmonds, a Mindset & Wellbeing Coach and Speaker, dedicated to addressing and mitigating the impacts of burnout.