Burnout Is Not Just About Work

When you view burnout from a different lens, as a gap between your perceived personal efficacy and your expectations, it's easy to see how it can apply to the areas of your life outside of work.

Most of the writing about burnout has been in the context of work, even dating back to Freudenberger’s original writings about the topic.  However, when viewed from the lens of a gap between your perceived efficacy and your expectations, it’s easy to see how this psychological condition can occur in your personal life as easily as it can be applied to work. 

Exhausted, ineffective, and cynical could describe any home with children.  Parents are often overworked trying to do everything they feel their children need from them, from working to provide for them to transporting them to and from various events.  Every parent has had that moment when their child has done something, and they wonder if they’re really doing a good job as a parent or not.  Children have a way of being their own people, much to the chagrin of their parents.  All you need to do is mention in-laws to get a cynical reaction from most people. 

Clearly, the conditions can exist for burnout not just in the corporate world but in the family world as well.  However, burnout’s reach is even further than this.  The same set of conditions apply for community projects, where you can feel like you’re shouldering the bulk of the burden while fellow committee members practice their “social loafing” skills at the mastery level.  Whatever the goal of the community project, it’s unlikely you’ll completely solve the problem, so you can always point to those that you weren’t able to help as a demonstration of your failure. 

Burnout is not, then, the exclusive result of work.  In fact, we know that burnout in one area of our lives bleeds into other areas.  The manager who is burned out in his job comes home and doesn’t have enough energy left to engage with his wife and children.  The father going through a divorce will see his productivity dip at work, because he can’t help but wonder how he’ll be able to be the father he wants to be after the divorce is final.  The community leader or politician comes home questioning their choices in life to the point where they barely look up from their food at the dinner table, while their family looks on with the resignation that they can’t help.  When we allow burnout to take hold of our life in one area, we necessarily bring the impacts of burnout into all the other areas of our life. 

The good news is the same techniques that help solve burnout in one area of your life can solve it in others.  Learning how to both perform self-care and clarify your identity so you can accept support from others does a great deal to fill up your personal agency.  Learning who you are also makes it easier to set boundaries and pre-decide what you can and can’t help with.  So, while some may believe that burnout is caused through work, that isn’t always the case; but in every case of burnout, those around you who care, including your employer, should be focused on how they can help you get out of burnout – and stay out. 

For more information on preventing – or recovering from – burnout, visit

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