Burnout at work is quite literally everywhere. Perhaps you read the recent article in The Washington Post, or saw how companies are adopting four-day workweeks to try to combat this problem, or checked out the piece in BuzzFeed about how Millennials are “the burnout generation.”

Or maybe you just looked in the mirror, or into the cubicle next to you.

Well, we believe burnout has a dirty secret… something hiding in plain sight. And it has to do with where it comes from — and how to fix it.

Most everyone seems to agree that burnout is an epidemic. We don’t even need to see the studies — we just feel it to be true, probably because many of us often feel like we’re on the “crispy” side of the statistic. But when it comes to finding ways to FIX the problem, most people I talk to are at a loss. It seems to be an insurmountable challenge, to the point where we don’t even really talk or think much about solving it, but have simply resigned ourselves to think “frequent commiseration” is the best we can do.

It’s NOT the best we can do.

But to truly change it, we need to see the invisible.

We need to see the system.

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What “system” am I talking about? Well, most of them, frankly. We (humans) have designed such endlessly complex and life-sucking systems for ourselves to work and live in, that even strong alignment with our work (even if we had that, which most of us don’t) isn’t enough to overcome it.

We’re constantly being pulled in all directions by the demands of the systems we’ve built. Even when I’m not at work, I am endlessly at the mercy of the school systems my kids are in, the government systems of my city when I have to go to the DMV system to renew my car, a health care system where I have to regularly complain to someone about doctor bills that aren’t covered by my insurance, etc. etc. etc.

One of the biggest realizations I’ve had over the past few years is that we actually don’t make very many decisions — we choose systems (or they are somewhat chosen for us, like health care) and the system gives us the rules we must follow.

For example, you may choose to go to a University. But after you make that choice (which also may not be a true choice, depending on the system we call “your parents”), most of your decisions for the next few years have been made for you. You need to pay $X to the school, which means you need to find a way to get that money. You need to choose a degree, so you have to wake up at specific times to go to those classes. You need to get certain grades to stay enrolled, and on and on.

And this is true for all the systems around us. We’re actually not making many choices anymore — the systems are choosing for us.

And almost without fail, the systems we’ve built for ourselves are archaic, inefficient, and life-sucking. All of us need more rest, recovery, and down time than we’re getting, and it’s not far-stretched hyperbole to say that most of us can’t get enough of those things — because our systems don’t allow it.

So the dirty secret of burnout is that it is virtually unsolvable if we don’t fix the systems.

“Me”-focused initiatives, no matter how good they are, will never be enough. All the nap rooms and yoga classes and half-day Friday workplace perks will never be enough. We also need fundamentally better, life-GIVING systems to be built in place of the crumbling, life-sucking absurdities we have now.

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