Running Towards Exhaustion: the Rise of Burnout and the Unwilling American Worker

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Running Towards Exhaustion: the Rise of Burnout and the Unwilling American Worker
Running Towards Exhaustion: the Rise of Burnout and the Unwilling American Worker

Great dissatisfaction is afoot as American workers, especially younger generations, are taking stock of their workplaces and leaving. COVID-19 served as a trigger for a spate of professional soul-searching, giving rise to a “Great Resignation” as millions of people quit their jobs to search for something better. This something better might mean another job or no job at all. Like the overworked Chinese, some Americans are opting to “lie flat” as a means to survive.

Rejection of Modern American Work Goals

“Lying flat” is a phrase to describe quitting a job and taking a break from work. Many younger people are opting to focus on mental stability, a balanced routine, or a healthier lifestyle. Others quit to explore more rewarding career changes. Hectic work cultures that do not recognize the place for rest and leisure in life also are part of these personal decisions. Finally, a bad work ethic and immaturity cause people to quit because they feel entitled to benefits beyond the means of the employers.

Eternal and Natural Law: The Foundation of Morals and Law

Thus, America is seeing its version of the widespread disillusionment with careerism that its Asian counterparts are experiencing. The cell phone has added to the pressure to be available 24/7 to answer questions and resolve problems. The idea that there is more to life than just material comfort has led to higher quit rates, burnout and mental issues amid a tight labor market.

The Fevered Pace of American Life Damages Our Economic Systems

Unrewarding work, immaturity, and hectic work schedules are complicating recovery from the COVID crisis. The several million workers lying low destabilize an economy trying to regain footing. The various “stimulus” packages seem to have stimulated people into employment benefits and away from jobs. Thus, the frantic scramble to find workers and repair broken supply chains is causing economic stagnation and empty shelves.

American companies have responded to this crisis with different strategies. They have provided more mental health resources, looked for ways of increasing the effectiveness of individual workers and encouraged corporate leadership to set good examples of work-life balance. Another angle is to offer additional benefits such as a 401(k), tuition assistance, and sign-on bonuses. Other companies are even shrinking the workweek from five days to four. Businesses are thus responding to the large-scale quitting in novel ways since they must compete with the pandemic policies designed to assist the unemployed financially.

Bring Back a Catholic Relationship Between a Worker and Work

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Rewarding workers and improving the workplace are very important steps to recovery. However, deeper solutions should address the hectic pace of life and the building of better worker/employer relationships. Author John Horvat in his book, Return to Order, points out that postmodern society increasingly takes away the spiritual and sublime aspects of everyday life that satisfy the needs of the soul. All too often, a person becomes a part of a vast machine without any way to express the human needs of affection, beauty and trust. When people live only for the material and self-interest, they do not have the vital support of family, community and faith that give meaning and purpose to their lives. They lay flat, doing nothing because they have no motivation to look beyond themselves.

Beyond Lying Flat

The “lying flat” crisis is a new economic issue for America, which has long gloried being a nation of hard workers.  Apathetic workers who prefer to quit their jobs rather than get ahead point to a need to find ways of engaging them. Although businesses are trying to offer incentives, they cannot address fundamental issues of the human spirit by merely making modern work slightly more lucrative. Employers must work together with workers to restore the notion of work as a meaningful and purposeful pursuit that develops the person’s full potential and skills. This was a characteristic of Christian civilization that valued the dignity of each person and found ways to address both the spiritual and material needs of workers in the workplace and at home.

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