The rest revolution: From burnout to balance
- 7 Min Read
Rest is critical to overall employee wellbeing and safety. From C-Suite executives to staff workers, Janine Dennis offers three key actionable considerations for organizations to embrace the rest revolution.
Let’s cut to the reality of things in 2023 without the immediate fluff of a statistic or a euphemism about the state of work. Workers are exhausted, and enlightened about what works best for them and what they deserve. Equally, they are fed up with having to consistently meet many of the expectations and demands that come with being an employable human being on planet Earth.
Since 2020, people have discovered that there is a price to pay for being employed. From having to upkeep a certain dress code to appease the tastes of executives to the gas you fill your car with to get to work daily, there is a running list of expenses the modern worker has to their credit before they even receive a single, tax and benefit reduced paycheck. Those expenses previously named are an extremely shortlist of the tangible, material expenditures we all have been responsible for when working for a company, but what of the intangible costs of working, like rest, psychological, emotional safety, or overall wellbeing?
Rest and work: Coexist?
A June 2022 article titled “The C-Suite’s Role in Wellbeing” from Deloitte Insights gives us a lens into some emerging challenges tied to these intangible costs of work for not only those considered staff workers but for the C-Suite as well. The introduction to the article is met with a poignant phrase that reads: “Work often works against wellbeing.” I took this statement to mean that the premise and machination of work creates an inherent polarity between earning a living and living a healthy and fulfilling life.
As sustainers of the world of work we should be asking ourselves why rest and work remain in conflict with one another. Rest drives all other components of wellbeing and where work is prioritized rest often suffers in the name of productivity, internal mobility, and the allure of revenue.
In January 2023, a “For The Wild” podcast episode coined “Deprogramming Grind Culture” featured the Author of Rest is Resistance, Tricia Hersey. In this discussion, Tricia frankly said the following “You’re aligning with a system that merely sees you as nothing but a tool and a machine.” She went on to say in this episode that “Our brains are traumatized by our sleep deprivation.” For the sake of collective understanding and productive dialogue on the value of rest and state of work, we must be honest about a few things.
The value of rest and state of work
One of those things is our societal treatment of rest and work. Rest for the most part is seen as something we do nightly and in another respect must be earned after we prove either through toil in education or through career that we have earned it. Rest is defined By Merriam-Webster as: “to cease from action or motion; to refrain from labor or exertion; to be free from anxiety or disturbance”.
“Grinding”, hustle to the top culture, having to reorganize one’s life to suit the fears of leaders who are still grappling with newer ways of being and business practices that have quickly been eradicated are disturbances of the spirit and anything but restful. To add to this definition, rest is our divine birthright and a repose which is imperative to sustaining life and a healthy lifestyle. There is no doubt that industrialized nations are home to sleep-deprived workers. However, the pandemic has accelerated the end game of work without self-preservation by showing us the diseases, disorders and lack of overall wellness caused by a 24/7/365 on-the-go culture.
With more transparent discussions of mental health, public health, and wellbeing we are learning by the day that perhaps business challenges such as employee engagement were an outcome of business leaders worrying about the wrong problem all these years.
Instead, we might agree now that the bigger challenge driving things like low morale and low employee engagement was in fact due to burnout which in turn could have been solved for by leading our workplaces in more health-conscious and human-centered ways. The plight of the worker at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and beyond was cultivated with the worker being a means to a financial end rather than a reverence and respect for what everyone brings to a company. The value proposition of the worker came eventually, but even in the 2020s it is apparent that a person’s worth in the scope of what they contribute is still ignored and rarely respected.
According to a 2020 Gallup article Employee Burnout: The Biggest Myth, 76% of employees experience burnout at least sometimes. 2022 Research by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence where they surveyed 2,100 C-Suite executives across four countries found that 70% of C-Suite professionals were seriously considering quitting their job for a job that better supports their wellbeing. The same research also found that one in three employees and executives cited “always’ or “often” struggling with fatigue and poor mental health.”
The five qualifiers for employees and executives who struggle with fatigue and poor mental health were: “exhausted”, “stressed”, “overwhelmed”, “lonely”, and “depressed”. These qualifiers are in no way a good recipe for growth, motivation, or happiness at work. As you have read, there is a shift in consciousness, rapid degradation of outdated mindsets and practice in the workplace and an evolution of work that is affecting everyone from the C-Suite downward.
Here are some actionable considerations for your organizations as you continue to explore your part in the rest revolution:
- Rest is a birthright not just something we do at night, on the weekend and vacations. There is growing discourse and evidence to suggest that adequate rest creates better health outcomes and more specifically has a direct effect on our nervous system. When we rest several of our major systems are also able to rest and recover so that we can function optimally. Similar to our computers and phones, it is not advantageous to run endlessly or perform without the promise of an occasional restart or shutting down. Our bodies and brains in specific require rest, recovery and even upgrades made possible from us getting a good night’s sleep and time away from work activities.
- Start to examine the function of rest within your organization’s culture. I have spoken with several of my clients who have cited that rest is a discussion they have been having with their employees since the pandemic. They are exploring individual mindsets surrounding rest as well as what blocks and hurdles at work could be contributing to poor sleep hygiene. To be fair, none of them have reached the point of solutions. At this point, having open dialogue to understand the pitfalls is where many of them are at. The same can be true for your company. Starting the conversation is the first step.
- When in doubt, crowdsource solutions on how you can inspire better sleep habits with your employees. If your employees are kind enough to share what keeps them up at night, you might find they are also the best resource for coming up with solutions. Chances are their lack of sleep has affected them so deeply that they have invested time in researching the fixes. Trust your people to tell you what’s wrong and how you can assist with making it right. Be willing to be flexible in any and all approaches and see what works best for everyone.
An unwell workforce is not an asset to your company, it is a liability. Leadership globally has a unique opportunity to reshape the organizations they serve by emulating healthy behaviors and not ones that serve to deteriorate your employees. With genuine intention and a personal dedication to creating healthy work environments rest could become a collective strength in work environments and beyond.