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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C

Are you heading for burnout in work?

Life is not and should not be an endurance test; nor should your job.

SOMEBODY TOLD ME yesterday that they feel as though they are on a non-stop treadmill at work that refuses to switch off. Unable to press the ‘off’ switch for fear of losing out on that all-important promotion, they struggle on. Arms and legs flailing as each day goes by, their minds numb as to what they are actually doing – they are, in other words, “going through the motions”.

Now, imagine how they then felt when their boss sent around an email in the office about a novel new way to stay fit during work hours. None other than a desk treadmill. Yes, I kid you not. It’s the craze that is sweeping the States and is wreaking havoc in offices the length and breadth of the USA. Apparently some bright spark got the idea that if we want to get more from our employees then we need them fit and healthy. Oh no, we don’t want them taking long lunch breaks to run or exercise – they can do it right here at their desks, where we can see them.

The virtual treadmill could be just as counterproductive as a real one

The premise of the treadmill is that you will lose weight while you work, burn calories as you crunch those numbers or finish that drawing on AutoCAD, become a joy to work with as you are less stressed and be a beaming good example of a happy employee.

However, a new study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine recently found that while those using the treadmills at work did improve their blood pressure, they also noted that productivity took a nosedive while people were trying to concentrate on a computer and walk at the same time.

Isn’t it really the same scenario as that person who is on the virtual treadmill at work at the moment? They are stressed to the max, multi-tasking in the absence of their colleague who is out on sick leave with no return date, taking over their entire workload, unable to properly concentrate and co-ordinate things because of the complete disorientation and lack of structure in their job.

When I mentioned the treadmill desk to them, they laughed and laughed and laughed. Why? Because quite frankly, they don’t know if they are on the end cycle of the incline switch of this treadmill or have already fallen flat on their face and simply are too tired to notice. The tears followed. The realisation that they are completely and utterly burnt out; too busy to even notice the symptoms or warning signs.

There’s no denying that we need to be moving frequently throughout the day

But then I had to step back from all of this treadmill talk for a minute and look at the hard facts of being stressed at work. In another report from the University of Regensburg in Germany, which surveyed over 4 million participants, the authors found a significantly larger risk of bowel, womb and lung cancers among those with the most sedentary lifestyles. Very simply sitting down is dangerous; we need to be moving frequently throughout the day.

Just as sitting back and allowing your career to cruise along at its own speed, careering around dangerous bends and rocky slopes, is dangerous – so are how many of us are now failing to pay heed to the warning signs. Rushing our breaks, not taking our breaks, working longer hours, taking fewer holidays, bringing work home, reading emails before turning out the light to sleep at night.

We are all guilty of it. But the human cost is rising. We have a crisis on our hands. Employees are coming to the HR manager’s door to ask about taking time off; and many leave before they can muster up the courage to actually go in and ask. Returning to their desk, weary, exhausted, confused and stressed, they trundle along and play the dutiful employee. Until that one day – and that one day will come, there is nothing more certain. It might being with an innocent visit to a job board, a trawl through your emails to find that old CV, the frequency of conversations with partners and friends about how horrible your job is, the one you used to love.

Find the strength, courage and confidence to press stop

Somewhere in all the chaos and up and downs of “I do like the job, I don’t like my job etc” we have to find the strength, courage and confidence to find the emergency stop button on the treadmill.

Even if we finally crawl off, exhausted and defeated, just know that you are finally off the damn thing. It has stopped. You can rest. You can begin to think; no more worrying about those inclinations that grab you by surprise, no more endurance programmes. Just like sitting down for lengthy periods is bad for your health, sitting back and freefalling into bad health because you are unhappy in work is equally dangerous.

Life is not and should not be an endurance test; nor should your job. It’s all about knowing your pace, respecting your body and knowing when to stop.

Karen Frampton is a career coach and founder of a new initiative “When I Grow Up”, which brings careers into the classroom and inspires children to think about a wide range of careers and professions.

Don’t push your children into careers they’re not suited for – it can backfire

A winning CV and online applications: Your graduate career toolkit

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