Burnout is not a disease, but a symptom | Letters

In a recent article (Is it possible to break the cycle of burnout for good?, April 17), I was struck by the repeated use of a metaphor that equates unbearable levels of work stress with an endemic disease. As a cognitive linguist, I think a lot about the ways we use metaphors to understand complex social issues, and how using certain metaphors can have unforeseen consequences. So every time the term “immunity” appeared, my heart sank a little.

Immunity, in its literal biological sense, refers to the “condition for resistance to a certain disease”. We can develop biological immunity naturally by contracting and recovering from the disease, or induce immunity through vaccination. In both cases, immunity is developed because the disease itself cannot be stopped or prevented. Our only hope is that our bodies can better cope with the disease when it is (inevitably) encountered.

When we apply this to burnout, it is seen as a disease in the world. We cannot control its cause or prevent its spread. We can only prepare our bodies for the inevitable encounter. The point is that burnout is not the disease itself, it is a symptom of something that can are prevented and controlled. It is a symptom of an unhealthy work culture, a social construct cand be deconstructed.

If we insist on using a disease metaphor for burnout, let’s try this: burnout is a symptomatic response to the bioweapons used to maintain an inhumane work culture. Although the bioweapons are still used, we need protection against them, but the goal is to stop using the weapons. The goal is to build a culture of sustainable and fulfilling work in which the practices that lead to unbearable stress and burnout are no longer tolerated.
Schuyler Laparle
Lecturer, Tilburg University, Netherlands

Your article on burnout fails to shed light on the systemic and multifactorial issues that are completely rooted in the commodification of healthcare. As a psychotherapist specialized in burnout recovery among healthcare professionals, I see this in practice every day. The commodification of healthcare prioritizes financial gain over personal freedom and autonomy, and is the ugly underbelly of burnout culture. It harms the lives and livelihoods of professions called to give – like our healthcare providers and teachers – and kills the soul of giving.

Those of us who have a calling to help others become narrow-minded financially and emotionally expensive paths to be trained to do the work we are called to do. But when we finally receive our degrees or certifications, we must maintain our value through expensive, time-consuming continuing education, with the pressure to be of increasing value to the system.

This penalizes caregivers who don’t have the money, time, or resources, and also restricts anyone who doesn’t come from financial stability, generational wealth, or cultural or racial privilege. Hierarchical structures prevent people from moving freely within the system, stifling collaboration and creativity and minimizing authentic and safe communities for the community. productivity and grinding culture that rejects autonomy and choice among those who do the caring.

It’s not just about negotiating our sense of success, finding ways to get more free time, or even more self-awareness. We are meant to be part of collaborative, creative, connected communities.

If our professional work offers a sense of belonging and connection – despite the poor pay, lack of free time and increased pressure to perform – we will often remain at odds with our well-being and reasoning. As employees, we deserve to be resourced in ways that support us, give us choice, and allow us to thrive.
Allie Kochert
York, Pennsylvania, USA