What Is to Blame for Burnout?
In a survey (see the infographic) conducted by Crossway last fall, 76% of men and 88% of women admitted that they had experienced burnout for a significant period of time. Of those who experienced burnout, 31% of men and 26% of women suffered for up to three months. It went on for up to six months for a further 23% of men and 24% of women, with the remaining 46% of men and 50% of women enduring this for over six months.
When asked what contributed to their burnout, answers fell into two main categories: work-related and home related. Of the work issues, the most commonly cited factors were workplace pressure, overwork, too little time off, and financial need. On the home front, the main problems were family pressures, too little sleep, too little exercise, and criticism from others.
Not surprisingly, numerous negative effects flowed from the resulting burnouts. In ascending order of frequency, these included divorce (2% of men, 3% of women), job loss (7% of both), need for medical help (14% of men, 27% of women), broken relationships (23% of men, 28% of women), and sin (33% of men, 28% of women).
To me, it’s significant that women were almost twice as likely to seek medical help than men, while men were more liable to fall into sin as a result of burnout. From my experience of counseling men through burnout, I’ve noticed that men’s refusal to reach out and seek help often results in moral and spiritual failure. I explore this in more detail in my book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture.
In terms of preventing burnout, the respondents’ answers fell into three categories. First, work-related measures include caring less about the opinions of others (26% of men, 37% of women), regulating time at work (24% of men, 23% of women), taking more vacation (17% of men, 16% of women), and not pursuing success (10% of men, 8% of women). The most significant male/female difference here is that women seem to be stressed more by what others think than men are. However, the figure for both is much higher than I expected and highlights an area that’s ripe for biblical counseling to re-establish the priority of God’s opinion over human opinion.
Second, on the home front, the most common preventative measure was getting more sleep (32% of men, 40% of women), exercising more regularly (33% of both), protecting nights and weekends (24% of men, 25% of women), and making more time for family (25% of men, 19% of women). Notice how many people are aware that they are not getting enough sleep and that this is damaging many areas of their lives. It’s also noteworthy that men are more convicted about the lack of time they give to their families.
Third, regarding solutions related to spiritual life, about half (46% of men, 45% of women) said that practicing spiritual disciplines more consistently would have made a difference, a statistic that we’ll return to below. Receiving counsel (32% of men, 40% of women), being more engaged in Christian community (25% of men, 30% of women), and listening to the advice of others (14% of men, 11% of women) would also have had beneficial effects.
This research leads us to one primary conclusion: the need for a holistic Christianity. In other words, we need the multidimensional understanding of our humanity and spirituality that the Bible teaches. Whether we look at the condition, the causes, or the cures for burnout, the evidence is clear: our bodies, minds, souls, emotions, consciences, relations, and vocations are all interconnected. We cannot neglect one part and expect the others to flourish.
We cannot overwork our bodies and minds, for example, and expect to thrive in our spirituality and our relationships. Neither can we expect to neglect the soul and remain balanced and healthy in other parts of our lives. Remember, nearly 50% of respondents said that more consistent use of the spiritual disciplines would have prevented burnout. That’s primarily because prayer and Bible reading not only bring us into God’s blessed and therapeutic presence, but such disciplines also help us to see ourselves, our responsibilities, and our problems from a divine perspective, resulting in inner peace and a wiser pace of life.
Call to Stewardship
God’s Word calls us to be good stewards of this world; to preserve, protect, and produce goods from the resources he has committed to our trust (Gen. 1:28). But that “world” also includes the most valuable resource of our own humanity. The Lord is for the body and the body is for the Lord (1 Cor. 6:13).
Further, as our bodies are members of Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit, and bought with a price, we are called to glorify God with our entire humanity (vv. 15–20). The Apostle Paul’s argument is: God created our whole humanity and redeemed our whole humanity, and so we are to serve him in and with our whole humanity. That holistic approach to Christianity should make a beneficial difference in how we view and steward ourselves.