If you want to know more about a condition that many argue is endemic in the world of work, this reading list is a great place to start.
‘Burnout’ as a term was first coined in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, initially applied to people in ‘high-stress’ professions such as doctors, lawyers and C-suite workaholics.
Nowadays, the term is much more broadly applied and, as some have argued, has become intertwined with the human condition for the latest generation of workers. The sources of this stress are manifold, not to mention contentious. It’s a huge issue both in the world of work and beyond. It is likely that you or someone you know will be touched by burnout at some point.
Whether you’re living with burnout right now, feel yourself sliding into it or just want to explore the topic more, this reading list is an excellent place to start.
‘The Burnout Solution’ – Siobhán Murray
Informed by both her own experience of burnout and her work as a psychotherapist, Siobhán Murray’s The Burnout Solution lays out a comprehensive 12-week plan to help you understand and address the sources of burnout in your life. It teaches everything from time management to setting boundaries in a structured and insightful way, making it an ideal fit for anyone feeling like flotsam in a sea of pressure.
‘Minds turned to ash’ – Josh Cohen
Psychoanalyst and academic Josh Cohen recounts the fascinating and sobering tale of a client he once had, Steve, in this 2016 long read for The Economist. Steve, once a high-flying achiever who worked 90-hour weeks at an investment bank, one day mentally collapsed under the weight of burnout that had been bubbling under the surface for years, and retreated into a world of housebound isolation. Cohen deftly navigates the lengthy history of how burnout has manifested in human society. Check it out if you want to understand how today’s world is different to, but also essentially the same as, the worlds that preceded it.
‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ – Cheryl Strayed
Though not specifically about burnout in a workplace context, Cheryl Strayed is essential reading for anyone feeling adrift. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who writes so crisply about wading your way out of oblivion as Strayed, who is most famous for her captivating memoir Wild.
Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of the ‘Dear Sugar’ advice columns Strayed anonymously wrote for the online literary magazine Rumpus from 2010 to 2012. In it, you’ll find lost souls connected to wise words. The stories are sometimes harrowing and always relatable, and Strayed draws on her own experience to craft compassionate responses. Pick this up if you want to feel less alone.
‘Drop the Ball’– Tiffany Dufu
The modern woman is often urged to aspire to ‘have it all’ – to be the perfect wife, friend, mother and daughter, to succeed in the world of work and to look effortlessly stylish while doing all of it. One day, Tiffany Dufu realised the lengthy to-do list she had assigned herself was impossible, inspiring her book Drop the Ball. In it, Dufu advocates for achieving more by doing less. She argues that women need to expect less of themselves and others, and embrace imperfection. Coupled with actionable advice on trimming the psychological fat and meaningfully enlisting the health of others, it’s the perfect read if you’re beginning to find societal expectations a bit oppressive.
‘Slow at Work’ – Aoife McElwain
Aoife McElwain’s own 2015 brush with burnout inspired her to seek out a more “sustainable” approach to her work. Similar in philosophy to Dufu’s work, Slow at Work sees McElwain consult with life coaches and organisational psychologists in order to create a framework for a slow and steady approach to professional life. It’s ideal for anyone who wants to be more tortoise than hare.
‘Offline’ – Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner
Imran Rashid and Soren Kenner’s Offline explores the psychological and neurological effect that social media has on society. Though it would be reductive to say that internet giants are solely to blame for burnout, the book illuminates the extent of the social engineering and subconscious manipulation employed by the likes of Facebook, Google, Apple and Instagram to keep you coming back for more while simultaneously eroding your mindset. Turn your notifications off and leaf through this if you’ve been feeling hampered by the digital universe.