Why we must get real about resilience to stop work-induced burnout

Resilience is more than just about ‘getting on with it’, according to Gemma Leigh Roberts.

Reading time: 3m 30s.

A simple Google search for ‘achieving success’ prompts 210+ million results that tend to advise readers to ‘do more’ and ‘work hard’. The media feeds us a non-stop stream of content on everything from what Elon Musk eats for breakfast to how Oprah gets things done. This is partly in response to our collective obsession with productivity and daily habits of extreme achievers.

The urge to self-improve is a result of an ever-changing world of work which, with the dawn of the gig economy, has made it compulsory for us to prove that we’re constantly working. In reality, this culture of unrelenting toil and ‘love what you do’ mindset is often workaholism in sheep’s clothing.

Performative workaholism is now the norm in our working culture, with expectations for non-stop performance hitting an all-time high.

Unfortunately, this means that work-induced burnout is also having a moment. One in five employees is highly engaged, but at risk of burning out. Recently, the World Health Organisation even classified burn-out as a legitimate occupational syndrome, resulting from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Resilience goes hand in hand with rest and recovery.

One of the best ways to avoid burnout in the workplace is to cultivate resilience, which can be a double-edged sword. There’s a misconception that resilience means possessing grit and merely ‘getting on with things’. But resilience is not just a vague concept that is defined by our character – it can be taught, as it’s underpinned by cognitive skills that we can learn and unlearn.

The secret to boosting your personal resilience lies in the creation of a strong, flexible mindset and in building sustainable resilience for the long-term. When applying this to the burnout phenomenon and using resilience as a way to avoid work-related fatigue, there are a few things we must take note of:

Resilience goes hand in hand with rest and recovery

We often take a militaristic approach to resilience, imagining a boxer going one more round or a soldier treading through mud. Yet, as Harvard Business Review illustrates, this entire conception is scientifically inaccurate: “the very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our collective ability to be resilient and successful.”


Resilience goes hand in hand with rest and recovery. To applaud employees for staying in the office until midnight to finish a project is to feed the misconceptions about resilience. Employers should be defining working hours and ensure their workforce has the right to switch off and not pick up calls or respond to emails.

Resetting our cognitive process to build resilience

Once we accept that real resilience needs recovery times, workers can then be encouraged to reflect on their own personal resilience over time. Having established that resilience can be learned, how does one go about doing it? The answer lies in pressing the reset button on some of our cognitive thinking processes, mainly: perspective, adaptability and positivity.

Perspective is a key pillar we can learn to become more resilient. In essence, this is all about challenging our own thoughts in our day-to-day work. On the other hand, adaptability means we need to focus on continuous improvement specific to finding ways to work smarter, rather than harder.

This is often something that requires trial and error, and having a flexible mindset and behaviour will help accelerate resilience.

The ingredient of positivity is one that should be used with caution. It’s less about being unrealistically positive about all things work-related and more about what energises us, where we spend our energy and how we do this in the most effective and efficient way.

This is just the start, as there are a plethora of ways that resetting our cognitive process can build resilience and help those who are overworked and fatigued. But before we do that, we must do away with misconceptions about resilience that lead to destructive work attitudes.

To continue to thrive, we must build real resilience and in the end, a resilient person is a well-rested one.


About the author

Gemma Leigh Roberts is founder of Career Compass Club.


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