Burnout may not be classified as a medical diagnosis, but of late it certainly feels epidemic. “The symptoms of burnout have become medical,” a primary care doctor wrote in The Atlantic recently. “The work of living through a pandemic has been making us sick.”
Months after Americans collectively hit the pandemic wall, burnout seems to have hardened into a permanent condition. Parents are exhausted after spending nearly 18 months trying to balance full-time jobs with remote schooling and caregiving obligations. Other workers may be struggling to find motivation as they cope with grief, or leaving thankless jobs that they held onto amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.
As workers quit in record numbers, employers are being confronted with the fallout from the sustained stress of the pandemic. (In June, about 3.9 million workers left their jobs, marking the third consecutive month of unusually high turnover.) Over the last few months, companies—including LinkedIn, Hootsuite, Mozilla, and Bumble—have tried to stem this burnout with a new approach to vacation time: shutting down the entire office for a week. The idea is to help employees completely detach from work, without checking email or feeling like they have to play catch-up once they’re back in the office.
“Everyone was just getting increasing Zoom fatigue and feeling the stress and burnout of the year that we’ve all had, and increasing difficulty separating work and home,” says Bumble president Tariq Shaukat. “So we started thinking: What do we do? Do we give people more time off?” The company started by instating “focus Friday,” which meant employees would be free of meetings, emails, and Slack messages on one Friday each month. But Bumble found that wasn’t cutting it. “Things like that worked well, but we sort of realized that the constant background noise of the company, if you will, was preventing people from really, truly unplugging,” Shaukat says. “So that led us to this idea of shutting down the company for a week.”