I spent a few days in London this week, giving my first in-person workshop of the year! It was a workshop called “Having Courageous Conversations”, and dealt with how to have difficult and challenging conversations at work. It was wonderfully interactive, and the group enjoyed it a lot. But it wasn’t just fun and interesting. It was necessary. Because there are a lot of difficult topics that need discussing right now, particularly at work.
One topic that I’ve been hearing of more and more lately is Toxic Resilience. I’d never heard the term before, and then almost overnight, I keep seeing it everywhere. It’s an interesting one. Let’s dig a little deeper!
Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, brought my attention to both the phrase and the concept of Toxic Positivity. This is the tendency to belittle and ignore people’s genuine emotions, because they aren’t positive. So is Toxic Resilience something similar?
Turns out, Toxic Resilience feels like the description of what absolutely everyone I know is facing right now: the expectation that we will continue to be resilient indefinitely, despite our energy being beyond depleted, and despite there being very little discussion about (and even less action on!) how to change and improve our current reality.
According to expert Clare Josa, who led the 2022 Research Study on Burnout and Resilience, a staggering 72% of study participants [2000 people across the US and the UK] “felt there was an expectation to pretend they were okay and to bounce back; that asking for help would be a career-limiting move.” Resilience is meant to be a response to a temporary situation, not a permanent state. And we are seeing the results now of expecting resilience to be permanent. It is Toxic Resilience.
From the Burnout Study, here’s a typical response from someone in a leadership role who scored 85% on the risk factors, meaning they’re very close to burning out:
“I’ve been ignoring the signs, feeling like I have to be superwoman. I’ve been pushing on through the stress and anxiety, feeling the expectation from my company to bounce back and cope with everything from the past couple of years. I lie awake most nights worrying, with chronic insomnia, and I feel guilty about not getting everything done. I’m working even more hours to make up for my lack of energy. But I’ve got nothing more to give. And work thinks I’m fine.”
Around 1/3 of the workforce is likely to be experiencing warning signs like this. And it is often the culture and the environment of the workplace driving this problem.
As Adam Grant said recently,
So much of our burnout and Toxic Resilience is a systemic problem, not an individual one. It isn’t about taking a bubble bath, or going for a run. You can’t journal away the fact that you are doing the jobs of three people, or that your boss doesn’t respect your boundaries around work hours.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and the infographic summing up the Burnout Study speaks volumes:
THE EXPANDING JOB…
One of the main contributors to the increased level of burnout and toxic resilience is that expectations about what one person can do have changed dramatically over the past decades, and in particular over the last couple of years. For some, there are many advantages to being able to work virtually. But the dark side of that coin is that it means often there is an expectation that you are always available. The consequence is that our jobs are expanding, while time unfortunately is not. We still have the same amount of hours in the day, but are expected to fill them quite differently. This article on The Expanding Job was really insightful about how many roles each of us are expected to take on.
How can you tell the difference between resilience, and toxic resilience?? I found these three questions very helpful for helping to distinguish the two:
- Do your challenges have a clear end?
- Is there a plan in place to improve the situation?
- Are you achieving (and able to achieve) your goals?
If the answer to those questions is no, then you might be in a toxic resilient situation.
The article goes on to make the distinction that:
“Being resilient does not mean putting up with continuous poor working conditions, bad leadership and a toxic workplace culture.
Being resilient means adapting to reasonable change and handling reasonable stress. What is considered reasonable will be different for every individual.”
I do think one of the most important steps in the avoiding burnout process is in fact to recognize where you actually are on that spectrum, and to be aware of what was discussed above: what are realistic expectations of resilience and where does that veer into toxic resilience territory??
A lot of my coaching clients are using this time to really reflect on how they can best prioritize their limited energy right now. We’re working together to figure out how they can streamline some processes, maximize their energy, and set some really necessary boundaries.
And that’s where a lot of the following podcasts and articles come in!
Beyond Burned Out (HBR) – we were in the middle of a burnout pandemic even *before* Covid came along. I found the list of the true causes of burnout so illuminating. The #1 cause: unsustainable workload. And especially challenging given the global pandemic: #2 is a perceived lack of control, something we have all been forced to deal with in this time of lockdowns and restrictions. It’s a really good article on what burnout is and why we suffer from it.
Which is why I enjoyed this episode of the Teach me how to Adult podcast on How to Recover from Burnout and Find Balance. Helpful and practical suggestions!
Certainly one of the main contributors to our general fatigue, and potentially to burnout, is so many Zoom meetings! This was a great article on why virtual meetings are so draining. The cognitive load of having all communication be verbal rather than non-verbal being a significant contributing factor for one.
The Secret to Building Resilience (HBR) – resilience isn’t just a synonym for grit. It isn’t about grin and bear it either. Often it is about the human support network we have built around us.
Avoiding or recovering from burnout isn’t just about taking a hot bath and doing a bit of meditation. Self-care is great, but it isn’t the only piece of the burnout recovery puzzle. This Top 10 Needs we need to fulfill on our own. “Protect your Energy” is one that really spoke to me!
WHAT I’M READING…
One of the highlights of my recent vacation was being able to tuck into a book I’d been wanting to read for ages! One of those 1000-page historical fiction books that I absolutely love, but of course need time to read!! This one was in German – and unfortunately not available in English, more’s the pity, as it’s a brilliant series actually set in England – so the details below will be in German for my German readers! 😊
Irgendwie habe ich versehentlich ein Buch der brillanten Waringham-Saga von Rebecca Gablé verpasst. Buch 4 – Der dunkle Thron – wurde verpasst, und ich hatte mich schon darauf gefreut, es in meinem Urlaub zu lesen. Es hat mich nicht enttäuscht! Die gesamte Reihe ist einfach brillant und eine der am besten geschriebenen historischen Romanserien, die ich je gelesen habe. Dieses Buch spielt während der Herrschaft von Heinrich VIII. und all den Wirren, die seine Suche nach einem männlichen Erben und der daraus resultierende Sturz der katholischen Kirche (und verschiedener Ehefrauen) mit sich brachten.
Es ist eine wunderbare Geschichte – ich bin völlig in die Welt der Waringhams eingetaucht, und es ist wirklich Kopfkino!!! Ich habe es so gemocht. Ich kann es kaum erwarten, dass das nächste Waringham-Buch im September erscheint!
I hope that not too many of you are among those 72% who are facing toxic resilience at work!! And that you are, have been, and continue to be able to set boundaries, enjoy non-work-related activities, and find some springtime joy!
Thanks for all the wonderful interactions and compliments on the Top 10 Reads for Leaders! I think this might become an annual list!
Have a wonderful weekend!