Sweat equity refers to an employee’s non-monetary contributions toward a work project, business venture or the company in general. While it’s often a necessary part of building a new business or even getting your efforts noticed by company honchos, sweat equity has taken on new meaning among scientists. In groundbreaking research, engineers have developed a way to measure sweat equity by the amount of cortisol—the hormone released in response to stress—in human sweat. When job stress causes the body to produce too much cortisol, it can lead to burnout. According to a new study, a wearable sensory electronic chip recognizes the concentration of cortisol in human sweat, making it possible to detect signs of burnout.
In the past, mental health professionals have relied on subjective self-reports to treat burnout, which are not always reliable. According to Adrian Ionescu of Nanolab, where the sweat device was tested, “So having a reliable, wearable system can help doctors objectively quantify whether a patient is suffering from depression or burnout, for example, and whether their treatment is effective. What’s more, doctors would have that information in real time. That would mark a major step forward in the understanding of these diseases. And who knows, maybe one day this technology will be incorporated into smart bracelets.”
Signs Of Job Burnout
Until these types of objective measurements are widely available, we must rely on the symptoms provided by The World Health Organization, which officially recognizes burnout as an occupational hazard, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Three symptoms can help you recognize it: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
Signs Of Job Burnout
Until we have a more objective measurement, we must rely on the symptoms provided by The World Health Organization, which officially recognizes burnout as an occupational hazard: “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Three symptoms can help you recognize it: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
According to a recent study I reported on for Forbes.com, the more severe your burnout, the more stressed you are at work and the more difficult it is for you to fulfill your professional obligations. Burnout isn’t the same as stress, and you can’t cure it by taking an extended vacation, slowing down or working fewer hours. Stress is one thing; burnout is a totally different state of mind that slowly grows. Once burnout takes hold, you’re out of gas, and you’ve given up all hope of surmounting your obstacles. When you’re suffering from burnout, you suffer from exhaustion and a deep sense of disillusionment and hopelessness that your efforts have been in vain. Life loses its meaning, and small tasks feel like a hike up Mount Everest. Your interests and motivation dry up, and you fail to meet even the smallest work obligations. “If this year has shown us anything, it’s that we’re never going back to the way things were–and that Zoom is the new office,” said Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global. “Now that we’re all spending hours each day on Zoom, we need to create new rituals and practices within Zoom Meetings to prevent virtual fatigue.”
Workplace Burnout On The Rise
Before the pandemic, workplace burnout had already reached epidemic proportions, according to Gallup with nearly two-thirds of full-time employees dealing with burnout at some point. The onslaught of Covid-19 has exacerbated the numbers. Last month Life Extension polled over 1,000 Americans about how their mental health habits have changed so far in 2021. As workers continue to cope with the mental and physical toll of the pandemic, their key findings suggest many are on the verge of burnout:
- Furloughed employees (37%) were more likely than employed workers (31%) to feel more depressed than they did before the pandemic.
- Only 11% of respondents say their anxiety got better, while over 2 in 5 report it got worse; Women (47%) reported feeling more stressed compared to men (37%).
- Since the pandemic, 1 in 5 respondents have stopped seeing a counselor they once visited; that figure increased to 43% among furloughed or laid-off employees.
- Top ways people are supporting their mental health during the pandemic: taking breaks from the news (51%), making time to unwind (47%), connecting with loved ones (47%), and setting goals (45%).
Sweat Equity Versus Self-Care
There is a line between self-care and sweat equity and going too far, working too long and compromising your mental and physical health. It involves having a clear self-care plan, keeping aware of work/life balance and setting boundaries on how much you’re willing to invest in your career. A survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by OnePoll on behalf of CBDistillery reported that the average worker would be willing to drop as much as $2,000 if they could magically erase 2020 from their memory. Not only is that not possible, but 2020 is more in our face in 2021 than ever—given that the pandemic has turned our homes into our workplaces. And the nation’s workforce is coming to the realization that virtual work isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So, Naomi Allen, health tech entrepreneur and CEO of Brightline offered some tips based on what they’re doing to avoid burnout and cultivate workplace wellness:
- Given the context in which we’re operating during this crazy time—lead with a lot of empathy. I’ve found it takes a combination of directness and warmth. It’s really a microcosm of therapy—having hard conversations in a trusting and positive environment is the name of the game.
- At Brightline, we’re building a startup from the ground up, yes, we have to push really fast and hard, but we do so towards a few things that really matter, and with radical flexibility for the team with what they have going on in their lives outside of work. Whatever it is, being flexible and supporting what your team has going on is crucial.
- Even when we were just a few people at Brightline, we prioritized offering a mental health benefit. This is something companies can’t or won’t often do, because there’s not a clear and easy benefit design around it—but it’s so important. We have to support our own team first, and that’s true of all companies and in any context, not just because we’re focused on behavioral health and in the middle of a global pandemic.
- The last thing sounds pretty simple, but it’s so incredibly important—check in with each other. When our team joins calls, we take the time to really check in, see how each other are doing, what’s going on in our lives and with our families.
A Final Word
When all is said and done, Dr. Reetu Sandhu, manager at Limeade Institute says work performance doesn’t have to come at the expense of sweat equity, burnout and loss of mental and physical health and wellness: “Since mental health is a core part of who we are as human beings, employers who want to care for their employees can’t ignore mental health. We also know there is a connection between work and well-being. Work can be a source of purpose, passion and energy—or it can sometimes be a source of stress, anxiety and exhaustion. These experiences can either have positive or negative influences on our mental health—and our overall well-being. Similarly, our mental health can impact how we think, feel and perform at work.”
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