Is Burnout a Failure of Work-Life Balance?

Burnout may be a failure of work-life balance, which is sometimes unavoidable.

There are so many theories as to why burnout occurs, including one I shared recently regarding emptying our “emotional bank.”

Since I have personally experienced burnout, please allow me to share my story. I have always had a challenge with personal work-life balance, starting at an early age. I wanted to be a doctor since the age of 4, and succeeded. Tremendous sacrifices, heartbreak and celebratory events lined the journey’s path, too many to recount.

I pretty much loved what I did initially, but had my moments, actually many of them, when I sat and said, “I hate what I am doing.” Then, at the age of 56, I made the decision to transition out of clinical practice. I was burned out.

I entered the corporate world, and the rest is history. I continue to be busy and have never uttered again “I hate what I am doing.”

I just recently read this December 2021 article, “How to Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance” from the Indeed Editorial Team, and realized here was another “why” burnout occurs. There are eight tips, and sharing them can demonstrate that burnout may actually be a failure of work-life balance, which is sometimes unavoidable. The full article is available online here.

As you can see, the tips include the following:

  1. Limit perfectionism – professionals, in particular, almost always want to be the best in their area, yet there is a difference between working hard and perfectionism.
  2. Leave tasks and projects at work – in today’s world, which includes working from home, this can be quite difficult.
  3. Gauge your health – how many missed meals or unhealthy food choices do we make, or neglected doctor visits?
  4. Participate in personal hobbies – be aware of when there is not enough time, or you are too tired to do so.
  5. Spend time with loved ones – how many missed holidays, birthday celebrations, etc. are you experiencing?
  6. Assess your personal needs – what’s important to you?
  7. Establish your own balance – do you get fulfillment from spending more time at home or at work?
  8. Love your career – this needs no further explanation.

Considering all levels of people who experience burnout, it becomes clear that it is not just limited to those in specific professions. Everyone, yes everyone, experienced the pandemic, which is or was (hopefully) an extreme situation – and how is their work-life balance now? How many of these eight tips can be checked off as successfully achieved?

Years ago, my score was certainly not perfect, but very much below.

Programming Note: Listen to Dr. John Zelem every Tuesday on Talk Ten Tuesdays, 10 Eastern.


John Zelem, MD, FACS

John Zelem, MD, is principal owner and chief executive officer of Streamline Solutions Consulting, Inc. providing technology-enabled, expert physician advisor services. A board-certified general surgeon with more than 26 years of clinical experience, Dr. Zelem managed quality assessment and improvement as a former executive medical director in the past. He developed expertise in compliance, contracts and regulations, utilization review, case management, client relations, physician advisor programs, and physician education. Dr. Zelem is a member of the RACmonitor editorial board.

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