A blatant issue exists in our world today—that something is wrong with the way we work. Through my wellness work, I discovered that at the root of this is burnout. I believe that the key to making work work is to address both the systemic causes of burnout and the personal ones.

Through my expertise, I refer to burnout as a betrayal.  It is both a betrayal of self and a betrayal by the system of work that keeps us dissatisfied. Many enter their jobs in good faith, but year after year or even months, they lose trust in their organization. They start to feel like they’ve been betrayed or taken advantage of by their jobs. Simultaneously, when they think back to all of the time or energy they have given work, people feel betrayed by themselves in all the ways they have sacrificed for a career.  As women, we disproportionately experience burnout as we struggle to align our personal and professional lives. I know I struggled. Let me share with you how to prevent the cycle of betrayal and burnout both with ourselves and our organizations.

Burnout is a betrayal—of self.

One key way to overcome burnout is to develop and enforce our boundaries. Establishing boundaries is simple to learn but not easy to practice.  There are three steps to establishing boundaries: 1. Be clear about your boundary. Maybe you need to leave work by 5:00 p.m. sharp. Maybe you need to not respond to emails during your vacation. 2. Be Direct. You are allowed to have boundaries. Therefore, you don’t have to over-explain or apologize for why you have set one. 3. Stick to your boundaries even when you feel uncomfortable about them. This can be hard, but remember that discomfort is a part of the process. Setting boundaries with these three steps can go a long way to honoring yourself and stopping burnout.

Burnout is a betrayal—by systems.

Another way to overcome burnout is by addressing the systems that betray today’s workers. I often talk about myths that create burnout and are integral to today’s working world. One myth is the belief that workers need to sacrifice to get ahead. So many people believe that getting ahead means giving up. The belief in this myth gets us to betray ourselves by working after hours on weekends and denying time with our partners, families, or friends. When we sacrifice ourselves to give to a company, they may profit, but we won’t. It’s time work systems let go of this myth and teach workers how to work less but create more impact. We need a new culture of work that prioritizes teaching its workers time management and encouraging innovation versus sacrifice.  

Burnout doesn’t have to be inevitable. Setting boundaries and challenging myths around modern-day work can help many overcome burnout and minimize betrayal of ourselves and by systems. These suggestions can help heal the relationship with work, creating longevity.

Kelley Bonner, LCSW, Expert Company Culture Strategist, Award Winning Podcaster, and Founder of Burn Bright Consulting, transforms workplaces by reducing burnout and bias, resulting in increased innovation and inclusion. She has been called “revolutionary” by Anita Hill and “a benchmark in her field” by the Pentagon. Kelley provides a framework for leaders to understand the deeper organizational issues that lead to symptoms of burnout and how to solve them at their core. Having served on the Gender Policy Committee for the White House as well as the International Women’s Economic Security Council, Kelley impacts culture and policy across the globe. She was also hand-picked by the Biden Administration to develop a national framework for workplace safety and harassment. Kelley is a thought leader in the realm of sexual assault, sexual harassment and diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. She has worked with several federal and international organizations to create safer environments and strategies for violence prevention, including the U.S. Military, Library of Congress, National Academy of Sciences, The United Nations, and NATO. As a licensed therapist with both a masters in social work and in criminal justice, Kelley built the number one behavioral modification program for the New York State men’s prisons to reduce violence through policy development and program evaluation. She also hosts two daily podcasts called Burn Bright and Black Girl Burnout, with over 50,000 downloads. Kelley currently resides in Bethesda, Maryland where she enjoys the fine arts, reading, and traveling.