The cost of burnout in Australia – can you afford to do nothing? Burnout costs the Australian economy $14 billion each year, and has been recognised as an ‘occupational syndrome’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is a health condition caused by the working environment and/or activities related to your professional work.
According to Forbes.com, the average CEO is more prone to addiction, and is twice as likely to experience depression than the general public.
“CEOs, founders, and innovators have a high rate of burnout, dependency and depression. People in that pre-burnout situation may be taking money from their home loans, their children’s school fee accounts, and sometimes even their own trust accounts and family savings to feed their dependency,” The Banyans Health and Wellness Clinical Director Peter Hayton says.
“Not only is this a financial burden, but there will always be a personal cost too, with behaviour associated with burnout breaking trust in relationships and fuelling resentment.”
Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
Burnout symptoms and executive stress can be generated by intense scrutiny, pressure, and the expectation of consistently elevated levels of excellence. The mantra of ‘extreme performance for extreme pay’ is common yet increasingly damaging.
Signs of burnout
German-born American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term burnout in 1974, describing the state of being burned out as “becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources” in the workplace.
While burnout is most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or in romantic relationships.
Symptoms of burnout
Burnout symptoms are defined by
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job;
- feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Many C-level professionals experience addiction and dependency prior to burnout, with alcohol, illegal, and prescription drugs often abused. This, of course, adds to the overall cost of burnout.
Related blog: Good mental health is literally priceless
The cost of inaction
“It’s not unusual for someone who is dependent on cocaine and working in a well-paid C-level position would be purchasing and using up to $10,000 of cocaine each month,” says Peter.
This was certainly the case for Sydney’s eastern suburbs CEO *Alexander, who sought help through a four-week Comprehensive Program at The Banyans Residence.
He conservatively estimates that burnout cost him and his business over $225,000.
Stories similar to Alexander’s are regularly told by uber-high achievers at The Banyans Health and Wellness. Alexander was using cocaine to excel at work and alcohol to relax at home, but ultimately lost his productivity, relationships, and business.
“By allowing myself to burnout, and not taking the warning signs seriously, it cost me significantly in medical bills, lost income, the cost of the drugs and alcohol to keep me going, and my business has lost money. My wife was barely speaking to me, and I hadn’t spent any worthwhile or positive time with my kids in a very long time. I finally realised I hardly knew them,” said Alexander.
“I was paying at least $1,000 a week on cocaine, probably about $500 on alcohol, and then incurred major medical bills because I had stopped looking after my general physical health as I headed towards burnout.
“Once I realised I might be facing burning out, that I had the signs of burnout, and my relationship with my wife had reached the point where she was threatening to leave me, I ran everything past a GP who diagnosed burnout.”
Prior to visiting the GP, Alexander says his lack of motivation and low productivity at work could have cost his business up to $60,000. He described burnout as feeling as though he was drowning in responsibilities but being dried up at the same time.
I’ve been shown how to count the cost of my inaction.
“A friend asked me what I thought the dollar cost of my burnout was, including alcohol and cocaine use. I knew it would be pretty high – maybe about $10,000 on alcohol, and the same on cocaine – but once I sat down and worked out how much I had spent I was shocked. When I tallied it all up, I realised GP and physio cost me about $20,000, the counsellor and psych were around $7,200, and rehab was $60,000.”
Financial cost of burnout
Alexander is regretful that he didn’t take action earlier.
“I knew I was working hard, but believed it was for my family. I’ve always been able to work through a problem, find a solution, and generally keep on top of it, but I couldn’t do it anymore. The drink, the cocaine, and the pressure at work all compounded until there was nothing left of me.
“I was shocked when I realised that not looking after myself, and constantly chasing something more has cost me almost a quarter of a million dollars, and that’s before I take into account any lost business days, poor decision-making on hangover days, and lost opportunities,” he says.
And there is more to come. Alexander says he expects future costs of burnout to include more psychology and health checks as well as dental work as a result of grinding his teeth (a common symptom of anxiety and stress).
“I keep a list in my phone of all the costs and details tallied up, so I can always see the total figure cost. They remind me when I’m tempted, or when I’m stressed and want to use again, that the cost is just too high. I look at it if I’m having a bad day to remind myself of the financial impact of not looking after myself. It took a while, but I’ve learnt to take the right action.”
Personal cost of burnout
The emotional cost of burnout is difficult to estimate for people like Alexander.
Prior to his stay at The Banyans Health and Wellness, his relationship with his wife was at an all time low, and he believed it was almost beyond repair.
“I’ve felt so guilty about my kids too, particularly about when I was just feeling empty and mentally exhausted. I was actually beyond caring,” he says. “They could see and feel it, and I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t seek help earlier.”
Help for burnout
Seek help for burnout. Talk to your General Practitioner. GPs in Australia can provide assistance consistent with the principles and actions of psychological first aid to people who are experiencing burnout, anxiety, and depression. They can assist you in reducing initial distress and will provide support to promote adaptive coping practices.
The Banyans Health and Wellness private treatment centre is open throughout the Christmas and New Year period and can help you or a loved one when experiencing burnout, chronic stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, PTSD, and other co-occurring conditions.
Our holistic approach incorporates medical, psychological, and natural therapies to ensure highest standard of research-based treatment and support while helping you develop a plan for recovery.
The Banyans Health and Wellness is available 24/7 to help you begin your journey towards a life with positive mental health. You can call anytime on +61 1300 226 926 or submit an online enquiry to begin learning how we can help you rediscover the fullness of life.
*Name has been changed for privacy.
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