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Running on Empty: Navigating the dangers of burnout at work

Reading this book made me feel one part confidant, one part contributor and one part voyeur. It’s a rich mix of research, stories, advice and geo-political statements that flows with a unique rhythm of its own. It’s based largely around a COVID world, but feels to me like a piece of work that will have long-term relevance.

Reading this book made me feel one part confidant, one part contributor and one part voyeur. It’s a rich mix of research, stories, advice and geo-political statements that flows with a unique rhythm of its own. It’s based largely around a COVID world, but feels to me like a piece of work that will have long-term relevance.

And it’s hugely topical. There’s more talk of burnout at the moment than I think I’ve ever known. Whether or not it’s because there’s now a safer environment to raise it is for discussion, and something the authors touch on. But the book isn’t focused on this – it’s squarely aimed at sharing the causes, impact and remediation of burn-out, often with harrowing stories. I cried, you’ll cry. There are relatable stories and situations that we have all felt – shared in ways that shift you from reader to participant.

It feels like an ‘over the edge’ perspective on burnout, with Bradley and Semler sharing their experiences of how they got there, and the resultant ‘climb back’. My guess is, if you are reaching for this book, then you are personally teetering on that very edge. So, is it enough? My view is it’s all there, but could perhaps be re-shuffled to better reflect who is reading it, and why – giving more imminence to the help people are looking for.

I’m being picky. The book is a rich source of insight and awareness of this very real issue. It’s also realistic in the advice it gives. There’s no ‘five steps back’ or bold statements along the lines of ‘Just Make A Change’. The solutions feel doable – focusing on mind and body elements and longer-term fixes that recognise that, for some, burnout is an unavoidable consequence of some very harsh life situations.

It ends with a focus on the future, and moves from individual solutions and mitigations to more societal and systemic areas that are relevant to the topic. It’s a good summary of the possible ways forward but, as with many of the books I review, it’s the tip of an iceberg that is, itself, a whole other story.

Be warned, this is a book that shares trauma and the lives of people in very tough places. If you are ‘holding it together’ this might well be the thing that unravels that and makes you see what you are facing. Is that likely? Well, with a recent (2023) survey saying that 40% of the UK feels they are facing burnout, I’d say so.

Published by LID Publishing

Chris Preston is a culture expert and one of the founding partners of The Culture Builders

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