Featured Image: My work-from-home space. Cute, right? Except that I spent 22 hours a day in my bedroom now.
(There’s a certain level of irony in being too burnt-out to write a post about burnout. But I’m writing it anyway, so, if it starts to turn into complete jibberish, just know that my brain has, in fact, turned to pudding)
You know you’re burnt-out when you wake up in the morning and you sigh a deep sigh, and another, and another, until you finally roll out of bed. Then you spend your day seemingly holding your breath so that you don’t fall apart or say something out of pocket. Every task feels like you have to remove a twenty-pound block of “I’d literally rather do anything else” off your chest before you can even attempt it. And when you clock out, you finally release that breath, only to be met with the overwhelming feeling that it’s not, in fact, over and you have to do it all over again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day…
Everyone I know is burnt-out. I know people who work over 40 hours but since they’re salary, it essentially means nothing. I know people who have maxed out on accrued vacation time who feel that they cannot take any due to their workload. I know people who had to watch people get laid off, then pick up their slack at work, all while fearing that they might be next. I know people who had to figure out what the heck to do with their kids during a pandemic and were still judged when they were just doing their best. I know people who have to deal with customers not wearing masks and not getting hazard pay. I know people who have more than an hour commute and don’t get paid for that time or gas.
Yes, the pandemic sped up and threw that burnout into sport mode but I still find myself wondering if I would have burned out just as quickly had I been in the office– waking up earlier and having to commute 45 minutes to and fro, eating dinner much too late for my indigestion, and not being able to use my own toilet. Doesn’t really seem all that appealing. I wasn’t reading or writing when I was in the office; I would come home, eat, shower, watch a show, and go to bed by 9.
Which is why this isn’t just the pandemic’s fault– it’s a late-stage-capitalism problem. The United States is a ‘profits over people’ country, and we’ve been brainwashed into thinking this is just how it’s always been and how it always will be.
But we fought hard even for our 40-hour workweek. The first general strike in America was lead by the Philadelphia carpenters union in the early 1800s to get a 10-hour day. The idea of a 40-hour workweek was brought up later that century by a socialist (ahh so scary!) named Robert Owens. He thought one should have 8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation time, and 8 hours of sleep. In the early 1900s, Henry Ford made a 40-hour workweek a standard, citing that it was more productive than a 48-hour week. In 1940, it became law that any worked hours over 40 was considered overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
But is our workweek actually 40 hours? Do we really get 8 hours of leisure time? This structure made sense when a household could live off one income; the wife could stay at home and tend to the children and other household duties. Once dinner was squared away, the rest of the evening could truly be for leisurely activities.
Now, the average family has both heads of the household working and commuting, picking up kids and trying to spend time with them, and cooking and cleaning. Thus leaving them with less than enough time or energy to do anything but watch a tv show and have a beer. This is why labor unions and protests don’t happen: we’re too goddamn tired.
This is on purpose, of course. A tired working class will never “revolt,” especially if you threaten homelessness or starvation. As Einstein once wrote in an article for the Monthly Review: “an ‘army of unemployed’ almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job” — this is to say, the worker can always be replaced.
All these factors lead to a generation of burnt-out workers who fantasize about putting in their two-weeks’ or who will put in the bare minimum effort required to keep their job so that they don’t lose their absolute shit.
A pizza party isn’t going to fix this. Unfortunately, unlike the resolutions I usually pose at the end of my blog posts, I don’t really have an answer this time. I’m not an economist — I’m just a writer with anger issues — I don’t know what we should do. All I know is that Karl Marx would be ashamed of us for letting the means of production get so wildly out of our grasps.