What People Get Wrong About America's Burnout Problem, According to a Therapist: ‘There Is a Tremendous Mandate for Happiness'

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The World Health Organization recognized burnout as an occupational hazard in 2019, and it's only gotten worse during the pandemic.

There's no shortage of books, articles and other resources that aim to help people manage burnout. And companies have tried to support employees by offering benefits like access to therapy, flexibility and more paid time off.

But therapist, author and podcast host Esther Perel says the solution is much more than the pursuit of better work-life balance.

"We live in a period in which there is a tremendous mandate for happiness," Perel tells CNBC Make It. "You have to find meaning, belonging, purpose and self-development at work. It's over-packed with expectations."

Those unrealistic expectations set people up for failure. Feelings like challenge or hardship "have no permission to exist" at work or in life, she explains.

But Perel says it's important to look at burnout from a cultural standpoint and "to not make people responsible for a social ailments."

For example, people aren't necessarily working harder today than when they worked on a farm, Perel says. But modern work doesn't just mean making enough to survive. A job has come to represent a sense of purpose and the desire for more.

"If you don't want more, like a promotion or more money, there's something wrong with you" Perel says. On the flipside, "[naming] burnout is a great way to say, 'Stop. I'm tired of the 'more.''"

These days, Perel says it's "fantastic" people are re-evaluating their relationship with work and how it gets done, rather than defaulting to pre-pandemic norms. Does work have to encompass such a large part of my identity? Can I do my job without always striving for more? Do I have to do it from an office for more than 40 hours a week?

Managing burnout won't get better without a larger cultural shift, Perel says: "Work is so central that, to renegotiate it, is actually a very good thing."

Check out:

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