According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is defined as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”
Generally speaking, burnout is caused by a demanding workload; perceived lack of control; poor relationships; lack of fairness, and missed matched values. In Black women, however, generations of fatigue due to racism exacerbate burnout. Black women face individual racism in the form of microaggression, microinvalidations, and microassaults. They also have to navigate systemic racism in the labor force, housing, healthcare, and education. The exhaustion of navigating the world while Black enhances the challenges to withstand the demands of the modern work environment.
80 percent of Black mothers are the primary breadwinners compared to 50 percent of White women. 36 percent of Black women workers have jobs that do not provide paid sick leave. Black people are at a greater risk for chronic illness as they climb the socioeconomic ladder due to the cumulative stress of worrying about discrimination. Black women are also more likely to be passed over for a promotion and earn 7 percent less than White women. Essentially, they are being asked to work twice as hard for less pay, all while being microaggressed and emotionally and physically unwell.
Black women often question whether they belong because they see very few if any, positive representations of themselves in the world. In the workplace, they are less likely to have mentors and managers, whom they can relate to and who can provide emotional support and guidance. Women are often punished for being assertive in meetings so they use a tremendous amount of energy code-switching to avoid stereotypes. Black Women can struggle with setting boundaries to manage demanding workloads or microaggression because they do not want to be seen as difficult. The constant minimization of self(de-selfing) contributes to a lack of recognition, feelings of inauthenticity, and other people using their ideas as their own. Consequently, they are passed over for promotions, thus increasing their self-doubt and their feelings of not-belonging. The fear of being ‘found out’ coupled with generations of witnessing their mothers work themselves sick also leads Black women to work longer hours and take on more responsibilities to prove themselves.
Burnout costs money and our physical and mental health. Researchers estimate that burnout amounts to approximately one trillion in lost global productivity annually and 190 billion in additional healthcare costs. An alarming 120,000 people will die from burnout in the U.S. Burnout and imposter syndrome affects everyone, but Black women are dying and getting physically and emotionally sicker, not least due to generations of overwork and other forms of racism.
Read more about Black fatigue Here.
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