Burnout is one of the top workplace buzzwords of the year and, by the looks of things, questions about how to deal with burnout are only going to become more pressing in the year to come. Defined by the World Health Organization as characterised by exhaustion, loss of empathy, and a reduced performance of work, burnout can take many forms and is not always easily recognised. Australian researchers go further and add isolating yourself and difficulty sleeping to the list of symptoms.
It’s thought to be much like trying to drive a car with the handbrake on; the thing will go forward, but it’s both difficult and damaging. Unfortunately, with the cost of living crisis snapping at the heels of so many, simply taking a break or finding a better job is not really an option.
One novel solution to dealing with burnout that allows for a fully functioning work and social life, is, according to Sydney-based company TANK, decluttering our lives.
“Burnout is at an all-time high, and the two groups most likely to feel it are women and workers under 30,” Helen Lawson Williams, CEO and co-founder of TANK told The Latch.
“In a lot of ways, the system is stacked against us, and that feeling of powerlessness can add to the problem. The key is to take back power over our own time and energy, in a way that supports us to still do great work. That’s what TANK is about.”
According to one survey from Microsoft, 62% of Australian workers report being burnt out at work, compared to the global average of 48%. Another global survey put the figures for burnout as high as 81% for Aussies.
TANK is an app that, according to its founders, offers an intentional approach to time management. Rather than tackling the working week with brute force and trying to cover everything on the fly, the app allows you to visualise your time, identify patterns, and coaches you towards decisions that lower the risk of burnout while remaining productive.
“It’s not ‘yet another app’ to manage, it’s your personal assistant to manage the ones you’ve got,” the TANK website states.
The app shows you the time you have in a working week, 168 hours, not including time to sleep, and reminds you to make time for the things you want to do that bring you a sense of rejuvenation.
Co-founders Williams and Navin K have each spent close to 20 years in some of the country’s biggest companies and seen the impact of burnout first-hand. With Williams’ background in organisational psychology, the team infuse the latest neuroscience into the way the app works.
“Every aspect of how TANK works ties back to research on how our brains work with our bodies,” Williams explains.
“In a lot of cases, neuroscience is deepening our confidence in areas like the interplay between stress and recovery”.
She uses the example of the switching on and off of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis (HPA) and the impact that chronic stress can have in keeping that on switch stuck. What is required is not a shut-off but a restructuring of someone’s working time to incorporate periods of rest and recovery, before it’s too late.
“Long work hours are only one of the stressors that drive burnout,” Williams said.
“When you get stress aligned with what’s important to you, you’re recovering effectively, and those two are working together in a system, you’re doing much more than time management”.
The TANK app is available on both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store now.
Aussies Tackling the World’s Biggest Problems
TANK was developed in partnership with the startup accelerator programme 10x, based at University of New South Wales Founders, without which the company wouldn’t be where it is today.
Lucas Hakewill, the UNSW Founders Program Manager and Facilitator, mentored the team at TANK in turning their dream into a reality. Over the past ten years, since the programme launched, the accelerator has helped dozens of Australian startups get off the ground through millions of dollars in investment.
“TANK was really them looking to systematize the solution that [Williams] had already developed and found that it worked,” Hakewill told The Latch over Zoom.
“We see a lot of founders working on solutions to try to help people with mental health or burnout but those founders were implementing something that they knew worked, that was backed by research, and that avoided some of the popular traps of the cheap dopamine hacks, that a lot of apps and use.
“It was really focused on evidence-based solutions. And they built a beautiful product”.
Australia, historically, has not had a strong startup culture, certainly not when compared to the bright lights and big city of San Francisco. But that’s slowly changing thanks to the Australian success stories of companies like Atlassian, Canva, and Deputy.
Hakewill explains that, as those companies mature and employees grow out of them, they tend to splinter off to found their own companies, the rise of which we’re seeing now.
“There’s a push from the government to increase our economic complexity,” he said, referencing the speech given by Ed Husic, Minister for Industry and Science in August.
“We need to get better at commercializing the amazing research that comes out of our universities and there’s a lot of support or encouragement from the government to do that.
Australia’s primary exports are mining and agriculture and, despite being the world’s 13th largest economy, we only rank 74th in complexity. Too many eggs in too few baskets leaves the country open to global shifts, such as the one away from fossil fuels, for example.
“I think with the support of organizations like UNSW founders and with our incredible group of hungry founders … who really want to start companies and want to see a change in the world, I think we have an opportunity to improve that economic complexity,” Hakewill said.
“That’s great for Australia, but it’s also great for the people who are starting companies”.
The accelerator head notes that he’s constantly on the look out for fresh new ideas and calls on any UNSW staff, students, or alumni, or people working in climate, health, defense, or biotech to get in touch.
Coming back to TANK, Hakewill says that it’s a tool that he views as not only helpful to everyday individuals, but to those people wanting to get their foot in the door in founding companies as well.
“Founders are usually individuals who push themselves towards high performance, who are super driven and tend to be stressed about all the things that they need to achieve,” he said.
“I see people who are potentially on the route to burnout every day and so I can see that having a solution like TANK that will allow them to continue to perform.
Burnout is on the rise right now because of the perfect storm of global pressures. We’ve all come out of a once-in-a-century pandemic where our lives were terrifyingly flipped upside down. Emerging from that we’re now dealing with the economic fallout that is pushing us to accept working conditions that either no longer work for us or weren’t adequate in the first place.
Study after study has found that systemic change is a necessity, but it’s not a solution we can all sit around and wait for. Taking action now, for many, is the only solution and this is where apps like TANK become tools to help us construct a better workplace culture that we all can actually thrive in.