Burnout looms over workplace, in Vietnam too

By Ngoc Anh   November 13, 2022 | 07:23 pm PT
Burnout looms over workplace, in Vietnam too
Staff at the office in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Chanh District in June, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Hang
Huong’s perpetual fear of not being “good enough” meant she was working up to 18 hours a day, and ended up hospitalized for exhaustion.

According to a recent survey, burnout is hitting record levels in many countries. Vietnam is also seeing an increasing number of young people seeking professional help due to work fatigue.

Huong, a healthcare worker in Hanoi, says: "During the Covid lockdown, I was in poor health and resorted to a high dosage of antibiotics. I overdosed, had anaphylaxis and had to go to the ER."

She says it was the result of perpetual anxiety, loss of appetite and fatigue.

"My face is full of acne, I am immunocompromised and my body is extremely, extremely vulnerable."

According to medical professionals, besides the physical symptoms Huong had, mental signs of burnout might include feeling easily angered, despondent, unmotivated, and having self-doubt.

Burnout is a consequence of work-related stress, causing individuals to feel drained, reducing motivation and productivity. A study done by Bach Mai Hospital’s mental health department found 30% of the Vietnamese population having mental disorders, with 25% having depressive diseases.

Psychiatrists say that in large urban areas there has been an increase in the number of young people seeking help from doctors for burnout due to work pressure.

The Bach Mai survey also found 37% of workers were exhausted in 2021.

Huong has yet to find a solution for her burnout, and often breaks into sobs out of helplessness.

While not a disease and purely a work-related condition, the number of people suffering both physically and mentally from burnout is rising relentlessly.

Hang, who works in a large corporation in Hanoi, says she feels both physically and mentally unstable when she overworks but is still afraid of not being able to complete her tasks.

"When work is hectic, I lose my appetite and weight. I always feel knackered and constantly think about work. I feel anxious for fear of being scolded by the boss or not meeting deadlines, and suffer from insomnia. It takes a toll on my appearance, I have dark circles under the eyes and acne due to lack of sleep. My health gets affected as well."

Linh, an office worker in Hanoi, is another victim of workplace pressure. Despite having a 38-degree fever and coughing non-stop, she still showed up at office. To her, not achieving her KPI was more worrisome than any illness.

"Even when I am sick, I don't allow myself to rest because there are too many things to deal with at work."

Linh, Hang and Huong are by no means isolated cases of people risking their health to cope with work. A survey by Milieu Insight of 6,000 respondents across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam found that Southeast Asian office workers are afraid of taking leave.

Seventy one percent said in fact that they would continue to work even when they have physical health problems, while 65% said they would shrug off mental health issues to go to work.

The main reason for this is guilt about abandoning work, but also fear of missing out on opportunities and important decisions during leave.

More than 60% of Vietnamese respondents admitted they do not dare take a day off even when feeling unwell physically or mentally.

Many young people say the pressure to achieve prevents them from stopping.

In Huong's case, she says not only her family and society, but also her own expectations make her unable to escape the whirlpool of work.

As for Linh, pursuing a career against her family's wishes means constant pressure to earn her stripes.

According to psychologist Tran Kim Thanh, this is the inevitable ramification as society evolves.

Most young people have to face high competitive pressure in the labor market, both mental pressure due to high intensity and the ambition to secure a stable job. The effort needed to achieve the expected results causes young people to be more susceptible to burnout than previous generations.

There is also the problem of inappropriate usage of technology and devices, causing them to become weary, and many do not know how to recharge themselves after long hours of work.

According to psychologists, most young people who experience burnout from work-related stress are not aware of their condition when they fall into depression.

Many surveys have also pointed out that burnout is the leading reason for young people to quit jobs not only in Vietnam but also in many other countries around the world.

According to CNBC, 40% of Gen Z, aged 19-20, and 24% of millennials, aged 28-39 sought to quit their jobs in the last two years.

In Hang’s case, for instance, though fully aware she had excellent career prospects in her big company, she decided to resign and join a smaller company at a salary that is just 60% of her previous one but without the earlier work pressure.

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