Searches for “burnout” are at an all-time high

Searching for answers.
Searching for answers.
Image: Reuters/Edgar Su
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Are we feeling more burned out than ever?

According to Google Trends, which since 2004 has collected data on what the world is searching for, queries for “burnout”—from work, life, and school—are at an all-time high in the US.

The pandemic has exacerbated a trend that was already in evidence: Searches for “burnout from life” began to rise around 2017, but in 2020 they skyrocketed. Burnout from work and school—whether that’s homeschooling kids or attending school oneself—also saw big increases.

So is burnout increasing, or are we simply more likely to search for answers using that particular term? There’s plenty of evidence that suggests the pandemic stretched many to breaking point including, but not limited to, those who got sick, people with caring responsibilities, and people in “essential” jobs.

Google Trends data isn’t a perfect measure of what people are interested in, but it’s a useful yardstick. It’s not a measure of the total number of searches, but rather of how much search interest has changed over time. Google Trends doesn’t provide comparators, but a quick look shows that more people searched for “Lehman Brothers,” for example, than “burnout,” over the same time frame. In other words, burnout may not be most popular term, but search frequency is clearly on the rise.

Burnout, as a concept, has been given more attention in recent years, used increasingly to explain the problems of modern work. The pandemic has made more apparent some of the existing cracks in the way we live, and that has driven more people online to search for ways to deal with burnout, help others who are struggling, or avoid it in the first place.