THE BLOG

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee! Why Caffeine Can't Solve Burnout

29/07/2014 15:54 BST | Updated 28/09/2014 10:59 BST
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I admit it: I've had issues. Whether stumbling into the office bleary eyed from lack of sleep, stressed out from the commute, or plain grumpy and in need of a boost, there has always been one thing I've gone to. Coffee. One delicious, double shot, skinny cappuccino and the world snapped back into focus, tiredness was held at bay, and energy returned.

There are times in our lives that we can all become caffeine junkies. A cup of coffee can make us feel boosted, confident and awake. Clutching the takeaway cup in morning meetings almost became as natural as getting dressed, applying my makeup and eating breakfast.

To top it off, there have been numerous medical studies claiming to link coffee consumption with good health. Recently, it was reported in the Independent that increasing your coffee intake by 1.5 cups a day to the ideal 3 - 5 could lower your chances of developing type two diabetes. It has also been linked to preventing Alzheimer's disease, increasing longevity, and even reducing depression in women.

However, when coffee starts to become a crutch, surely something isn't right? In a study conducted by professors at the universities of Washington, Arizona and North Carolina, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, it was found that drinking coffee at work could increase resilience, and improve morality.

It stated that caffeine could help sleep deprived workers resist unethical influence from their superiors, by strengthening their self-control and willpower when they were exhausted.

David Welsh, an organisational behaviour professor at the University of Washington said: "When you're sleep-deprived at work, it's much easier to just go along with unethical suggestions from your boss because resistance takes effort and you're already worn down. However, we found that caffeine can give sleep-deprived individuals the extra energy needed to resist unethical behaviour."

There is something deeply troubling about these findings. They point towards a wider problem endemic in society's values. Employees are regularly working longer hours than ever before, and feel pressured to achieve wealth and power as a badge of success. Exhausted, they are relying on stimulants to provide them with the inner resilience that they should already possess.

As argued by Arianna Huffington in her book Thrive advocating her idea of the Third Metric, modern life is exhausting, and in order to stay healthy, we need to incorporate wisdom, wellbeing, wonder and giving back into our lives. Through operating from a place of burnout, we are less productive, less confidant, and more lightly to have serious errors of judgement.

Prevention is always better than cure. Instead of self-medicating with caffeine, employers and employees alike need to become more aware of the implications of overwork, and the importance of wellbeing. They should consider overtime restrictions; sleep awareness training, and frequent breaks. By encouraging a more sustainable approach, productivity is increased, cognitive function improved, and decision making cleared.

Coffee shouldn't be a bitter medicine; it should be a delicious, enjoyable, indulgent treat.