Book Club: Getting honest about burnout with Jennie Blumenthal

Blumenthal burned out—you don’t have to.
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Grant Thomas

· 4 min read

Three years ago, Jennie Blumenthal was hard to pin down.

Then a partner at PwC, where she managed 300 employees and a $200 million business unit, her days often started before 6am and stretched late into the evening as she jumped from early morning workouts to wining and dining clients to catching cross-country flights to tuck in her kids at night.

From the outside looking in, the self-described “extreme adrenaline junkie” seemed to have everything under control. But she was exhausted. When the pandemic forced her to slow down, she realized her lifestyle was unsustainable.

This might sound familiar to the growing number of female HR leaders, some of whom, a McKinsey survey found, often do “invisible work” outside business hours to advance their organizations’ DE&I goals, and feel they bear the brunt of employees’ emotional well-being.

In her book, Corporate Rehab: Ditch the Hustle Culture and Thrive Again, she explores why some female leaders get addicted to hustle culture and how they can break free.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

How do women become burned out?

There are very real additional caregiving responsibilities [placed on women]. In a heterosexual couple, [women] will give 20 hours of additional childcare and housework in addition to whatever the man is doing.

The second piece is women tend to be highly influenced by this limiting belief of not being enough…Many women that I interviewed said, “I have to work 120% to be seen as good enough to the guy next to me who’s working 100%.”

The third piece…is that structural changes within the workplace are needed but [offices] haven’t really changed since 1950. So, without a national caregiving policy, without multiple different career tracks beyond the rocket to the top…the workplace is not designed for women.

Does it differ between women with or without children?

It’s all women. I think there’s an additional penalty for women with children and then there’s also the additional penalty for women without children—the “Well, unless it’s a kid, your excuse to go take time off or set your own boundaries isn’t valid” [mentality].

You said that women have to look at how they are contributing to hustle culture. How do you recommend people do that work?

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I say to do your own corporate R.E.H.A.B.

R stands for recognizing your story, understanding the context for your decisions and your values…E is [to] evaluate your patterns and roles…H is for “heal”—across your mind, body, and spirit, and how those interact together. A is for “arise,” where you really get to reconnect with yourself and your strengths. And then B is [to] build new dimensions of your life and career.

To take a hard look in the mirror and figure out what you’re bringing to that table, to figure out why you have certain patterns, it can be really scary. And so I think it’s helpful to have a process that you can go through that walks you through some of the things that could have happened to you very early on to influence your worldview and the way you behave at work 20 years later.

Some women will have a harder time setting boundaries than others. I imagine some might hear your advice and think, “Yeah, I would love to slow down, but I don’t feel like I can.”

The person who is working two jobs to make ends meet is absolutely in survival mode…they don’t have the ability to step off a ladder…but what is the story that they tell themselves? Is it that, “I’m only good if I’m producing money for the family”?

I interviewed a handful of women who were making seven figures. [They] told me that they can’t get another job because they’re the breadwinner [but] you can feed your family for less than seven figures. So, what they’re telling themselves is, “This is the only job that’s going to be able to feed my family,” but what’s really happening is [they’re believing] “This is the only job that makes me feel enough.”

Not everyone can switch jobs, but part of the work is getting really honest with yourself about whose stories are you running on and trying to replace an old story that’s no longer working for you with something that’s more true.

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Editor's note 12/14/22: This article has been updated since it was first published.

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