It takes its toll on you and all around you...
- Nicola Sturgeon in her resignation speech as Scotland's First Minister
I no longer have enough in the tank...
- Jacinda Ardern while resigning as New Zealand PM
Nicola Sturgeon and Jacinda Ardern broke and went beyond the glass ceiling to become the heads of state of their small countries. And then, both of them turned in their papers without being forced out of their posts or while facing a major political scandal.
Both are women leaders who said they knew when it was time to let go, and go.
This is something unheard of in the political world, where politicians (most of the time male politicians) cling to power till their dying breath.
These two resignations, completely unrelated to each other, but very similar, has given rise to several questions.
- What do Sturgeon and Ardern's resignations mean?
- What do they mean by the job taking a toll and not having their all to give?
- Does it have to do with their gender? Do women not make good leaders?
- Does it have to do with being among the younger lot of leaders (Sturgeon, 52; Ardern, 42)?
- Is this a new dawn in the political world, a new way of being a politician?
- First, we need to understand that both Sturgeon and Ardern's resignations came in at a time when their decisions were being debated.
- In Sturgeon's case, it is the Scotland Independence referendum, the controversy over the Gender Recognition Reform law, transgender prisoner rights, and more.
- Jacinda Ardern may have taken the world by Jacindamania but at home her popularity was declining.
- However, in both their pretty long careers as heads of state, Sturgeon and Ardern had weathered several crises on their way. And even if they stayed they would be doing the same thing for as long as they stayed.
- There was no political scandal like that of Boris Johnson and the likes forcing them out.
So, what do the resignations mean?
- The common theme is of the personal toll the jobs took on Sturgeon and Ardern.
- Burnout would be the right word.
- While it is not explicitly mentioned, Ardern and Sturgeon's reasons for quitting imply the feeling of burnout.
The American Psychological Association explains burnout as:
...emotional exhaustion, and negative attitudes and feelings toward one's co-workers and job role. Burnout is associated with job dissatisfaction, low commitment to the job and absenteeism.
- It can be the result of working at high levels of stress, prolonged physical and mental exertion, heavy workload, toxic environment, and more such factors.
- While we hear of burnout among workers, especially the young (I'm looking at the Gen Z and millennials), in maybe finance, desk jobs, etc; this is perhaps the first time we're hearing of burnout in politics.
- A study in the UK put politics to the list of jobs such as medical care, complaint agencies, etc that involved extensive emotional labour, and that which affected the well-being of its workers.
- It revealed that the well-being of politicians was also negatively affected by the emotional labour they had to spend. And women politicians were disproportionately affected.
What do they mean by the job taking a toll and not having their all to give?
- Nicola Sturgeon and Jacinda Ardern's decisions are definitely politically-motivated, but their admission of the commitment their jobs demand has humanised the role of a politician which is oft-maligned.
My point is this: giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done, by anyone, for so long. For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long.
- Nicola Sturgeon
- And their willingness to show vulnerability which is often seen as weak or 'feminine' has also made them more relatable.
- Coincidentally, relatability also happens to be the driving force of the social media generation; after all how many YouTubers do you follow just for their relatable AF content?!
- So, if they say they want to make way for a new leader who will be able to give it their all, why not? It should be the way forward.
Does it have to do with their gender? Do women not make good leaders?
- Misogynists will say the resignations show women can't stick around to complete the job or they are not fit for the job. But the reality is that they will still call them unfit for the job even if they had not resigned.
- Moreover, not all women leaders have the conscience to step back when the time comes. Some like former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi showed that they would do anything to stay on the job.
- But women in politics are severely disadvantaged than their male counterparts just because of their gender.
- The UK study on emotional labour showed how women were more affected than men in politics. One common reason for this could be that women have to put in more effort than men to achieve the same things (that's a fact on most other job fronts).
- It's not just working harder than men; women in politics also face larger security threats and intimidation online and offline, which can dissuade them from moving forward.
Nicola Sturgeon also mentioned the "brutality" of the life of a politician:
The nature and form of modern political discourse means there is a much greater intensity - dare I say it brutality - to life as a politician than in years gone by.
Does it have to do with being among the younger lot of leaders?
- We will have to wait and see if the younger generation's willingness to be more upfront about mental health translates into changes in the political sphere too.
- Or we may have to wait till Justin Trudeau resigns prematurely as the Canadian Prime Minister.
Is this a new dawn in the political world, a new way of being a politician?
We hope so! Old men clinging to power is way out of fashion and doesn't serve anybody's purpose.
Political leaders quitting their jobs as heads of state to deal with burnout somewhere does help de-stigmatise mental health issues like these. It's almost like saying, "You're not alone. I understand what burnout is."