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James Bond: Burnout


Some people’s jobs are ‘killing them’ – in 007’s case, literally.

In 2012, I had the privilege of being an ‘extra’ in the 23rd James Bond film Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes [1]. Although termed ‘background artist’, I got more than I bargained for when playing a commuter on a busy London underground train as one of about 200 extras. In a scene filmed over 4 days, ‘Bond’ played by Daniel Craig, races through the tube carriage and shoves me and others out of the way to tackle the villain ‘Silva’ played by Javier Bardem. Sadly for me…in the final edited film my ‘close up’ ended up on the cutting room floor, a tragic loss to global cinema.

When watching Skyfall months later I was struck by how Bond’s character in the film experiences a ‘crisis of confidence’ about his abilities at work, despite being a key employee. Applying the Mayo clinic [2] job burnout check-list below – in Skyfall, Bond displays many of the key features of burnout including:

‘Becoming cynical or critical at work’ (expressed mainly at ‘M’ & ‘Q’)
Dragging himself to work and having trouble getting started (after some enforced sick leave)
‘Being irritable or impatient with co-workers’ (including ‘Moneypenny’, who did however, shoot him off a moving train)
‘Lacking energy to be consistently productive’
‘Lacking satisfaction from his achievements’
‘Feeling disillusioned’ about his job
‘Using alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel’ (in addition to gambling – see Casino Royale)
‘Changed sleep habits’ (I won’t elaborate)
‘Troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints’ (Bond’s physical/mental injuries taking a toll).

On a more serious note, why might work related stress or job burnout happen in our day to day real lives?

Jobs and work environments vary across industries, but some central factors can play a key role in contributing to burnout. Not having control over your work pattern or workload; feeling left outside of the decision making loop with unclear expectations and difficult work colleagues; lack of work-life balance with extreme hours or labour tasks can all result in feeling alienated from a job which previously felt great to do. At one point in Skyfall, Silva the villain reads Bonds psychiatric report out to him ‘Medical evaluation: fail. Physical evaluation: fail. Psychological evaluation, alcohol and substance addiction indicated.’

Bond’s character seems to tick most of the above burnout criteria and he experiences some of the major consequences of burnout; insomnia, fatigue, stress, anxiety, feeling isolated – as well as secondary alcoholism and gambling addictions as dysfunctional coping mechanisms. This all has detrimental consequences for his personal relationships at work and home.

People experiencing prolonged job burnout or excessive work related stress can also experience depression, cardiovascular problems [3] and even become more prone to infections like the usual seasonal coughs, colds and flu bugs circulating within an office environment.

Pointers to prevent or overcome burnout:

Identifying and acknowledging work related stress and the underlying causes contributing to it is key to planning changes to promote recovery. Refocusing attention to basic human needs for regular sleep, meals and rest are vital. Can specific issues around managing work flows and tasks be improved? Are other people required to be informed or involved in support?

Not losing focus of the things that you enjoy, (family, friends, exercise, outside interests in the wider world) that protect your wellbeing and promote your resilience to stress is important. Are there still aspects of the job you enjoy and find stimulating or curiosity provoking? Can these be built on and developed? Are your values in sync with your job or organisation? Consider ‘blue skies thinking’ – all options for potential change should be on the table, including a new career?

During another scene in Skyfall, Bond reluctantly undergoes a humorous (but unrealistic) psychiatric evaluation. Some ‘word association’ ensues – useless for burnout – but giving Bond plenty of scope for opportune deadpan quips. For the film buffs amongst you, one of the best depictions of word association on film is in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie [4] –ironically enough conducted by no other than Sean Connery!


Skyfall (2012). Eon Productions. Directed by Sam Mendes.
Mayo Clinic website.
Marnie (1964). Universal Pictures. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

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