PhD in Psychology. Professor and Vice Provost, University of California, Berkeley.
In recent years, “burnout” has become a popular way to describe the personal agony of job stress. The evocative imagery of a flame being reduced to ashes seems to resonate with people’s own experience of a psychological erosion over time. The initial “fire” of enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment to success has “burned out,” leaving behind the smoldering embers of exhaustion, cynicism, and ineffectiveness. The literary model for this phenomenon, as portrayed in A Burnt-out Case (1961), is the spiritually tormented and disillusioned architect who quits his job and withdraws into the African jungle. But much research over the past 25 years has established that this phenomenon is not merely a fictional one, and that it is not reserved for rare cases. Rather, burnout is a fairly common and widespread job experience, which serves as an indicator of a major disruption in people’s relationship with their work.