To suffer from burnout is to be used up, like a spent battery that can't be recharged. Defining symptoms are exhaustion, cynicism, and loss of productivity.
The World Health Organization recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon in 2019 but it is not listed as a medical condition. Multiple studies suggest burnout symptoms are identical to depression.
The diagnosis suffers from two confusions:
The term 'burnout' got its name in 1973 and by the 1980s, everyone was burned out. One Swiss psychotherapist stated that Moses, mentioned in the Old Testament, was burned out. Research suggests that three out of five workers feel burned out globally, but a recent book claims all Millenials suffer from burnout.
Herbert J. Freudenberger, the psychologist who defined burnout, became involved in the 'free clinic' movement in the late 1960s. It was a community-based clinic that served alienated populations in the US, including hippies and drug abusers.
Volunteer staff helped with drug abuse treatment and detoxification. The people talked about being "burnt out" by drug addiction. Freudenberger worked his second job at the clinic until midnight until he finally found himself in a state of exhaustion. In his self-diagnosis, he borrowed the metaphor drug users invented to describe their suffering.
Herbert J. Freudenberger, having experienced the state of burnout himself, wrote an essay on "staff burnout". He extended the idea to staff of all sorts, including attorneys, child-care workers, medical professionals and parents. He found burnouts everywhere and popularised the idea in interviews and self-help books.
Now, burnout wasn't what happened to you when you had nothing - it was what happened to you when you wanted it all. It made the term a yuppy problem, a badge of success.
The press picked up on burnout and filled pages of newspapers and magazines with new categories of burned-out workers, from lists of symptoms to quizzes. Everyone suffered.
The sceptics fired back. "The new IN thing is 'burnout,'" a Time columnist wrote. "If you don't come down with it, you're a bum." Even Freudenberger was tired of burnout. Still, in 1985, he published a new book on Women's Burnout. The press loved quoting him, writing that "you can't have it all."
For philosopher Byung-Chul Han, burnout is depression and exhaustion - it is a sickness that plagues a society bent on excessive positivity and achievement to the point of self-destruction.
Burnout keeps on spreading. With the emergence of the internet, people start speaking about "digital burnout." Social media burns you out. Gig work burns you out. It is no longer a temporary problem - it's a modern problem.
❤️ Brainstash Inc.