The Chicago Journal

Burnout: looking into the workplace phenomenon

Image Commercially Licensed from: DepositPhotos
Image Commercially Licensed from: DepositPhotos

Burnout Shortly before the 2020 pandemic, studies and media reports showed that burnout was occurring quite frequently among working people.

Work with the highest liability of burnout includes the health care, education and service sectors.

It got even more attention when New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced her resignation earlier in 2023.

“I know what the job takes, and I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.”

Psychologist Christina Masrach, who has studied work-related stress for decades, found a term that pops up frequently in her investigation.

“She’s talking about an empty tank,” Maslach pointed out.

Maslach said the pandemic shows how crucial work is to a healthy and productive society, even when people are exasperated. 

Modern understanding

Some researchers argue that burnout is a modern phenomenon caused by our busy culture, while others argue that it is just another repetition of a long series of fatigue problems. tired. .

They mentioned the ancient Greek concept of Asedia, which the fifth-century monk and theologian John Cassian described as physical lethargy and deprivation.

In the 1970s, Herbert Freudenberger, a psychological consultant for volunteers working with drug addicts, coined the term “burnout”.

Freudenberger used this phrase to describe the following characteristics of volunteers:   

  • A gradual loss of motivation
  • Emotional depletion
  • Reduced commitment

Christina Maslach noticed similar trends in interviews with social workers in California, which inspired her to develop a burnout detector, the Maslach Burnout Inventory.

They discovered three of the traits with Susan Jackson, a PhD student at the time.

Feelings of chronic fatigue, cynicism and inefficiency, or low personal achievement.

According to Renzo Bianchi, an occupational psychologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Maslach’s scale has elevated burnout to a legitimate research topic. 

“Before [the Maslach Burnout Inventory], burnout was pop psychology,” said Bianchi.


Since its conception, Maslach’s inventory has been the most extensively used instrument for investigating burnout, although its description of the disorder has been disputed.

Organizational psychologists Wilmar Schaufeli and Dirk Enzmann wrote The Burnout Companion to Study and Practice: A Critical Analysis in 1998.

They maintained that boxing burnout, described as a combination of tiredness, cynicism, and inefficiency, was “arbitrary.”

“What would have happened if other items had been included?” they proposed.

“Most likely, other dimensions would have appeared.”

The three causes, according to Evangelia Demerouti of Eindhoven University of Technology, are loosely defined.

Other factors such as health concerns and familial responsibilities can all contribute to fatigue.

Disagreements have arisen between opposing viewpoints, one of which is how to use Maslachi’s inventory.

There was no reference to a cutoff to define when people went from not burnt out to burnt out.

It was instead intended to help academics identify similarities in a work environment or profession.

Maslach had limited influence on how others used the method. 

A modified version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory was used in 86% of the medical burnout studies presented in JAMA 2018, some of which reduced the number of statements or reduced the assessment of burnout. 

Researchers used an unvalidated version of the scale that included cutoff value, but there was little agreement on its definition.

The JAMA researchers found 142 types of fatigue.

Researchers identified 11 different assessment instruments that did not use inventory variants in the study group. 

Concerns have led educators to rethink how burnout is defined and measured. 

“We don’t [have] a good conceptualization of diagnosis of burnout,” said Demerouti.

“We need to start from scratch.”

Read also: FGF21 shots in mice might be a solution to sobering up faster


According to Bianchi and his team in 2021, experts agree that fatigue is an important aspect. 

Research over the past two decades has focused on the idea that burnout causes cognitive changes such as memory loss and difficulty concentrating. 

This problem can lead to forgetfulness, says Charlie Renaud of the University of Rennes 

People’s problems can escalate into personal situations and make entertainment difficult. 

Renaud argued that as more information becomes available, questions about cognitive changes are added to writing scientific assessments. 

Connection to depression

Depression is often attributed to individuals, but theories appear to be conflicting as to which social factors cause burnout. 

The Researchers questioned whether the latter would arise as a diagnosis by itself. 

Research suggests that the concepts are not mutually exclusive. 

Prolonged stress at work can lead to depression, and mood burnout. 

Furthermore, according to Bianchi and colleagues, fatigue is related to depression, not cynicism or incompetence. 

If the symptoms are covered by fatigue, then fatigue and sadness appear to be a more durable combination than Maslach’s inventory. 

“The real problem is that we want to believe that burnout is not a depressive condition [or] as severe as a depressive condition,” said Bianchi, but he said it isn’t true.

Should it be diagnosed?

The diagnosis is controversial because not everyone thinks it’s a good idea. 

“Burnout was never, ever thought of as a clinical diagnosis,” Maslach explained.

However, Bianchi and his team disagreed with this statement. 

They developed a proprietary scale, the Occupational Depression Inventory, to measure nine core symptoms associated with work-related major depression, which including cognitive decline and increased risk of suicide death. 

If burnout is related to depression, it may need to be addressed. Bianchi says. 

“Hopefully, the interventions, the treatments, the forms of support that exist for depressed people can be applied for occupational depression,” he said.

According to Kirsi Aloha of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, this treatment does not lessen the work-related stress that causes the condition. 

“[Imagine] the person is on sick leave, for example, for a few weeks and recuperates and rests,” she offered.

“And he comes back to the exactly same situation where the demands are too high and no support and whatever. Then he or she starts burning out again.”

Burnout is not current included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 

Maslak’s Bern theory was supported when the World Health Organization classified the syndrome in its 2019 International Classification of Diseases. 

However, the World Health Organization says it is a tool and not a health problem.