What is burnout exactly?
When my twin sister and I told women we were writing a book called Burnout, nobody ever asked, “What’s burnout?” (Mostly what they said was, “Is it out yet? Can I read it?”) We all have an intuitive sense of what “burnout” is; we know how it feels in our bodies and how our emotions crumble in the grip of it. But when it was first coined as a technical term by Herbert Freudenberger in 1975, “burnout” was defined by three components:
- Emotional exhaustion — the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long
- Depersonalization — the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion
- Decreased sense of accomplishment — an unconquerable sense of futility or feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.
And here’s an understatement: Burnout is highly prevalent. In America, 20 to 30 percent of teachers have moderately high to high levels of burnout. Similar rates are found among university professors and international humanitarian aid workers. Among medical professionals, burnout can be as high as 52 percent. Nearly all the research on burnout is on professional burnout — specifically “people who help people,” like teachers and nurses — but a growing area of research is “parental burnout.”