Burnout Syndrome: A Disease of Modern Societies?

6 Jun

A short story of how I got to the topic

Last weekend we celebrated my mom’s birthday and many friends and family members attended this little party. Only one person, we had invited before was missing: Thorsten.

His wife Susan told us that he is in hospital because he suffers from a burnout due to his job. We were all shocked when we heard that news and especially Susan was quite upset but she had already noticed that something was wrong with her husband after their summer vacation last year. Thorsten wasn’t relaxed at all and became more and more irritable. He is the CEO of a publicly traded technology company and has been working really hard on the weekends as well as doing over-time work. After a few weeks after their vacation he was worn out, tired and exhausted. There were also dizziness and a feeling of pressure in his head, which soon degenerated to a constant pain. As his condition worsened in April, Susan searched for a burnout clinic. But Thorsten wouldn’t admit that he was sick and refused to go there and continued working until two weeks ago when he woke up in the middle of the night bathed in sweat with his pulse racing comparable to a panic attack. This was a kind of a wake-up call for Thorsten, Susan said.

Nowadays, we hear a lot about this burnout syndrome on TV or on the radio or read about it in the news papers but nobody would ever imagine that this could possibly happen to oneself or to people in one’s close environment.

This really got me thinking about the problem of burnout in our society and I decided to chose this topic for my last four weeks blog posts in the Business Applications class because there are so many different aspects to look at and to discuss so I started researching about it.


What is the burnout syndrome?

First reports on a burnout syndrome appeared in 1970s in the USA. One of the founders of a burnout idea was an American psychiatrist, H. Fredenberger, who worked in an alternative medical help service. In 1974 he described a phenomenon that he observed himself and by his colleagues (exhaustion, loss of motivation and responsibility), and gave it a memorizing name: a burnout.

Nowadays, there are lots of different types of burnout definitions that particularly correspond to the activity among groups of society. According to Fredenberger, professional burnout is an “energy exhaustion among professionals in the sphere of social help, it is when people feel that they are overloaded with problems of other people”.

K. Maslach determines this concept in another way when he argues that burnout is – “a syndrome of physical and emotional exhaustion, including the development of a negative self-esteem, a negative attitude to work and loss of understanding and sympathy for clients”. Maslach emphasizes that a burnout is not the loss of creativity, not the reaction on boredom, but a problem that “arises because of the stress, caused by personal interrelationship”.


When Stress turns into burnout

The moment when stress comes to a burnout is not clearly stated. But G. Selje describes the general adaptation syndrome as stress in the whole body that is developed in a definite time.

A person, being at the stage of exhaustion, is not able to adapt or to resist. Although, stress is one of the necessary components of our everyday life, when the level of it is too high it becomes toxic. The optimal amount of stress is very personal. Still, Selje claims that some people look for stress and need it to live and to feel themselves happy. Other people, at the same time, avoid stress and want to live calm and easy. Each person needs to set such a level of stress that is needed for a successful living.

In the table below you can find some of the factors that influence the appearance of a burnout syndrome:

Besides that I found that a recent study which sees burnout as a consequence of a poor leadership in many companies. Occupational health practitioner and doctors assume not work as such, makes people sick, even in compressed form or flexible, but its poor organization. To consistent  time pressure, many savings targets and the desire for a permanent increase in efficiency can neither companies (which are in global competition) nor individual leaders oppose something.

 But in my opinion what can be changed however, and have significant effects on job satisfaction and therefore also on the number of burnout diseases, is a company’s internal culture, especially its management culture. Work should be distributed evenly, strategic goals clearly communicated and performance evaluated objectively. Some possibilities may be for example an appreciative leadership style, active feedback and a strong autonomy in the discharge of individual tasks.

 As we can see here the burnout syndrome has a wide field of causes, many symptoms and there are even more ways to heal or to prevent it. In my next blogs I’m going to talk about burnout among students , what else managers can do to protect themselves and their workers, and what the importance of a work-life balance is.


6 Responses to “Burnout Syndrome: A Disease of Modern Societies?”

  1. Nicpic June 6, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Hi Jules,
    great choice of topic! What to do “when the lights go out” is incredibly important! Especially to us managers-in-the-making, being the prime targets. So I am very glad and grateful that you decided to write about it!
    I enjoyed your mixture of personal story, experts’ opinions and facts. You also make great use of subheads and I like that you introduce what you are going to talk about in your current as well as future posts!
    In addition you include different definitions of “burnout” in your post and talk about its history. Nice touch! You have truly written a great post!
    At this point though I would like to propose some constructive criticism. Even though you include experts you do not shortly introduce most of them. Simply by inserting “an American psychiatrist” like you did with Fredenberg you lend more weight to your post.
    Moreover when searching for some information on burnout myself I found one of your sentences “The moment when stress comes to a burnout is not clearly stated” word for word in another article. Maybe this was a coincidence (since it’s a rather small sentence) but remember to put everything into quotation marks, if you did not write it!
    Lastly you start of with posing a question in your headline, but nowhere in your post do you actually try to answer it or come back to it.
    So here is my view on your question! In my opinion burnout is not a modern disease, but only in modern times did it become epidemic. In former times people also got sick when being too stressed due to hard work, leisure time to relax and unhappiness. However it cannot be denied that this illness has spread immensely during the last decades. A lot more productivity is demanded of people nowadays, especially managers, which means more work in less time. In addition we are now in an age where we have to be easily attainable every hour of every day, thanks to web-enabled mobile phones. The increasing appearance of burnout is a natural consequence.
    Do you agree or are you of a different opinion?
    Do you agree that burnout is not a recognized clinical psychiatric or psychological illness?
    I’m looking forward to your next posts!

  2. LittleMissPanda June 9, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    Hello jules,

    really interesting topic you chose to wirte about! I think being students we can all relate to this issue especially since it seems to be a widely discussed one in the media and sometimes even among friends and family.

    That is the reason why I liked the fact that you included your own experiences and told a little story to introduce your article. The question you raised in the beginning was also a good one. However it would have been better if you refered to it more in the course of the post. Do you think that burnout is just a disease of modern society? Is it just a side effect of a society that expect too much from the individual?

    I really liked the explanations you chose and the argumentation. The only thing I could critisize is the fact that you didnn’t go back to the initial question.

    Though I do like the fact that you have already outlined the next blog post which shows that you clearly think deeply about it beforehand.

  3. anastasijalt June 11, 2012 at 4:54 pm #

    Hello Jules,
    You did a good job here. The topic that you introduced is very important in our fast running life.. Especially, in my opinion, the burnout happens a lot to us a students now, when we are preparing for exams, studying hard, and it seems there is not enough time for preparing all the subjects, and some just start to panic..
    Your article is easy to read, and is interesting, as you included personal experience. As I started to read, somehow I thought that the whole article will consist of only this example from life, as it was quite long, but then you made a gentle turn towards the topic itself, and it was like a flow, like one entire story (because sometimes it is difficult to combine personal experience and theory or other information to make it 1 article).

    Sometimes I face stress and other kinds of things you described myself, but now I am pretty scared of this burnout…:)) so I will try to less think about all my goals and focus more on the present. thanks again

  4. melissano18 June 11, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    Hey Jules!
    This is a very interesting topic you chose for your blog post. I have heard something about burnout and that more and more people have this disease.
    I really like that you started with a personal story, which always catches the attention of the reader.
    You displayed a lot of different facts on this topic, however the most part of it was probably more medical based than based on business issues. But still at the end you referred to business, although you probably also should have referred to your question from the beginning.
    Your style is very pleasant and your pictures fit very well to your topic!
    I’m already interested in your next posts, because you already introduced your further topics to the reader, which is a good way to make the reader keeping up reading your blog posts.
    Well done!


  1. Have you reached your limit yet? « hit the nail on the top - June 13, 2012

    […] my last week’s blog post  “Burnout Syndrome: A Disease of Modern Societies?” I introduced the topic of the burnout syndrome in general. This time, I want to focus more on what […]

  2. Disadvantages of lean management « hit the nail on the top - June 26, 2012

    […] In my last article I wrote about lean management and that this strategy is a great innovation for many reasons, and one of them is time saving. Well of course this is great, I do less and do get more time to do other things. But on the other hand I feel like I am always under pressure.  In the sense of I have more time for other things, so during the day I do a lot more, in the end I am busy the hole day. And I get this uncomfortable feeling- this will never end- which can lead to burn out (read more about this in Jules post). […]

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