You've probably said it, whenever work deadlines hit especially hard: "I'm burned out." But are you really burned out — or just stressed out? We talked to Christina Maslach, professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and coauthor with Michael P. Leiter of The Truth About Burnout.
For the past 20 years, Maslach has investigated dozens of workplaces, tracking burnout as it has evolved into a major job hazard. She says the main, easily recognizable symptoms of burnout are the same as those of stress, including constant fatigue and a heightened susceptibility to illness. The difference is that burnout takes a social as well as a physical toll. It creates a sense of isolation and a feeling of lost control, causing you to relate differently to people and to your work.
Are you burned out? Maslach, like most serious researchers, is not a fan of quickie self-tests. Even so, she says, people should ask themselves three critical questions:
1. Are you just as tired when you wake up as you were when you went to bed?
2. At work, do you avoid involvement with others?
3. Do you doubt your ability to make a difference at work and at home?
If you answered yes to all of the above, you should do some more investigating. The Truth About Burnout is an excellent place to start. The book takes an in-depth look at what Maslach calls the three dimensions of burnout, and it identifies six kinds of chronic, work-specific stress. Maslach also offers advice to companies on preventing burnout among their employees.
Coordinates: $25. The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It. Jossey-Bass, 800-956-7739, www.josseybass.com
A version of this article appeared in the August 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.