Is My Job Stress Causing Burnout?

We’ve all had days where we feel like a salmon swimming upstream: we exert maximum effort, only to be swept back by forces beyond our control. To make matters worse, we all know what happens to the salmon at the end of that journey. But what if your entire job starts to feel like an ill-fated upriver struggle? This week, by request from listener Liz L.  from Boston, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen explains the three signs of burnout. Next week, we’ll cover how not to end up dead in the water.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
August 14, 2015
Episode #078

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Symptom #3: Reduced Personal Accomplishment

Burnout not only takes a toll on your psyche, it takes a toll on your actual work performance.  And even if you can fake it, it certainly takes a toll on your life. Concentration is difficult. You feel sluggish. And forget coming up with anything creative—you’re lucky just to check all your boxes, much less think outside them.

Next, how does burnout start? Researchers have found that something called effort-reward imbalance sets the stage for burnout, which, in short, is having to work really hard for little or no payoff.  

In a 2010 study, the leading researcher on burnout, Dr. Christina Maslach (who, for psychology nerds out there, is married to Philip Zimbardo of the Stanford Prison Experiment fame) examined the effort-reward imbalance in more than 900 Las Vegas hotel room cleaners and, unsurprisingly, found that the greater the imbalance, the worse the cleaners’ physical and mental health.  

It makes sense: work is the biggest activity of your life, so if you hate how you’re spending the majority of your time, your mind and body will let you know.

Next week, we’ll cover nine ways to cope with burnout.  So tune in and learn how not to end up like our fishy friends.

For a good long read on burnout, this 2007 New York Magazine article is still spot on.  


Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E., Leiter, M.P. (1996).  MBI: The Maslach Burnout Inventory: Manual.  Press CP, Palo Alto.

Maslach, C. (2011).  Burnout and engagement in the workplace: New perspectives. European Health Psychologist, 13, 44-47.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W.B., & Leiter, M.P. (2001).  Job burnout.  Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Schaufeli, W. B., Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2009). Burnout: Thirty-five years of research and practice. Career Development International, 14, 204-220.

Krause, N., Rugulies, R. & Maslach, C. (2010).  Effort-reward imbalance at work and self-rated health of Las Vegas hotel room cleaners.  American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 53, 372-86.

Burnt out businessman image courtesy of Shutterstock.


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