The Dallas Morning News
By Sheryll Rubinett
Consultant Says Burnout Can Be Spotted, Treated
Burnout - the career buzz word of the 1980s - has come to encompass everything from
slight boredom to an actual job- induced nervous breakdown.
Mark Gorkin fell victim to burn out while studying for his doctorate at Tulane
University. Now a social worker and organizational consultant, he devotes much of his
career conducting workshops for professionals who risk developing this syndrome.
In Dallas recently to address the national convention of the American Society of
Training and Development, Gorkin shared his thoughts on burnout,
What is burnout and how does it differ from "brownout"?
Burnout is a gradual process by which an individual detaches from work and other
significant relationships in response to excessive or prolonged stress and strain. The
result is confusion, lowered productivity and a drained feeling of nothing more to give. I
grew up in New York City and occasionally we had power shortages called
"brownouts." While these episodes weren't as serious as blackouts, they were
important because they served as warning signals. Emotional brownouts act in the same way
- they're smoke signals warning individuals to examine wnat's really going on.
Could you describe some of these warning signals?
Are there significant changes in your eating or sleeping habits? Do you walk around
angry all the time? Then you're in the throes of brownout.
What are the four stages of burnout?
The first stage is characterized by physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. People
in this stage frequently complain of colds and other aches and pains. If individuals can't
or won't step back and objectively look at the situation, then they may be vulnerable to
the second stage.
This stage, which I've labeled "shame and doubt," is one in which work
definitely suffers. The typical pattern is unreturned phone calls and periods of skipping
work alternating with periods of working until 8 o'clock at night. Then these people
wonder why they can't produce like they did before. They begin to question their past
performance and feel self-contempt. There is a constant fear of exposure.
By now, events are pretty well set in motion for the third stage - "cynicism, and
callousness." It's psychologically stressful to stay with the self-doubt of the
second stage, so most people project the source of the problem outside themselves. It's
easier to blame some authority figure or management team. Sure, supervisors can often make
your life miserable, but you have to sort out what part is you and what part is them.
During this third stage, individuals develop hard survival shells.
"Failure, helplessness and crisis" is the fourth stage. It's at this time
that you confront a double-bind situation. You're damned if you stay in the job, but
damned by everyone else if you leave it. A sense of paralysis sets in and your coping
structure becomes unglued. A crisis can be ignited by any triggering event.
Ironically, though it hurts like the devil at the time, reaching this stage is
something of an accomplishment. It takes a certain amount of tenacity to push so far
without dropping out.
What are some professions prone to burnout?
Teachers, police officers, air-traffic controllers. Any job in which you have to make
decisions that affect the welfare of others. In general, I would say that individuals in
service-related fields are particularly vulnerable. They've grown up professionally with
the myth that the customer or client is king. In other words, the people they help can
express their emotions but they must. keep it all inside. The goal is to develop a
detached concern, and that isn't easy.
Paraprofessionals - paralegals, paramedics, executive assistants often experience
burnout because their roles are ill-defined. They have a feeling of powerlessness because
they may have responsibility but no authority.