Understanding Burnout Burnout is a common feeling in a society in which work is like a religion. Experts say young people are more likely to experience burnout than older persons, and a single person is more likely to feel it than a person who takes care of four kids and ailing parents. But what is burnout? Guests discuss the three kinds of burnout and how it manifests in people's lives.
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Understanding Burnout

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Understanding Burnout

Understanding Burnout

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Graham Greene may have inadvertently supplied one of the key phrases of the past 50 years in the title of his novel "A Burnt-Out Case." The image of a dead fire perfectly fit the psychological aftermath of long hours, dashed hopes and depression. And while burnout is not a medical diagnosis, it describes a condition we all recognize, except perhaps in ourselves.

But what causes it? Who's likely to get it? Believe it or not, experts say that young people are more likely to burnout than their elders, and singles are more vulnerable than a married person who has a job and takes care of four kids and ailing parents. It's also more prevalent in societies that have more freedom of choice. Is it about actual workload or is it about expectations and disappointment? Is it a societal phenomenon or a personal one?

Later this hour, comedian Paul Mooney on Michael Richards and the n-word. But first, burnout. If you've had it, what caused it? How did it manifest itself? What did you do about it? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: talk@npr.org.

We begin with Jennifer Senior, contributing editor for New York magazine who wrote this week's cover story Can't Get No Satisfaction about burnout. She joins us now from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program.

Ms. JENNIFER SENIOR (Contributing Editor, New York Magazine): Thanks so much. Lovely to be here.

CONAN: And burnout, have you ever had burnout yourself?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SENIOR: Well, here's what's sort of funny about this story. I was fried after working on a story that wound up - it consumed my entire vacation. This was purely one of those deadline SNAFUs that all of us have encountered from time to time.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SENIOR: And so when I came back, I was, you know, this brittle kind of husk of my old self. And I was sitting there having lunch with a friend of mine and she just looked at me said, you should write about burnout.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SENIOR: And I mean I was too exhausted to even come up with the idea myself. I mean that was exactly how empty I was. Usually it's our instinct to sort of convert whatever is happening to us, you know, into stories.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SENIOR: But that's how far gone I was, basically.

CONAN: Yeah, and so you didn't even see it in yourself.

Ms. SENIOR: No. I mean, well, you know - I mean I probably thought I was whining.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Is exhaustion, is that defining a aspect of burnout, do you think?

Ms. SENIOR: Yes, it can be, but it doesn't mean that it's a result of overwork. I mean, you know, intellectual and physical exhaustion are sometimes the same thing and sometimes different; and emotional exhaustion is part of it, too. It can be a defining quality, as can cynicism and anger toward the people that you're actually working for or working with. And also sort of a bleak existential feeling that, you know, that ultimately what you're doing is sort of inconsequential.

CONAN: Forgive me, but you seem to be describing half the city of New York.

Ms. SENIOR: Do you think it's only half, really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I like to be an optimist.

Ms. SENIOR: God, well, you know, as a person who was, you know, burnt out not that long ago, I'd like to say that - I mean sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SENIOR: Yeah, that's exactly right. And possibly many cities, right? I mean this does strike me as a rampant urban phenomenon. But because you can file it so readily under the category of whining, you know, it's hard to drum up enough sympathy to actually study it.

CONAN: Doctors attempt to define it and find categories for it, but it is not, at this point, a diagnosis.

Ms. SENIOR: Correct, it's not on the DSM in the - it's not a DSM category, unlike, say, you know, whatever, you know, insomnia or stress or, you know, name your disorder. But I wonder if in part it's because people who've looked at it have decided to actually start breaking it down into different components like stress, and I don't know if that's actually right.

CONAN: So it's got to be something more than just stress.

Ms. SENIOR: It is something more than just stress. I think what is sort of critical - the most - many different researchers define this differently, although I think one of the key components in all of their research is that it has something to do with how much you're working and how much you get out, and that there's some perverse law of - sort of the law of physics where, you know, you sort of whether the energy in and the energy out is the same.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. SENIOR: I think that that sort of all goes horribly awry when one is burnout. One keeps pushing harder and harder and getting less in return. What the kind of inflated hopes that one - or not even inflated - but let's say the hopes that one had for something is not in any one commensurate with what one is actually getting out of a job or whatever one is devoted to.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. SENIOR: I think that's probably a safer definition of burnout.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some listeners in on the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's begin with Jeff, Jeff calling us from Lake Tahoe in California.

JEFF (Caller): Hi, Neal, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

JEFF: Been the burnout road. I for a long time managed restaurants and have since had to leave that job as the general public just wears and wears and wears upon you, especially in a resort community. And I have since taken a job still within the same realm, but I think by managing my burnout I've taken the view that everything with moderation, that sometimes it is good to just take the extra day off or the extra time away, you know, sit back, relax, and evaluate how much, like she said, how much energy you put into it and what you're getting out of it.

CONAN: And take a couple of deep breaths before you start yelling at your customers.

JEFF: Well, yeah, that's for sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEFF: But, you know, you always have to look at the best foot forward with the fact that you are working for an owner and it is his establishment. And the better off you do that, the easier it is to kind of hopefully manage your burnout and be a valued employee for the long term.

CONAN: And now that - I'm sorry, Jennifer, did you have something?

JENNIFER: Yeah, no, no. I just - if I could cut in - it's very interesting. The early work on burnout was done about people in the caring professions, people like nurses and social workers. We can get into that a little bit later. But what's interesting is that those people had to - at all times they were obliged to be caring. They couldn't exactly show what they were feeling. They're obliged to be saintly and to help.

And what's so interesting is that in a profession - in a service profession it's actually rather similar. You are not - you have to sit there and smile through gnashed teeth if people are screaming at you. And I can imagine that that would be, you know, that is part of, you know, that is one of the key triggers with, you know - or could be a key trigger in burnout. I mean it's actually in the literature, what you're describing.

CONAN: I wonder, Jeff, now that you've gone through the experience, are you more prepared for it if it would sneak up on you again?

JEFF: Yeah, I've become much better at managing the stress that goes along with my job and realizing what becomes important and when you play, you know, certain cards. And so hopefully you have everything managed to the point where, you know, you see the end of the tunnel, and that the effort and, you know, dedication you put into it is all the same thing you get out of it.

CONAN: Jeff, good luck.

JEFF: Thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. We mentioned that early studies - a lot of studies have been done on the caring profession. Joining us now is Barry Farber, a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York, who's written two books on the subject of burnout called "Stress and Burnout in the Human Service Professions" and "Crisis in Education: Stress and Burnout in the American Teacher." He's with us now from his office in New York City. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Professor BARRY FARBER (Author, "Stress and Burnout in the Human Service Professions") Hi, Neal, glad to be here. Hello, Jennifer.

Ms. SENIOR: Hey, sir.

CONAN: And that because Barry Farber was featured in Jennifer's story in part because of the irony, Barry Farber, of the expert on burnout suffering burnout.

Prof. FARBER: Well, yes, indeed, almost twice. Actually, the first time was probably the more serious one, where I was an inner-city school teacher, after I'd graduated college full of very high expectations, hopes, progressive philosophies, imbued with a spirit of the time of John Holt and Jonathan Kozol, the assumption that if I gave a fair amount and cared a good deal that I would really make a difference in the life of kids.

And of course to a certain extent it's true, and to a large extent it wasn't. You know, as Jennifer so well said it, there was still this discrepancy in me and many of my colleagues between what we put in and what we got back. And in retrospect, I wish I'd put in some more, you know, to adjust the equation that way, rather than cut back on my effort. Because of course once you cut back on the effort because you're not getting enough back, it spirals downwards. You cut back on your effort, you get less still, you further cut back on your effort, you become more demoralize, emotionally and physically exhausted, et cetera.

CONAN: So it's a snowball effect?

Prof. FARBER: It's very much a snowball. I think what Jennifer said too was exactly right. It's in fact a word I've used in some of my books, the notion of inconsequentiality.

Ms. SENIOR: I took it from you, Barry. I'm sorry about that.

Prof. FARBER: No. I'm glad you did. There is indeed this exact sense that regardless of how much your putting and you're just not going to get back either what you need or expect, and at some point you just can't sustain the effort.

CONAN: And so after this experience as a teacher, you wrote about it…

Prof. FARBER: I did.

CONAN: …as a scholar and experienced burnout.

Prof. FARBER: Well, yeah. Although, remember too that the notion of burnout, it is somewhat analogous to depression, which means although it's a term and it can be measured, it's also not an either/or phenomenon, that is like depression that you need to see it on a continuum. So if I was burnt out on burnout, which is to a certain extent true, it certainly wasn't to any of the same magnitude that I experienced as, you know, as a 21, 22-year-old teacher in an inner city environment where I was ill-prepared for the stresses.

This was more of a sense that I, you know, that I'd written a couple of books, done some research, felt that I had said most of what I'd wanted to say and didn't really have the enthusiasm for it anymore. It was a certain - it was really a different subtype of burnouts.

CONAN: Post project depression it sounds like, a little?

Prof. FARBER: Well, okay. That's - you know - it's a fair way of looking at it. I actually think there are three forms of burnout. There is that, you know, the classic form of burnout that was described by, among others, Herb Freudenberger and Christina Maslach that I know who will be on a bit later, who's just a terrific researcher and really one of the seminal thinkers in this field.

And the original notion was of a person who kept working and working remarkably hard in the face of stress until there was just nothing more to live, nothing more to give and they sort of imploded. And that would be okay because those kinds of people would have given their utmost for a very long time before they couldn't any longer.

CONAN: Second type?

Prof. FARBER: The second type that is more insidious and more of a problem for the workforce, especially education. It's more what I've called worn-out rather than burnout. The notion here is that in the face of stress, rather than work harder and harder to the point of exhaustion, you actually work less hard and you give less. So it's this gradual sense of depletion. And, you know, again, where the classic form of burnout really benefits your recipients, being worn-out really doesn't. You're not putting in a good day's effort.

CONAN: And quickly the third type.

Prof. FARBER: Under-challenged, bored. The stress isn't the issue but rather there isn't enough to keep you going so you don't invest very much.

CONAN: Barry Farber, thanks very much for being with us.

Prof. FARBER: Pleasure.

CONAN: Appreciate your sharing a story.

Prof. FARBER: You bet.

CONAN: Barry Farber, a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. He's written two books on the subject of burnout. He joined us today from his office in New York City.

We need to take a short break. We'll talk more about burnout when we come back. If you'd like to join us, give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Late nights at the office, never-ending to-do list, e-mails, cell phones, BlackBerrys. It's harder than ever to unplug from the office. And with so much to do and so many high expectations, experts say it's getting even easier to burn out. In a few minutes we'll talk with a professor of psychology who's studied and written about burnout.

Let's continue now, though, with our guest Jennifer Senior, a contributing editor for New York magazine, who wrote the cover story of this week's issue “Can't Get No Satisfaction.” You can read some of that article at the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org.

And if you've been burned out, give us a call. What caused it? How did it manifest itself? What did you do about it? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's talk with Meagan(ph). Meagan's with us from Riverside, California.

MEAGAN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

MEAGAN: Thank you for taking my comment.

CONAN: Sure.

MEAGAN: I'm a frequent listener of the show. And I actually am taking my day off tomorrow to pre-empt to getting burnout. And I feel what coming on and so I just. Yes - my boss couple days ago, you know, I need to take a personal day and that was no problem at all.

CONAN: And the boss said - did the boss raise an eyebrow and say, burnout?

MEAGAN: No. No. I just said, you know, it's just getting to be a little bit too much. I actually told him exactly what was going on. I'm working two jobs and my husband is going through his Ph.D. and we have two kids, tight schedules and long hours and there's never enough time in a day. You know.

CONAN: So what are you going to do with that day off?

MEAGAN: I'm actually going to go visit a girlfriend who is couple hours away, and we haven't met in a while. And we're just going to enjoy the day, maybe go to a hot spring, enjoy some lunch and just have a nice, relaxing, you know, reconnect today.

CONAN: One suggestion: Leave the cell phone at home.

MEAGAN: Yeah. That's a great idea. I've got actually three cell phones.

CONAN: Leave them all at home.

MEAGAN: Yeah. Thank you very much.

CONAN: And good luck with that Meagan.

MEAGAN: Thanks. Have a great day.

CONAN: I wonder, Jennifer Senior, after you came back and your friend said, you might want to think about working on burnout, did you plunge to right into it or did you got for a spa day?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SENIOR: Right. And is that so awful, the sort of a thing a burnout person would want to do. I'm in the middle of writing about Barack Obama, so I was sort of clearing my palate at the time. It was completely fine. It was unrelated to my own state of mind and sort of energizing to think about him. So I did not in fact go to the spa, but I eventually did get another vacation, which was nice.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Patty. Patty with us from Bend, Oregon.

PATTY (Caller): Hi. Well, this is a great subject and a great show. Thank you. Well, I was in nursing for 20 years. And always during the nursing career, I've stayed in therapy off and on and it helped a great deal. And so this time, though, before starting a new career, I went into therapy so that I wouldn't ever have to face that horrible feeling of burnout again. And the therapist was incredible. He said…

CONAN: Wait a minute. This is preemptive therapy?

PATTY: Preemptive therapy.

CONAN: OK.

PATTY: Because the moment I got to a new career I went, oh no, because I could feel myself wanting to devote all of my time and energy to that new career.

CONAN: Sucked into the vortex. Yeah.

PATTY: Yeah. And so I went. And he said, oh, this is easy. He said first, you have a life. Then, you have a career. So therapy was concentrating on having a good life. Fun, family, friends, you know, time out for me, and then the career. And so I wanted your guest to comment on this because I'm a great believer in therapy. It is the reason I'm still alive and sane in this crazy world.

CONAN: Well, I wonder about the Jennifer Senior. Are people subject to burnout, people who define themselves by their careers?

Ms. SENIOR: Yes. I mean I think that's a huge problem, and it in fact explains why people who are single and people who don't have kids tend to burnout more. It's because, you know, they don't have another bucket in which to pour, you know, the contents of their life. And, you know, the more buckets you can distribute around, arguably the healthier and more prospective you'll be and the more prospective you'll have.

What's interesting is that this is the second phone call in a row that we've gotten about what people have done to, you know, sort of prevent burnout, and it's wonderful. And yet what I think is so interesting is how hard it is for people to admit that they've been burnout or that they're burning out or that they're in the midst of it. And maybe often they don't even recognize this.

CONAN: And for a lot of people, you mentioned in your article, admission of burnout, well, you know, that's a career killer.

Ms. SENIOR: Especially if you're in a white-collar career, and it's deeply unsympathetic. I mean if you're making, you know, $400,000 a year, no one cares that you're burning out. You know.

CONAN: Nobody cries for the bond traders.

Ms. SENIOR: No one weeps for the stockbroker. That's just it. You know, I mean there - one assumes there are other options for these people. But it's still, you know, it is rampant one assumes, you know.

CONAN: Patty, thanks very much for the call.

PATTY: You're welcome.

CONAN: Good luck.

PATTY: Bye.

CONAN: Christina Maslach is a leading researcher on the subject of burnout. She's a professor of psychology and vice provost of undergraduate education at the University of California Berkeley, and the author of “Burnout: The Cost of Caring” and she joins us now by phone from Berkeley, California.

Nice to have you on the program today.

Professor CHRISTINA MASLACH (Psychology, University of California Berkeley): Well, thank you for having me.

CONAN: How do you study burnout?

Prof. MASLACH: Talk to lots and lots of people, observe them in the workplace. And out of all of that, I mean what the research does is kind of look for some regular patterns and rhythms and say it's not just individual kinds of things, but is there something that actually transcends a lot of people and can we understand what's causing that kind of pattern and what people can do about it.

CONAN: And what kind of patterns did you discover?

Prof. MASLACH: What we have found is that burnout is kind of a, you know, a collaboration of three interrelated experiences. One is just the exhaustion. You know. Total exhaustion, can't recover, you know, just too much; that's stress response that we all know so well. But burnout involves more than that. It's actually also the development of the very negative cynical, hostile, take-this-job-and-shove-it kind of attitude, which can often translate into how you do the job, the kind of service you provide or the kind of quality of work that you do.

And then the third part is you begin to feel really badly about yourself. What the hell am I doing here? I'm not cut out for this. This is, you know, something's wrong with me, et cetera. So those three things of the high stress, exhaustion, the really negative cynicism about the world and the work around you, and then feeling very negative and down about your self.

CONAN: And as Jennifer Senior was saying, that does not seem to be isolated to what we are calling earlier the caring professions, the social workers, teachers, that sort of thing. This could be anybody.

Prof. MASLACH: That's true. That's true. But I think it's - you know, one of your earlier callers talking about nursing, for example. In fact, that's where a lot of the research began because it was in those professions, which are a lot of, you know, emotional labor-intensive kind of work, that were first grabbling with this problem and beginning to talk about it and say we've got to do something.

CONAN: Are some kinds of people more vulnerable to this than others?

Prof. MASLACH: There hasn't been a lot of really strong research findings that say, you know, the kind of personality you are makes you more vulnerable. But in general what we can see is that people who are already kind of psychologically in a less strong state, sort of more at risk to be anxious and more at risk for depression and so forth. You know, sort of more psychologically fragile in general would - not surprisingly - be more at risk for, you know, dealing with this kind of job stress.

CONAN: And is there an urban-rural divide? I mean you would think that places like Washington D.C. and New York City, you'd be, again, a few more burnt out cases?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. MASLACH: Well if you're saying this just because they've got more people maybe, but no. Actually, we see patterns of this in many different venues. And so it really is not so much about the much larger context, say urban-rural, but it's really the more immediate workplace context and how well you're fitting and, you know, having a good match there or not.

CONAN: Let's see if can get another caller on the line. This is Catherine(ph). Catherine with us from Salt Lake City in Utah.

CATHERINE (Caller): Hi. How are you doing today?

CONAN: I'm well.

CATHERINE: Great. I'm actually doing much better now, too.

CONAN: Good.

CATHERINE: Yeah. When I was 17 I actually worked for a governor who is now in indicted for charges of fraud from a previous position that he'd held, and just became very discontented with politics and media relations. Decided this summer to try it again. Did an internship with a public relations firm in Washington D.C. Came home and decided basically to shelve my job. And now I'm working as a school administrator, much more happy. I was diagnosed with a sleeping disorder and was on depression medication for a long time. Totally off all of that now. Sleep much better at night and much happier at the job that I'm in.

CONAN: That's interesting. Christina Maslach, that element of disappointment, disillusionment, that Catherine talked about in her previous job, that's an element that's been identified, isn't it?

Prof. MASLACH: Oh, absolutely. I mean one of the things - when we look at people fit or match between themselves and the job, one of the - there's six areas in which that can be critical. And one of them really has to do about the values and the core things that, you know, you're trying to do in life and get out of life. And if you're in a job where there's some real value conflict, I mean you're in deep trouble.

CONAN: And, Catherine, just let me reassure you, governors - not all governors are indicted, unless of course you're from Illinois or Connecticut.

CATHERINE: Yeah. From Illinois.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Picked one out of two. That's not bad, Catherine. Have a great time at school.

CATHERINE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can get another call in. This is Mark(ph). Mark is with us from Aurora, Illinois.

MARK (Caller): Yes. This could be an unconventional situation. I'm, mainly, wanting to know what kind of professional my friend should see. She is in -well, she's far away from me. In fact, we actually met on Match.com, we have not met in person. But she told me recently that she doesn't want to live any longer.

She is a Certified Nurse's Aid and then she goes home and takes care of her mother and she feels that God has deserted her. I suspect she's been disappointed in romance or a prospective romance, recently, and she doesn't want to see a professional. But I keep insisting that she do so.

CONAN: Would you advise if that's a good idea, Christina Maslach?

Prof. MASLACH: Absolutely. I mean this is not burnout. She's way beyond into some psychological issues.

MARK: What kind of professional should she see?

CONAN: I'm not sure you heard that question from Mark. What kind of professional should she see?

Prof. MASLACH: Well, I mean, part of the challenge, I think, that he is just saying is that she doesn't want to see someone, but I mean she really does need to see, you know, a psychotherapist or a psychologist for sure. A psychiatrist if she can. I mean, I don't know if there's a community mental health clinic that - where, you know, getting some crisis counseling right would be helpful.

CONAN: Whenever people…

MARK: Helpers have trouble admitting that they need help sometimes.

Prof. MASLACH: Yeah. That's an interesting point. And, in fact, in the research that we've done, we've often found that people who are supposed to be the go to people for everybody else. People who are in religious professions, ministers, you know, mental health professionals themselves, you know, to admit that you're beginning to feel burned out and can't deal with it can be, you know, really, really devastating.

CONAN: Yet at the same time - and Jennifer Senior, you mentioned this earlier -the research seemed to find that people who were taking care of small children and their aging parents as well were, in fact, not especially vulnerable to burnout.

Ms. SENIOR: That was research done by this lovely woman in Israel named Ayala Pines, who's a big burnout researcher over there. And it's not quite the same as having a job in the caring professions though. I think what she was looking at is the so-called sandwich generation, where you've got older parents and young kids.

I don't think it necessarily means that either of them are beyond whatever the ordinary - if there is such a thing - strains of, you know, kind of taking care of these people would be. And again it's because there is the suggestion of a community around you. I mean these are also people whose presences can be very nourishing. It's not, you know, only output. There's input too.

CONAN: Mark, do see if you can get your friend some help.

MARK: Thank you very much.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much for the call.

And we're talking with Jennifer Senior of New York Magazine and Christina Maslach of the University of California at Berkeley about burnout. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Glyndon(ph) on the line. Glyndon calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

GLYNDON (Caller): Yeah, hi. Thanks for taking my call. Sure appreciate it.

CONAN: Sure.

GLYNDON: I have kind of a comment about society. I travel all over the world. I travel a lot. And the one thing I'm struck by - there are several things I'm struck by - one in particular, is how we define ourselves in this culture, this country by our work. And often our identity is so tied up in what we do. And an example would be people in this country the first question they ask you upon meeting you is what do you do. And I never ever hear that question in other parts of the world.

And the other thing is we consider two-week vacation a year - that's close to barbaric. I mean in Europe it's a month at a minimum or two months. We have a whole different approach to work and our identity to work in this country than other places.

And just one quick comment more. When I return, say from the third world, I'm often struck by the kind of frenzy or jangle that I feel in this country. And you notice it mostly in children, kids crying, kids unhappy in grocery stores. You just do not see that in the third world. So it's just a comment that I would make and I'd like to hear what your guests…

CONAN: You've been to different grocery stores in the third world than I have, but I'll leave that alone. Let me ask you, Christina Maslach and I want Jennifer Senior to weigh in on this too - is this an American disease? Is it because of the way we define ourselves by our work?

Prof. MASLACH: It's an interesting question, but actually there's been research being done on this in many different countries and different cultures which shows a similar kind of phenomenon. But I think there could well be average sort of differences. And so what we have found in the work that's been done is that there tends to be sort of higher scores on these burnout assessments in North America then say in other parts of the world.

CONAN: By that you're including Canada and Mexico?

Prof. MASLACH: Yeah, Canada in particular I'd say, even more so, yeah.

CONAN: OK.

Prof. MASLACH: So - but it's not - I mean, the form of it, you know, the experience and the kind of factors that are predictive of it actually show a lot of similarity across many different cultures. So the phenomenon's the same.

CONAN: Jennifer?

Ms. SENIOR: Yeah. I was going to say that there's a moment in my story when I talk about in Mexico, Ayala Pines had done some work and discovered that, you know, looking at as close as you could get to identical populations as, you know, or more as analogous populations of college professors. That in Mexico the college professors were reporting much lower, you know, levels of burnout.

You know, for all the intuitive reasons that you would think. They go home at noon. They have lunch. They see their family. They sleep. Sounds much nicer than, you know, plodding on until, you know, 11:00 in your office, you know, struggling to publish or perish.

The other thing, just to key off something the caller said. I actually note in my story that there are a couple of, you know, American companies - well, there are, you know, a number of American companies that are keying into this and trying to actually improve circumstances for their employees.

Intel provides its employees with an eight-week sabbatical once every seven years. Which, by American standards is stupendous, and by every other country's standards is a joke. Because - or not in every other - but, you know, in Europe as this fellow pointed out.

CONAN: Industrialized countries, yeah.

Ms. SENIOR: Yeah, yeah. Right. And in Europe, you know, you get five or six weeks off, you know, as a matter of course. So it is kind of funny, you know.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much for being with us today. Great piece. Enjoyed it.

Ms. SENIOR: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Jennifer Senior is a contributing editor for New York Magazine and wrote this week's cover story "Can't Get No Satisfaction" about burnout. And she joined us today from out bureau in New York.

Christina Maslach thank you for the time today too.

Prof. MASLACH: Thank you.

CONAN: Christina Maslach is a professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and author of “Burnout: The Cost of Caring.” With us by phone from Berkeley, California.

When we come back from a short break, comedian Paul Mooney joins us on the power and meaning of our most provocative word and why he's giving up the n-word in his stand-up routine. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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