Burnout in America
New York Magazine made an epic attempt at analyzing “burnout” — feeling overwhelmed by the daily in’s and out’s of work or life — in contemporary American society earlier this month, in Where Work Is a Religion, Work Burnout Is Its Crisis of Faith.
Despite its length, however, the author never really provides much insight into how we, as individuals, can protect ourselves against this sort of thing. Choose the “right” career? Choose the “right” leisure? At the end, I feel no better equipped to deal with my own burnout than the people in the article.
However, the article still provides some interesting insights and quotes:
“There is something about interruption that makes people especially unproductive,” says Suzanne Bianchi, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and co-author of the new book Changing Rhythms of American Family Life. “And technology interrupts us all the time—e-mails, cell phones. It feeds into our sense of control”—another key factor in burning out, feeling a lack of control—“and highly educated workers all will talk as if they’re terribly overworked, how they feel as if there’s never enough time. Partly, we’re supposed to say it, but I think people also genuinely feel that way, even though they have the time. That’s what’s intrigued us. The subjective and the objective don’t line up.”
Indeed, that’s her colleagues’ most startling finding of all. Most Americans believe they work more today than they did 35 years ago. Yet according to the American Time Use Survey, an ambitious project that for 41 years has been asking thousands of participants to keep detailed time diaries, Americans now have five more hours of leisure per week (38) than they did in 1965. Certainly, there are academics who reject these numbers—in The Overworked American, published in 1992, the economist Juliet Schor calculated we were working nearly an extra month per year, setting off a rather sharp debate about her methodology—but even those who agree our leisure time is increasing will readily concede that Americans experience their leisure quite differently and therefore may feel as if they’re working more. For one thing, it’s non-contiguous leisure time, time meted out in discrete increments. Human beings have always resisted the fracturing of time. Gleick points out that Plautus cursed the sundial. Now, he says, we gain 90- second reprieves with our microwave ovens. But do we do anything meaningful in those 90 seconds? Or do they vanish in the same particle puff?
If you can stomach the length (5,760 words!), it’s probably worth your time if burnout is something that concerns your or a loved one in your life right now.
Grohol, J. (2006). Burnout in America. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 21, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2006/12/27/burnout-in-america/