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Is burnout a myth?

Allison Jones

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo! recently shared why she believes burnout is myth:

"I don't really believe in burnout. A lot of people work really hard for decades and decades, like Winston Churchill and Einstein," she said.

Avoiding burnout has nothing to do with making sure you eat three square meals a day or get eight hours of sleep a night. "Burnout is about resentment," she said. "It's about knowing what matters to you so much that if you don't get it that you're resentful."

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    • Doris Yee

      I think we should also think about the academics. Students easily suffer from burnouts - some say students in Germany and China are pretty much imprisoned under a fast-paced curriculum that allows for little else. But they don't necessarily consider it a defect in the system - they call it their ethics. I'm not agreeing but it's to be recognized that different cultures have different opinions.

  • Doris Yee

    Maintaining constant equilibrium is being sacrificed more and more these days, with a struggling economy - some will work themselves to the death. STOP or SLOW DOWN. If you're growing more detached from what you're working on and who you're working with repeatedly (like everyday), you need to shift a few logs around to stir back up that flame. I couldn't agree with Cara's comment more - the physical exhaustion has a simple set of recovery instructions. But the emotional and mental drainage from a burnout is hard to patch.

  • cruxcatalyst

    Well I just lost a friend to it a month ago - work-related burnout that triggered a meltdown and depression a few years back, and he fell into a funk again late last year, took his life in August.

    So no, it's not a bloody myth.

    I think its irresponsible and dangerous to say this kind of thing. I think the opposite is true with respect to those involved in change/caring work where the intrinsic motivation means it is a lot harder to 'down tools' and walk away.

  • Nicholas Hughes

    Burnout for "knowledge workers" is as real as science. Overexerting yourself for long periods of time without breaks will exhaust you. Even John Carmack gets tired and now avoids cutting back on sleep during a project because working efficiently and intelligently is more important than the quantity of hours applied (again, for knowledge workers).

    Staying happy at your job clearly has a lot to do with your level of resentment for its impact on your life. If you are missing autonomy and the ability to pursue mastery, you are going to enjoy your job less over time.

    I think these two very important ideas are often confused because burnout can lead to resentment. If we didn't work for such a huge portion of our waking life it would be easier to identify the differences: if you make me work on something I don't believe in for 16 hours a day I will begin to resent it much sooner than the same work at just 4 hours a day.

    We are probably just seeing the results of top down corporate culture. Tell someone what to do for long enough and they will resent their situation.

    I am curious about the burnout at a place like Valve.

    • Nicholas Hughes

      Despite the formatting, I actually love paragraphs.

  • Douglas Sellers

    This is definitely not a myth. Whenever you feel exhausted after sleeping a full night, dread going into work and numb all over that is burn out (at least for me). The only cure is to take time off.

  • Katharine Azar

    I definitely don't think it is a myth but I do think resentment can increase the burnout feeling. If you believe in what you do, you're less likely to feel burnt out.. what is the quote?: Choose a career you love, and you will never work a day in your life. But I still think it is possible to love your job but need to re-evaluate work-life balance, get a good amount of sleep and exercise, eat well.

  • Cara Kitagawa-Sellers

    I don't think burnout is a myth, but I do think it's worth examining it's causes to prevent it in yourself and others. People can recover from physical burnout - working 20 hour days for a month, but I think it's much more difficult to recover from emotional burnout (disillusionment + emotional exhaustion).

  • Jen Chiou

    I think burnout is a real, physical thing at some point, but I think the total number of hours you work is less important than (1) how much you care / are passionate about what you're working on and (2) if your hours are flexible enough that you can still do the non-work things that are important to you