The 12-Stage Burnout Cycle

Scientific American MIND for June/July 2006 has a cover story on The Science of Burnout. The article isn’t available online but for anybody in the tech industry it’s worth a read. One item that was of particular interest was their sidebar of The Burnout Cycle. Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North note that the cycles don’t necessarily follow in order and some people skip steps or have more than one at a time but they’re worth looking over…

1 – A compulsion to prove oneself

The beginning is often excessive ambition: their desire to prove themselves at work turns into grim determination and compulsion. They must show their colleagues – and above all themselves – that they are doing an excellent job in every way.

2 – Working harder

To meet their high personal expectations, they take on more work and buckle down. They become obsessed with handling everything themselves, which in turn demonstrates their notions of “irreplaceability.”

3 – Neglecting their needs

Their schedules leave no time except for work, and they dismiss as unimportant other necessities such as sleeping, eating, and seeing friends and family. They tell themselves that these sacrifices are proof of heroic performance.

4 – Displacement of conflicts

They are aware that something is not right but cannot see the sources of their problems. To deal with the root causes of their distress might set off a crisis and is thus seen as threatening. Often the first physical symptoms emerge at this stage.

5 – Revision of values

Isolation, conflict avoidance and denial of basic physical needs change their perceptions. They revise their value systems, and once important things such as friends or hobbies are completely dismissed. Their only standard for evaluation of their self-worth is their jobs. They become increasingly emotionally blunted.

6 – Denial of emerging problems

They develop intolerance, perceiving colleagues as stupid, lazy , demanding or undisciplined. Social contacts feel almost unbearable. Cynicism and aggression become more apparent. They view their increasing problems as caused by time pressure and the amount of work they have – not by the ways they have changed.

7 – Withdrawal

They reduce social contact to a minimum, becoming isolated and walled off. They feel increasingly that they are without hope or direction. They work obsessively “by the book” on the job. May seek release through alcohol or drugs.

8 – Obvious behavioral changes

Others in their immediate social circles can no longer overlook their behavioral changes. The once lively and engaged victims of overwork have become fearful, shy and apathetic. Inwardly, they feel increasingly worthless.

9 – Depersonalization

They lose contact with themselves. They see neither themselves nor others as valuable and no longer perceive their own needs. Their perspective of time narrows to the present. Life becomes a series of mechanical functions.

10 – Inner emptiness

Their inner emptiness expands relentlessly. To overcome this feeling, they desperately seek activity. Overreactions such as exaggerated sexuality, overeating, and drug or alcohol use emerge. Leisure time is dead time.

11 – Depression

In this phase, burnout syndrome corresponds to depression. The overwhelmed people become indifferent, hopeless, exhausted and believe the future holds nothing for them. Any of the symptoms of depression may be manifest, from agitation to apathy. Life loses meaning.

12 – Burnout syndrome

Almost all burnout victims now have suicidal thoughts to escape their situation. A few actually carry them out. Ultimately, they suffer total mental and physical collapse. Patients in this phase need immediate medical attention.


9 Responses to “The 12-Stage Burnout Cycle”

  1. Ruth Says:

    Toi overcome depression one must forcefully mingle with others and join a social or political club. It is important to engage in an activity outside your on thoughts.


  2. The 12 Stages of the Burnout Cycle – Chinese Translation: Part 01 | Chinese Hacks Says:

    […] original article isn’t online anymore, but you can still find some blogs, Mike’s Rants and Miriam Ruiz being two of then, that have posted the main points from the article, and that is […]


  3. The 12 Stages of the Burnout Cycle – Chinese Translation: Stage 03 | Chinese Hacks Says:

    […] our look at the 12 stage Burnout Cycle here is stage 3, “Neglecting their needs” in which the person headed for burnout […]


  4. The 12-Stage Burnout Cycle | fozbaca’s WordPress Says:

    […] 10 – Inner emptiness 11 – Depression 12 – Burnout syndrome psychology, organization, work Advertisement LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); […]


  5. I’m not an adult | An Ex-Itinerant Reader Says:

    […] faith. It’s from 2006 but felt relevant when I read it and even more so a related blog post The 12-Stage Burnout Cycle taken from the […]


  6. The 12 Stages of the Burnout Cycle – Chinese Translation: Stage 01 | Chinese Hacks Says:

    […] original article isn’t online anymore, but you can still find some blogs, Mike’s Rants and Miriam Ruiz being two of then, that have posted the main points from the article, and that is […]


  7. Lizozom Says:

    Reblogged this on Difuzor.


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