Brief history of burnout

Samra, Rajvinder (2018). Brief history of burnout. BMJ, 363, article no. k5268.



The coining of the term ‘burnout’ in a clinical sense is typically attributed (1) to Freudenberger in 1974 (2), where he described it as particularly pertinent to caring professionals. More than forty years later, burnout is still conceptualised as uniquely affecting those in emotionally demanding professional roles (3). However, one of the first documented reports of workplace burnout more generally shows it occurring in individuals without occupational caring responsibilities (4). In 1971, three years before Freudenberger’s description (2), US air traffic controllers were commonly reporting “vocational ‘burn out,’ a form of exhaustion, which is manifested in a decline in quantity and quality of work production” (4). There are a number of important, and overlooked, parallels between burnout in air traffic controllers and physicians reporting burnout today that can inform our current approaches to addressing this phenomenon.

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