How burnout affects men: This past year, I’ve written and spoken a lot about my burnout experience, describing the extreme mix of physical, psychological, and behavioural challenges I faced during my law practice last year.
I was researching burnout and gender lately as part of my preparation for a keynote, and I had no idea what I’d find. I don’t think of burnout as a woman’s or a man’s problem.
it’s something that everyone who works has to deal with; nonetheless, the few studies I did discover that specifically addressed gender variations in this health issue shocked me.
Do women and men suffer from burnout in different ways? Is there a typical pattern that men and women follow that leads to burnout?
The Maslach Burnout Inventory, which analyses the following components of burnout, was used in the first study. I evaluated the prevalence of burnout in male and female physicians (particularly general practitioners). (1)
Emotional exhaustion, depletion, and a loss of energy are all symptoms of exhaustion.
Cynicism is characterised by a pessimistic attitude about clients and coworkers, irritability, and withdrawal from people and activities once valued.
Inefficacy is defined as a lack of personal success, a perceived reduction of incompetence or production, and putting in the effort at work without seeing results.
Men and women absorb these burnout aspects differently, according to one study. Women initially felt exhausted, then cynicism, then inefficacy — they didn’t believe they were providing adequate care, so they took a break to assess.
On the other hand, men were more likely to feel cynicism first, followed by tiredness. Many of the males in the research continued to practise because they didn’t believe the symptoms from the previous two phases affected the quality of care they delivered.
They didn’t reach the stage of inefficacy because they believed they were still effective.
A second study looked at the link between burnout, depression, anxiety, and inflammation as a cardiovascular disease risk factor.
The researchers detected a link between burnout and inflammation (as evaluated by specific protein biomarkers) in women but not in males. Surprisingly, depression, not burnout or anxiety, was found to cause equivalent increases in inflammation in men.
A third study merely cited earlier research that found that a combination of high job demands and inadequate control (lack of autonomy) was linked to high levels of burnout in women.
(2) Another study discovered that the same combination (a high-demand profession with limited decision-making authority) increased men’s risk of cardiovascular disease. This combo appears to be harmful to both males and women.
While there is research on gender and fatigue, I believe the implications are significant. Those of us who strive to help busy professionals avoid burnout can develop better, sooner, and more targeted therapies if we can pinpoint how men and women experience burnout.
What are your thoughts on the matter?
Paula Davis-Laack, JD MAPP, is the founder and CEO of the Davis Laack Stress & Resilience Institute, which focuses on preventing burnout among busy workers. Paula is the author of 10 Things Happy People Do Differently, an e-book.
Paula has appeared on Steve Harvey’s TV show, in US News & World Report, Working Mother, and Women’s Health magazines, and lectures on burnout avoidance regularly. Paula is available for public speaking, training workshops, media commentary, and one-on-one life coaching. Visit www.pauladavislaack.com for additional information.
(1) Maslach, C., and Leiter, M.P. (2005). Getting Rid of Burnout: Six Ways to Improve Your Work-Life Relationship Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA. See also Maslach, C., and Leiter, M.P., Maslach, C., & Leiter, M.P., Maslach, C., & Leiter (1997). How companies induce personal stress and what to do about it: The truth about burnout. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.
(2) Norlund, S. et al., Norlund, S. et al., Norlund, S. et al (2010). Burnout, job environment, and gender are all factors to consider. Y. Rafferty, R. Friend, and P.A. Landsbergis, BMC Public Health 10, 326; and Rafferty, Y., Friend, R., and Landsbergis, P.A. (2001).
The link between decision authority, work skill discretion, and burnout. Work Stress, 15, 73-85; and Schaufeli, W.B., and Bakker, A.B., Schaufeli, W.B., & Bakker, A.B., Schaufeli, W.B., & Bakker, A. (2004). Multi-sample research of job demands, job resources, and their link with burnout and engagement. 293-315 in Journal of Organizational Behavior.