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The Common Crisis of Job Burnout

ReSurge International
Nurses are particularly suseceptible to job burnout as their day-to-day work involves the head, the hands, and the heart.

Chuck Wheeler felt sick going to work. Literally sick. 

"The last four, five years, I'd drive to work. And I'd start out okay, but the closer I'd get to work, I'd get a terrible stomachache, and by the time I pulled into my parking spot...I'm not going to say it was unbearable, but it was really irritating to have a stomachache every day when you're going into work. It seemed to never go away."

Wheeler was a commercial lender. After the financial recession in 2008, he would form relationships with potential lenders only to have them turned down time after time by the loan board. So, he quit his job, spent four months on the couch, and then found a different career trajectory: bartending.

"I went from 90-day sale cycle to a 90-second sale cycle. It's still selling, it's just a different product."

Wheeler suffered from job burnout--a type of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion tied to time spent at work. Ben Hunnicutt, professor of Leisure Studies at the University of Iowa, says Wheeler’s experience is representative of a larger phenomenon in America, signified by a big shift in belief.

“Cynicism, a loss of faith somehow, is a strong indication of what job burnout is. We no longer believe as strongly as we did that work can be the answer to our questions as human beings, and we begin to look elsewhere.”

Job burnout isn’t just run-of-the-mill stress. Eean Crawford, Assistant Professor of Management and Organization in the Tippie College of Business, says a particular type of fruitless stress—like job ambiguity, organizational politics, red tape, role overload, and threats of job insecurity—leads to a larger lack of meaning and uncertainty of personal worth.

“All of these types of stressful demands are really the ones that tend to result in a lot of burnout. People feel like there’s no way these things are going to actually help me grow or learn or achieve things in my job. You heard a lot of that in Chuck’s story. After the economic crash, there was no way for him to achieve his goals.”

On this Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Wheeler, Hunnicutt, and Crawford about the intricacies of job burnout. Thad Wilson, a registered nurse and Executive Associate Dean of the college of nursing at the University of Iowa, also joins the conversation.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa