October 8, 2016

"[T]he most competent and engaged workers are often at the greatest risk for burnout."

"Their willingness to labor for love and not money will, over time, expose them to chronic stress. That is especially true in universities, where there are few explicit limits on working hours.... [B]urnout is more acute in younger faculty members than in older ones (and in women more than men). It’s easier to do too much too soon than to build barriers between your work and psyche.... Academic culture fosters burnout when it encourages overwork, promotes a model of professors as isolated entrepreneurs, and offers little recognition for good teaching or mentoring... The response to faculty burnout should, therefore, not be to shrug and say that academic work is a labor of love, and some people just aren’t cut out for it. Instead, the response should be to find ways to give these highly skilled workers the rest, respect, and reward they need to stay healthy and effective. Institutions cause burnout, and only a whole effort of an institution can deal with it. A good start would be for colleges and universities to support and reward the things they say they value.... That would be more useful than drafting another strategic plan that will be ignored a year later."

Writes Jonathan Malesic, who left a tenured position teaching theology at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Malesic presents himself as having "burned out" after 11 years and at the age of 40. I say "presents" because he didn't leave the job purely because he burned out. He also did it to live with his wife, who'd gotten a job in what sounds like a nicer place than Wilkes-Barre. (He refers to it as "a bucolic region."*) And he's "working on a book about the spiritual costs of the American work ethic," which sounds like a better job. Writing a book is much more relaxing than writing a book and also teaching and handling administrative work — with all the demands and annoyances inherent in dealing with other people — except to the extent that you stress yourself out about how you're not operating from within the normal, respected structure of working in America. But if that's the very topic of your book — "the spiritual costs of the American work ethic" — that stress is a source of material.

I can't tell whether Malesic meditates on his manhood as he labors in the shade of his wife's career. Does he look at his name and shudder to think "male sick"? His essay gets a little personal, but perhaps not that personal or not personal in that way. In any case, I love the topic "the spiritual costs of the American work ethic." It's something I have always thought about, and I have never fallen into the problem of burnout that he's talks about, which sounds like a manic-depressive cycle, within which you get high off the intense work and then crash. I've always had strong boundaries and a deep instinct to protect myself from absorption into the mind of any workplace — including the one where I've worked for the last 33 years and from which I'm walking away very soon, with no sense of burnout, just a desire for more freedom.

________________________

* After writing this post, I found his website, and it says he lives in Dallas. "Bucolic"? [ADDED: I'm making an inference that could be incorrect, that he spent his sabbatical in the place where his wife received the job.]

34 comments:

rhhardin said...

I worked 12 hour days 365 days a year, in a play for pay job. There wasn't the slightest burnout.

I still work at the same thing, only without pay. Computers at home replace the mainframes.

It depends on the management whether this all gets you in trouble. About half the managers think it shows a bad attitude.

Those are the managers who burn out.

What you're doing is actually taking advantage of what the institution claims to offer, rather than faking it. That make you pretty uncontrollable.

rhhardin said...

just a desire for more freedom.

"If freedom has wings," taught Reb Idrash, "it also has eyes, a forehead,
genitals. Each time it takes wing, it transfigures a bit of both the
world and man in the excitement of its flowering."

And Reb Lima: "In the beginning, freedom was ten times engraved on the
tables of the Law. But we so little deserved it that the Prophet
broke them in his anger."

"Any coercion is a ferment of freedom," Reb Idrash taught further.

"How can you hope to be free if you are not bound with all our blood
to your God and to man?"

And Reb Lima: "Freedom awakens gradually as we become conscious of
our ties, like the sleeper of his senses. Then, finally, our actions
have a name."

A teaching which Reb Zale translated into this image: "You think it is
the bird which is free. Wrong: it is the flower."

And Reb Elat into this motto: "Love your ties to their last splendor,
and you will be free."

Jabes, _The Book of Questions_

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Work sucks but I need the bucks.

There's a ne'er-do-well character in Wonderfalls who is studying for his PhD in theology. When asked how he reconciles that with his atheism, he says matter-of-factly something like, "Oh, you'd be surprised how many of us there are."

I knew someone in high school who went to Kings College. Bible-thumper. Straight A student but not clever at all. Obedient. NTTAWWT.

Anyway, things are dying all around us, all the time.

Captain Burnout ought to have figured that out by now.

Laslo Spatula said...

The Rat Race.

Althouse should've added a drawing of one of her rats.

Skeemo, most likely. He looks like he's had some long work weeks.

I am Laslo.

donald said...

This is another one a them guys with vaginas deals.

David said...

" After writing this post, I found his website, and it says he lives in Dallas. "Bucolic"?"

Also no mention of a wife.

Sydney said...

There's a lot of talk about burnout in the physician world these days. Most of it is caused by the loss of autonomy as so many have given up their private practices to be employees of hospital systems. The goals of hospital administrators are not the same as the patient care goals of physicians. It sets up some bad work situations. Not to mention bad patient care.

EDH said...

Is this guys name pronounced Male-sick?

Do what you want, just don't expect everyone to owe you a living or a stresses life, mmm-kay?

FleetUSA said...

I don't think burnout is a problem on campuses. We don't hear of a suicide epidemic among the profession.

RigelDog said...

Maybe it was there, but I did not see a statement that his wife's new job is definitely exactly in the same "town" where she taught and he had a sabbatical. So that might explain the mentions of both bucolic and Dallas. BTW, you don't have to live very far outside of Wilkes-Barre to be in a completely bucolic environment either.

trumpetdaddy said...

I doubt very seriously that he looks at his name and thinks "male-sick." 45 seconds on Google gives you his CV. He's from Buffalo, NY and is a Catholic scholar, degrees from Catholic U of America and UVA. That says Croatian-American to me, being one myself, and means that his name is most likely pronounced "Mal-eh-sitch" or Americanized to "Mal-eh-sick." Not "Male-sick."

Sebastian said...

"After writing this post, I found his website, and it says he lives in Dallas. "Bucolic"?" After reading this post, I found him to be a bullshitter.

buwaya puti said...

Well, I am burned out.
In it just for the money these days, which is excellent, never better, but I am counting the days till I can retire.
Also sorting out our finances to cover "eventualities".
I suggest you all have a backup plan to cover potential events.

buwaya puti said...

I like Texas. I have fun in Texas. You can do things in Texas that will get you arrested in CA.
I wouldnt call it, most of it, as "bucolic" as you can find in the California countryside, in many parts anyway. It does not reward countryside rambling.

John Constantius said...

Burnout is what happens to investment bankers, management consultants and the occasional highly-compensated corporate types who work 80 to 100 hours a week.

For the mathematically challenged, there are 168 hours in a week, so 100 hours at work and 8 hours a day sleeping (ho ho!) leaves 12 hours in the whole week to take showers, brush teeth, eat food, read books, buy groceries, go to restaurants, surf the internet and anything else resembling an actual life outside of work. There are poor, pathetic (and high earning!) people who actually live like this. I had an investment banker buddy who once was so exhausted that he stepped into his shower at 1 am in a three piece suit and turned it on. He took a shower in his three piece because he was too wiped out to realize he was dressed.

I am reasonably comfortable asserting that there is not a single academic on earth who has ever been burned out like these guys. The academic claiming burn out is like a 7-11 clerk declaring he's stressed out by work. Uhhh...no you're not. Other people are, but you're not.

Althouse, there is no reason on earth you should be stressed out. Do 100 hours a week for 8 weeks in a row on anything and then maybe come talk to us. As for the OP...stressed out at 40 after 11 years at a university job? Please!

Adamsunderground said...

I suggest you all have a backup plan to cover potential events

Si, se puede

Laslo Spatula said...

"Dipsy, I'm so tired. I think I'm burned out."

"Skeemo, being a Lab Rat can be exhausting. You just need to know how to pace yourself."

"Sure. Except I don't set the pace, the Scientists do. I finally get a chance to relax in the corner of my cage and what happens? Here comes the white gloves to shoot more cancer up my ass."

"But if you realize that what you are doing is worthwhile by helping the world you'll find the stress goes away."

"Fuck helping the world. I'm tired of cancer being shot up my ass. If the world really needs that, then do it on them own damned selves."

"But then they give you medicine to try to make you better."

"Yeah, wonderful. They find out the medicine doesn't cure ass cancer but DOES make my dick longer. They'll make more money with THAT then they would by actually curing the disease."

"I had one medicine that made me stop scratching my fur off in bloody clumps. I liked that medicine."

"Yeah, they coat you in flesh-eating fungus only to try some new athlete's foot ointment. How benevolent of them."

"Just think: at some point they'll HAVE to retire us, and then we can live the rest of our life relaxing."

"Retire? If you call death-by-fatal-injection retirement, then we'll sure as hell be relaxed."

"Don't be so pessimistic, Skeemo. They can't kill us all when they're done with us."

"Yeah. Maybe we get to go and live the rest of our lives on a farm."

"That's what they tell kids when they have to put a pet down."

"Exactly, Dipsy: exactly...


I am Laslo.

Michael K said...

"The goals of hospital administrators are not the same as the patient care goals of physicians."

Boy is this true ! I spent 25 years as a surgeon working very long hours and loving it. My partner once said, "I hope they never find out I would do this for free !"

That is all changed. Now that I am retired, I have a couple of young physicians I see and they hate their practice if I ask them in a non judgmental way. Other young physicians I talk to feel the same way. They are hamsters running on a wheel. The income is not that great and the student loans eat up a lot. Bonuses for primary care may be half their annual income so they are totally under the control of the administrators.

ICU nurses used to burn out and go to less stressful jobs in subspecialties. Doctors loved what they did. Not any more.

Young doctors in the NHS are leaving Britain in droves, They are being replaced by foreign graduates with sketchy training.

"Burnout" in academic life sounds like horseshit to me.

Ann Althouse said...

"" After writing this post, I found his website, and it says he lives in Dallas. "Bucolic"?" Also no mention of a wife."

I made an inference that could be incorrect. I've added something to the post to acknowledge this.

Thanks for the heads-up.

Ann Althouse said...

"I doubt very seriously that he looks at his name and thinks "male-sick." 45 seconds on Google gives you his CV. He's from Buffalo, NY and is a Catholic scholar, degrees from Catholic U of America and UVA. That says Croatian-American to me, being one myself, and means that his name is most likely pronounced "Mal-eh-sitch" or Americanized to "Mal-eh-sick." Not "Male-sick.""

I assume it's not pronounced "male sick," but I can't believe a man could have a name that began with the letters "male" and would not notice the word "male." You might feel a boost in your ego, because you have a name that begins "male." Once you do that with this name, you've got the remaining letters "sic," which gets you quickly to "sick" if you speak English. Another way to look at it, equally emasculating, is: "male [sic]" (that is, it says "male," but that's not the right word).

Roughcoat said...

Like others, I have to ask: how does a tenured professor of theology get burned out? Talk about a cushy job.

Laslo Spatula said...

"but I can't believe a man could have a name that began with the letters "male" and would not notice the word "male."

Try being named Dick Johnson.

I am Laslo.

Ann Althouse said...

"Althouse, there is no reason on earth you should be stressed out. Do 100 hours a week for 8 weeks in a row on anything and then maybe come talk to us. As for the OP...stressed out at 40 after 11 years at a university job? Please!"

I'm not stressed out, and I never have been, even when I was living as a single parent to 2 young boys and still working to get tenure. I'm just not that kind of person. I have boundaries and I highly value personal freedom and autonomy. I walked away from a job in a big Wall Street law firm to live the professor's life in Madison, Wisconsin. It was an easy decision and one I intended to make from the time I was a first year law student and understood the career path. Before law school, I just wanted to be an artist, and I would still be on that path if I'd thought about it only a little bit differently. This is something Meade and I have often talked about.

Anyway, I have some colleagues who flaunt the stressfulness of the way they do the job and who seem to expect that the rest of us should experience the job like that. I've tried telling them they're making a terrible mistake, but to no avail. It's like I'm the weirdo, marching to the different drummer. But I'm not stressed by their inability to hear what I have to say. I don't need to persuade anybody about anything. I'm an observer and a commenter on human life. And that's how it goes.

Laslo Spatula said...

"And that's how it goes."

Reminiscent of "And so it goes" - the sign-off of Linda Ellerbee.

I am Laslo.

jaydub said...

In my experience stress in the workplace is what produces burnout, and stress is often associated with a high cost of failure, like a military commander whose decisions have people's lives or welfare hanging in the balance, or a senior manager whose decisions impact many people's employment security and income. I've experienced stress from both of those scenarios, but the most stress I experienced was in the design, construction and startup of a chemical process plant that was very complex due to new chemistry and equipment and a mutitude of process variables. Interestingly enough, that plant was situated just outside Wilkes-Barre, and fortunately, Wilkes-Barre Memorial Hospital has an excellent heart center because the stress I felt during the six-months long plant startup eventually led to a heart attack. That stress was completely self-imposed and unnecessary as evidenced by the fact that we finished three months early and under budget. Regardless, what dawned on me while laying in a hospital bed in Wilkes-Barre was that my stress was a direct result of an irrational fear of failure. That was a major turning point in my professional outlook. I wouldn't say the rest of my professional life was stress free, but I learned to manage that stress much, much better, and that was what prevented me from burning out before I was ready to put it all down. I would think anyone in any profession could probably experience burnout due to poorly managed, often self-imposed stress of one type or another, and I strongly disagree with some of the comments above disparaging academics. You have to walk in another's shoes to understand their demons.

walter said...

I can't tell whether Malesic meditates on his manhood as he labors in the shade of his wife's career. Does he look at his name and shudder to think "male sick"?
--
But you are apparently free to traffic in such misandry..

tim in vermont said...

Linda Ellerby stole that from Kurt Vonnegut

Leora said...

I always thought that's what sabbaticals were for. Sabbaticals are the one feature of academic life that I have always envied. There aren't any other professions that give you a year off to travel and think without loss of professional status.

Jupiter said...

"I strongly disagree with some of the comments above disparaging academics. You have to walk in another's shoes to understand their demons."

The idea that teaching theology could be stressful is absurd. Trying to get people to pay you a lot of money to teach theology could probably be pretty stressful. Being a con artist is not as easy as it looks.

Ann Althouse said...

@walter You're guessing at my point of view. And you are wrong. I am concerned that men struggle with these feelings, not that they should feel that way.

walter said...

If that's the case, you just stated that far more clearly. But that you wonder that in his case is still a bit odd.
I can easily imagine someone steeped in theological studies feeling the burdens of the workaday world a distraction.

walter said...

I'm curious though..
Does tenure typically secure any immediate retirement benefits?

walter said...

I apologize. My comment was so mid/late 10/8/16...

Bad Lieutenant said...

Professor, do you ever shudder to look at your name and see how close it is to something silly?

Ann Althouse
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