Abstract: Taming Burnout: Leadership and Self-Management in the Modern Workplace, 1974-1985

Matthew J. Hoffarth


This paper analyzes the creation and dissemination of the “burnout” concept, from its coinage in 1974 by psychoanalyst Herbert Freudenberger to its near ubiquity by the mid-1980s. Described by psychologists and management theorists as a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of personal accomplishment at work, burnout became the subject of popular periodicals, psychological studies, self-help books, and management literature in the 1970s and 1980s because its existence accorded with two features of the post-1960s management paradigm: (1) a concern with the importance of charismatic leadership, and (2) a belief in the moral and economic superiority of self-management, particularly for executives. By examining the composition of burnout quizzes, questionnaires, and self-report inventories in the 1980s, this paper argues that a focus on the individual’s risk for burnout shifted the responsibility for healthcare and human resources from corporations onto their managers, and from there onto employees at lower levels of the organization.