UC Berkeley professor receives award from National Academy of Sciences

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Christina Maslach, UC Berkeley psychology professor emerita and a professor of the campus graduate school of psychology, earned the National Academy of Sciences, or NAS, Award for Scientific Reviewing for her research in job burnout and worker well-being.

The NAS, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and recognizing scientific discovery, announced the honor Wednesday. Maslach was one of 15 scientists in the country to receive an award from the NAS this year. 

“What professor Maslach is being lauded for is 40 years of research that advanced our understanding of worker well-being,” said Rhona Weinstein, a professor of the campus graduate school of psychology.

This particular award is awarded for scientific reviewing, which guides the next steps in scientific research for a particular field, according to Weinstein.

Through decades of research, Maslach helped establish a scientific definition for job burnout, which she defines as a psychological experience consisting of a physical and emotional stress response, a negative sense of self and a cynicism that results in decreased work ethic.

As a newly hired UC Berkeley faculty member in the 1970s, Maslach first discovered the concept of burnout while conducting interviews with people as part of an effort to establish a new research program. Multiple interviewees mentioned the concept of burnout, which was not commonly understood at the time, according to Maslach.

“And gradually, what I began to realize is that there was kind of some common threads in all of these different stories,” Maslach said.

In 1981, Maslach published a measurement called the Maslach Burnout Inventory, or MBI, which is currently considered the standard for assessing burnout. Maslach has since used the MBI in her own research.

Last year, the World Health Organization legitimized the concept of job burnout by establishing it as an occupational issue, according to Maslach. The public health agency used the definition of job burnout that Maslach and her colleagues developed.

Maslach said she was not aware of this particular award from the NAS, and it was not on her radar prior to being notified that she had won.

“I didn’t know I was nominated,” Maslach said. “So that’s why it was as a bit of a surprise. It wasn’t something I knew about.”

Maslach will be honored at the NAS’ 157th annual meeting in April.

Now a retired professor, Maslach is focused on finding solutions to job burnout in the workplace.

“I’ve got my fingers crossed that that will be the more long-lasting impact of both the World Health Organization statement and this award … coming from a prestigious scientific thing is saying this is serious, this is solid, this is … really something important to pay attention to,” Maslach said.

Emma Rooholfada is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @erooholfada_dc.