George woke up in his cab one morning and didn't feel like driving. "I was exhausted, so I just sat all day in the TA and drank coffee, played some video games. I told my dispatcher that I had been throwing up and couldn't drive. I didn't like lying, and it made me feel like a deadbeat, but I didn't have a choice. I was so tired. Truth be told, I didn't really give a crap about the load anymore, or the job. Nothing really mattered."

The third-year driver, who asked that his real name not be used, wasn't just tired, bored or unhappy about his job, he probably was suffering from 'burnout,' a difference that eludes and confounds both drivers and their companies – even some doctors –  but is a serious and explicit malady from which recovery is more than a solid night's sleep away. While the term burnout often is used incorrectly to describe everything from exhaustion to hating your job, those who have studied the subject say it encompasses specific criteria and, unfortunately, is extremely difficult from which to recover. Many sufferers must quit their jobs to do so.

Nobody knows how much industry turnover is attributable to burnout, but driving a truck almost seems like a job made to order for the problem.

Michael Leiter, who recently joined the faculty at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, has been researching burnout for 30 years. He is one of the editors-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Burnout Research. According to Leiter, the current research shows that burnout has three components.

The first is physical and mental exhaustion. "Some people say burnout is just exhaustion, which is silly, since you could just call it exhaustion,” he explained. “It's clearly more than that, but exhaustion is definitely a piece of it. Exhaustion is when you say 'I feel tired when I start my work day.' Feeling tired at the end of your work day is not so bad, but when you feel tired at the beginning, it means that it's chronic. You're not really getting the rest and recovery you need, so that's one dimension, but still it's exhaustion. It's not burnout."

The second is cynicism about the job and distancing yourself from it. "For example," said Leiter, "you used to think you had a neat job, but now you say, 'I really don't give a damn anymore,' and part of that is often tied with being miffed at management for interfering with things. You find yourself saying, 'I just want to get away from this.' It's a kind of distancing and cynicism."

The third component is losing confidence in your abilities and skill. "Your sense of efficacy drops," Leiter said. "Ideally, you once felt like you were doing important work, and were good at it, but with burnout, you start doubting whether your work is important and that you're good at it." This combination of exhaustion, cynicism, and a lack of efficacy defines burnout."

When told of these criteria for burnout driver George said, "Yes. I felt all of this."

Leiter added: "What we find with people who are burned out is that they're concerned about workload and having too many demands, but they also are just really frustrated with everything about the job. They don't like the management of it. They don't like the pay.  Everything seems unfair, and they say things like: 'People are just really unpleasant to me, I don't like these people at all, and everything about this job is...  I don't like it at all."