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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

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Main article: Occupational stress

Burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest (depersonalization or cynicism), usually in the work context. It is also used as an English slang term to mean exhaustion. Burnout is often construed as the result of a period of expending too much effort at work while having too little recovery, but it is sometimes argued that workers with particular personality traits (especially neuroticism) are more prone to experiencing burnout. Further, it appears that researchers disagree about the nature of burnout. While many researchers argue that burnout refers exclusively to a work-related syndrome of exhaustion and depersonalization/cynicism, others feel that burnout is a special case of the more general clinical depression or just a form of extreme fatigue/exhaustion (thus omitting the cynicism component).[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Health care workers are often prone to burnout. Cordes and Doherty (1993), in their study of employees within this industry, found that workers who have frequent intense or emotionally charged interactions with others are more susceptible to burnout.

Main article: Mental health of medical staff
Main article: Mental health of psychiatrists
Main article: Mental health of psychologists

Still, burnout can affect workers of any kind, including students at the high school and college levels.

Main article: Mental health of college students
Main article: Mental health of highschool students

High stress jobs can lead to more burnout than normal ones. Taxicab drivers, law enforcement personnel, air traffic controllers, musicians, teachers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and high technology professionals seem more prone to burnout than others[How to reference and link to summary or text]. General practitioners seem to have the highest proportion of burnout cases (According to a recent Dutch study in Psychological Reports, no less than 40% of these experienced high levels of burnout.)

The most well-studied measurement of burnout in the literature is the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Maslach and her colleague Jackson first identified the construct "burnout" in the 1970s, and developed a measure that weighs the effects of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced sense of personal accomplishment.[1] This indicator has become the standard tool for measuring burnout in research on the syndrome. People who experience all three symptoms have the greatest degrees of burnout, although emotional exhaustion is said to be the hallmark of burnout.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Although burnout is work-related, most responsibility for burnout currently rests on the individual worker in the United States. Other countries, especially in Europe, have included work stress and burnout in occupational health and safety standards, and hold organizations (at least partly) responsible for preventing and treating burnout.

Burnout is now being studied in its reported antitheses, job engagement.

Organizational Burnout

Tracy in her study aboard cruise ships describes this as "a general wearing out or alienation from the pressures of work" (Tracy, 2000 p.6) "Understanding burnout to be personal and private is problematic when it functions to disregard the ways burnout is largely an organizational issue caused by long hours, little down time, and continual peer, customer, and superior surveillance"[1] (Tracy, 2000, p.24).


Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have divided the burnout process into 12 phases, which are not necessarily followed sequentially:[2]

  • a compulsion to prove oneself
  • working harder
  • neglecting one's own needs
  • displacement of conflicts (the person does not realize the root cause of the distress)
  • revision of values (friends or hobbies are completely dismissed)
  • denial of emerging problems (cynicism and aggression become apparent)
  • withdrawal (reducing social contacts to a minimum, becoming walled off; alcohol or other substance abuse may occur)
  • behavioral changes become obvious to others
  • inner emptiness
  • depression
  • burnout syndrome

Coping with Burnout

There are a variety of ways that both individuals and organizations can deal with burnout. In his book, Newton (1995) argues that many of the remedies related to burnout are motivated not from an employee's perspective, but from the organization's perspective. Despite that, if there are benefits to coping strategies, then it would follow that both organizations and individuals should attempt to adopt some burnout coping strategies. Below are some of the more common strategies with dealing with burnout.

Organizational Aspects

Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

Stemming from Mayo's Hawthorne Studies, Employee Assistance Programs were designed to assist employees in dealing with the primary causes of stress. Some programs included counseling and psychological services for employees. There are organizations that still utilize EAPs today, but the popularity has diminished substantially because of the advent of stress management training (SMT).

Stress Management Training

Stress Management Training (SMT) is employed by many organizations today as a way to get employees to either work through stress or to manage their stress levels, which can lead to higher instances of burnout.

Stress Interventions

Research has been conducted that links certain interventions, such as narrative writing or topic-specific training to reductions in physiological and psychological stress.

Individual Aspects

Problem-Based Coping

On an individual basis, employees can cope with the problems related to burnout and stress by focusing on the causes of their stress. This type of coping has successfully been linked to reductions in individual stress.

Appraisal-Based Coping

Appraisal-based coping strategies deal with individual interpretations of what is and is not a stress inducing activity. There has been mixed findings related to the effectiveness of appraisal-based coping strategies.

Social Support

Social support has been seen as one of the largest predictors toward a reduction in burnout and stress for workers. Creating an organizationally-supportive environment as well as ensuring that employees have supportive work environments do mediate the negative aspects of burnout and stress.

See also


  1. Tracy, S. (2000) Becoming a Character for Commerce Emotion. Management Communication Quarterly, 14. 90-128
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named sciammind

Further reading

  • “A review and integration of research on job burnout”, Cordes, C. and Dougherty, T. (1993). Academy of Management Review, 18, 621-656. Cited in O'Driscoll, M.P. and Cooper, C.L. (1996).
  • ”Sources of Management of Excessive Job Stress and Burnout”, In P. Warr (Ed.), Psychology at Work Fourth Edition. Penguin.
  • “Tailoring treatment strategies for different types of burnout” Farber, B. A. (1998). Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, 106th, San Francisco California, August 14-18. ED 424 517
  • “Staff burnout”, Freudenberger, H. J. (1974). Journal of Social Issues, 30(1), 159-165.
  • “Authentic leaders creating healthy work environments for nursing practice”, Shirey MR. American Journal of Critical Care May 2006. Vol. 15, Iss. 3; p. 256
  • “Taming burnout's flame”, Krista Gregoria Lussier, Nursing Management Chicago: Apr 2006. Vol. 37, Iss. 4; p. 14
  • “A Scientific Solution To Librarian Burnout”, Craig S. Shaw New Library World Year 1992 Volume: 93 Number: 5
  • Stress and Burnout in Library Service, Caputo, Janette S. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press, 1991.
  • An assessment of burnout in academic librarians in America using the Maslach Burnout Inventor (the MBI) Ray, Bernice, Ph.D., Rutgers University - New Brunswick, 2002, 90 pages; AAT 3066762

External links

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