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ICD-10 Z73.0

Burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest. Research indicates general practitioners 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. Burnout is not a recognized disorder in the DSM[1] although it is recognized in the ICD-10[2] as "Problems related to life-management difficulty".

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 and reduced sense of personal accomplishment.[3] This indicator has become the standard tool for measuring burnout in research on the syndrome. The Maslach Burnout Inventory uses a three dimensional description of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.[4] Some researchers and practitioners have argued for an "exhaustion only" model that sees that symptom as the hallmark of burnout.[5]

Maslach and her colleague, Michael Leiter, defined the antithesis of burnout as engagement.[6] Engagement is characterized by energy, involvement and efficacy, the opposites of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.[6]

Many theories of burnout include negative outcomes related to burnout, including job function (performance, output, etc.), health related outcomes (increases in stress hormones, coronary heart disease, circulatory issues) and mental health problems (depression, etc.).

The term burnout in psychology was coined by Herbert Freudenberger in his 1974 Staff burnout, presumably based on the 1960 novel A Burnt-Out Case by Graham Greene, which describes a protagonist suffering from burnout.[7]

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".[8]

How the stress is processed determines how much stress is felt and how close the person is to burnout. One individual can experience few stressors, but be unable to process the stress well and thus experience burnout. Another person, however, can experience a significant amount of stressors, but process each well, and avoid burnout. How close a person is to a state of burnout can be determined through various tests.[9]


Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North have theorized that the burnout process can be divided into 12 phases, which are not necessarily followed sequentially, nor necessarily in any sense be relevant or exist other than as an abstract construct.[1]

  • 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
  • Depersonalization (life becomes a series of mechanical functions)
  • Inner emptiness
  • Depression
  • Burnout syndrome

Preventing burnout

While individuals can cope with the symptoms of burnout, the only way to truly prevent burnout is through a combination of organizational change and education for the individual.[6] Organizations address these issues through their own management development, but often they engage external consultants to assist them in establishing new policies and practices supporting a healthier worklife. Maslach and Leiter postulated that burnout occurs when there is a disconnect between the organization and the individual with regard to what they called the six areas of work life: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values.[10] Resolving these discrepancies requires integrated action on the part of both the individual and the organization.[10] A better connection on workload means assuring adequate resources to meet demands as well as work/life balances that encourage employees to revitalize their energy.[10] A better connection on values means clear organizational values to which employees can feel committed.[10] A better connection on community means supportive leadership and relationships with colleagues rather than discord.[10]

One approach for addressing these discrepancies focuses specifically on the fairness area. In one study employees met weekly to discuss and attempt to resolve perceived inequities in their job.[11] This study revealed decreases in the exhaustion component over time but did not affect cynicism or inefficacy indicating that a broader approach is required.[10]

Coping with burnout

There are a variety of ways that both individuals and organizations can deal with burnout. In his book, Managing stress: Emotion and power at work (1995), Newton 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 for 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; to maintain stress levels below that which might 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 have 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

  • Boreout
  • Compassion fatigue
  • Going postal
  • Occupational burnout
  • Occupational health psychology
  • Stress management
  • Stress (medicine)
  • Work-life balance
  • Perceived psychological contract violation
  • Perceived organizational support


  1. 1.0 1.1 Ulrich Kraft, "Burned Out", Scientific American Mind, June/July 2006 p. 28-33
  2. ICD-10: International Classification of Diseases. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1994.
  3. The measurement of experienced burnout
  4. Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E, & Leiter, M.P. MBI: The Maslach Burnout Inventory: Manual. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1996.
  5. See Kristensen, T.S., Borritz, M., Villadsen, E., & Christensen, K.B. The Copenhagen Burnout Inventory: A new tool for the assessment of burnout. Work & Stress, 2005, 19, 192-207.; Shirom, A. & Melamed, S. Does burnout affect physical health? A review of the evidence. In A. S. G. Antoniou & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Research companion to organizational health psychology (pp. 599-622). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2005.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Maslach, C. & Leiter, M.P. The truth about burnout. New York. Jossey-Bass, 1997.
  7. Can’t Get No Satisfaction: In a culture where work can be a religion, burnout is its crisis of faith. by Jennifer Senior, November 26, 2006, New York Magazine
  8. Tracy, S. (2000) Becoming a Character for Commerce Emotion. Management Communication Quarterly, 14. 113
  9. Truby, B. (2009)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Maslach, C.; Schaufeli, W. B.; Leiter, M. P. (2001). S. T. Fiske, D. L. Schacter, & C. Zahn-Waxler. ed. "Job burnout". Annual Review of Psychology (52): 397–422.
  11. van Dierendonck, D.; Schaufeli, WB; Buunk, BP (1998). "The evaluation of an individual burnout intervention program: the role of inequity and social support". Journal of Applied Psychology (83): 392–407.

Further reading

Template:Further reading cleanup

  • "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 M. R. American Journal of Critical Care May 2006. Vol. 15, Iss. 3; p. 256
  • "Taming burnout's flame", Krista Gregoria Lussier, Nursing Management Chicago: April 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
  • Tracy, S. (2000) Becoming a Character for Commerce Emotion. Management Communication Quarterly, 14. 90-128
  • Newton, T. (1995). Managing stress: Emotion and power at work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Herbert J. Freudenberger (1980), Burn-Out: The High Cost of High Achievement. Anchor Press
  • Herbert J. Freudenberger and Gail North (1985) Women’s Burnout: How to Spot It, How to Reverse It, and How to Prevent It, Doubleday
  • Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. In S. T. Fiske, D. L. Schacter, & C. Zahn-Waxler (Eds.), Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.
  • Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2008). Early predictors of job burnout and engagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 498-512.
  • Maslach, C. & Leiter, M. P. (1997). The truth about burnout. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
  • Shaufeli, W. B., Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2009). Burnout: Thirty-five years of research and practice. Career Development International,14,204-220.
  • Maslach, C., Jackson, S. E, & Leiter, M. P. MBI: The Maslach Burnout Inventory: Manual. Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press, 1996.
  • Kristensen, T.S., Borritz, M., Villadsen, E., & Christensen, K.B. The Copenhagen Burnout Inventory: A new tool for the assessment of burnout. Work & Stress, 2005, 19, 192-207.
  • Shirom, A. & Melamed, S. Does burnout affect physical health? A review of the evidence. In A.S.G. Antoniou & C.L. Cooper (Eds.), Research companion to organizational health psychology (pp. 599–622). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2005.
  • van Dierendonck D., Schaufeli W. B., Buunk B. P. 1998. The evaluation of an individual burnout intervention program: the role of in- equity and social support. J. Appl. Psychol. 83:392–407

External links

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