Burnout Concept

31/08/2020 1 By indiafreenotes

The term burnout was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in helping professions. Doctors and nurses, for example, who sacrifice themselves for others, would often end up being “burned out”, exhausted, listless, and unable to cope. There is no clear definition of what burnout really is. As a result, it’s not clear what burnout is exactly and how it can be diagnosed. This also makes it impossible to say how common it is. Various figures appear in the press; some German health insurance companies say that up to nine million people are affected in Germany. These figures should, however, be met with caution: there are no reliable scientific data about how many people have burnout in Germany.

Occupational burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic work-related stress, with symptoms characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.” While burnout may influence health and can be a reason for people contacting health services, it is not itself classified by the WHO as a medical condition.


In 1991, Barry A. Farber in his research on teachers proposed that there are three types of burnout:

  • Wearout” and “brown-out,” where someone gives up having had too much stress and/or too little reward
  • Classic/frenetic burnout,” where someone works harder and harder, trying to resolve the stressful situation and/or seek suitable reward for their work
  • Underchallenged burnout“. where someone has low stress, but the work is unrewarding.

Farber found evidence that the most idealistic teachers who enter the profession are the most likely to suffer burnout.

Risk factors

Evidence suggests that the etiology of burnout is multifactorial, with dispositional factors playing an important, long-overlooked role. Cognitive dispositional factors implicated in depression have also been found to be implicated in burnout. One cause of burnout includes stressors that a person is unable to cope with fully.

Burnout is thought to occur when a mismatch is present between the nature of the job and the job the person is actually doing. A common indication of this mismatch is work overload, which sometimes involves a worker who survives a round of layoffs, but after the layoffs the worker finds that he or she is doing too much with too few resources. Overload may occur in the context of downsizing, which often does not narrow an organization’s goals, but requires fewer employees to meet those goals. The research on downsizing, however, indicates that downsizing has more destructive effects on the health of the workers who survive the layoffs than mere burnout; these health effects include increased levels of sickness and greater risk of mortality.

The job demands-resources model has implications for burnout, as measured by the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory (OLBI). Physical and psychological job demands were concurrently associated with the exhaustion, as measured by the OLBI. Lack of job resources was associated with the disengagement component of the OLBI.

Maslach, Schaufeli and Leiter identified six risk factors for burnout: mismatch in workload, mismatch in control, lack of appropriate awards, loss of a sense of positive connection with others in the workplace, perceived lack of fairness, and conflict between values.


Some research indicates that burnout is associated with reduced job performance, coronary heart disease, and mental health problems.[citation needed] Examples of emotional symptoms of occupational burnout include a lack of interest in the work being done, a decrease in work performance levels, feelings of helplessness, and trouble sleeping. With regard to mental health problems, research on dentists and physicians suggests that what is meant by burnout is a depressive syndrome. Thus reduced job performance and cardiovascular risk could be related to burnout because of burnout’s tie to depression. Behavioral signs of occupational burnout are demonstrated through cynicism within workplace relationships with coworkers, clients, and the organization itself.

Other effects of burnout can manifest as lower energy and productivity levels, with workers observed to be consistently late for work and feeling a sense of dread upon arriving. They can suffer concentration problems, forgetfulness, increased frustration, and/or feelings of being overwhelmed. They may complain and feel negative, or feel apathetic and believe they have little impact on their coworkers and environment. Occupational burnout is also associated with absenteeism, other time missed from work, and thoughts of quitting.

Chronic burnout is also associated with cognitive impairments in memory and attention.

Research suggests that burnout can manifest differently between genders, with higher levels of depersonalisation among men and increased emotional exhaustion among women.

Burnout as Medical Condition

A stressful lifestyle can put people under extreme pressure, to the point that they feel exhausted, empty, burned out, and unable to cope. Stress at work can also cause physical and mental symptoms. Possible causes include feeling either permanently overworked or under challenged, being under time pressure, or having conflicts with colleagues. Extreme commitment that results in people neglecting their own needs may also be at the root of it. Problems caused by stress at work are a common reason for taking sick leave. But, sometimes changes in the working environment and more concrete support in everyday life can already help with things like problems at the workplace or the stress of caring for ill relatives.

Signs and Symptoms of Burnout

Burnout is considered to have a wide range of symptoms. One example of a source of stress outside of work is caring for a family member.

There are three main areas of symptoms that are considered to be signs of burnout:

  • Exhaustion: In exhaustion, physical symptoms include things like pain and stomach or bowel problems where individuals are affected emotionally and sometimes exhaustive, lack of willpower and down with energy.
  • Alienation from (work related) activities: Natives who have burnout find their jobs increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may start being pessimistic about their working conditions and their colleagues. At the same time, they may increasingly distance themselves emotionally, and start feeling numb about their work.
  • Compact performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work, at home or when caring for family members. People with burnout are very negative about their tasks, find it hard to concentrate, are listless and lack creativity.

Diagnosis of Burnout

The symptoms that are said to be a result of burnout include depression, anxiety disorders or chronic fatigue syndrome. But, physical illnesses or certain medications can cause symptoms such as exhaustion and tiredness, too. So it is significant to think other potential causes together with a doctor, and not to conclude you have burnout straight away.