Have you been reading or hearing about burnout lately? It may be because of this BuzzFeed article on “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation,” which went viral earlier this month:
This piece touched a nerve with millennials, many of whom claimed that the writer had put a name to their chronic condition. Others responded that burnout is a much wider sociological problem.
Overworked faculty members are particularly susceptible to burnout. A recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education cites a study demonstrating that “the more you identify yourself with your institution, the more stressful your job will be.” Luckily, the article also gives some tips for combating burnout.
Faculty stress is why VITAL is reprising the blog post below, “Preventing Faculty Burnout,” written by our own Stewart Cooper. He provides some of the background of this phenomenon, as well as some strategies for prevention. In his references, Stewart cites the well-known Maslach Burnout Inventory. That in-depth test is not available for free online. However, here is a quick quiz you can take on work-life balance (from the Canadian Mental Health Association website):
Enjoy the post below and please do whatever you can to keep yourself in balance!
Preventing Faculty Burnout
VITAL Guest Blogger: Stewart Cooper, Director of Counseling Services and Professor of Psychology
The concept of burnout was developed in early 1980s. The term attempts to capture an array of symptoms that are a serious health and organizational problem beyond the normal
experience of stress at work.
Maslach and her colleagues came up with the term “burnout,” defining it as a syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization of those whom we serve, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. However, there are no clear criteria or cut-off scores for classifying an individual as suffering from “burnout.”
Preventing burnout is a complex process. It requires attention to lowering both emotional exhaustion and depersonalization of students and others. It also requires maintaining a sense of personal accomplishment.
So, are university faculty vulnerable to burnout and if so, does it matter? The answers are Yes and Yes! Yes, they are vulnerable due to the myriad of sometimes conflicting demands of teaching, service, research, and administrative demands. And Yes, it matters due to the importance to the students and the institution of avoiding or mitigating its effects.
Understanding and preventing burnout is of concern for several reasons. First, burnout negatively impacts quality of life. It is personally distressing and has been linked to many stress-related physical and mental health outcomes
Second, burnout may negatively impact the quality of work. Research has found that increased levels of burnout are associated with intentions or desire to leave one’s position. These negative attitudes combined with depleted emotional resources may lead to impaired professional functioning.
Each faculty member has their own optimal work demand level, which depends on a number of personal, professional, and situational factors. Therefore, the optimal balance among teaching, research, service, and administration is unique for each faculty member.
Some consistent research findings have emerged for burnout prevention strategies:
1. Have a reasonable alignment of specific work load (close to the optimal ranges described
above) and you will add to your work satisfaction.
2. Strive to know yourself: attempt to adjust your work demands to maximize a “fit” with
your interests, strengths, workload capacity, and limits or vulnerabilities.
3. Pay attention to building and using resources at work.
4. Develop personal resources.
5. Finally, maintain a work/life balance. As one example, minimize conflict between the demands of work life and the demands of family life (e.g., housework, child or elder care). Also, cultivate resources outside of work such as a supportive family and friends as well as outside interests.
Lee, R. T., & Ashforth, B. E. (1996). A meta-analytic examination of the correlates of the three
dimensions of job burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 81, 123–133. 10.1037/0021-9010.81.2.123
Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1986). The Maslach Burnout Inventory: Manual (2nd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2, 99–113. 10.1002/job.4030020205
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397–422. 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397
Rupert, P. A., Miller, A. O., Dorociak, K. E. (2015). Preventing burnout: What does the research tell us? Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46, 168-174. 07357028