Psiholoka obzorja / Horizons of Psychology, 10, 2, 21-32 (2001)
© Drutvo psihologov Slovenije 2001, ISSN 1318-187
Znanstveni empirièno-raziskovalni prispevek
The syndrome of burnout, self-image, and anxiety
with grammar school students
Board of Education of the Republic of Slovenia, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Abstract: This article discusses certain characteristics of teenagers experiencing burnout and the influ-
ence of some dimensions of self-image and anxiety on the burnout dimensions. The research investigated
the relation between anxiety, dimensions of self-image and the burnout syndrome. The data were
obtained applying the modified Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), the Spielbergs questionnaire of
trait anxiety and Offer Self-Imagination Questionnaire. The sample comprised 1868 students aged
between 15 and 19; 6.7 percent of them turned out to have suffered a strong burnout. The results proved
that the burnout syndrome appears in several different levels of intensity also among adolescents
attending secondary school (grammar school programme). True multivariate analysis the two basic
hypotheses were confirmed: the adolescents with negative self-image areas are more likely to suffer from
burnout and that certain dimensions of self-image influence certain dimensions of burnout.
Key words: burnout, self-image, anxiety, high-school students
Sindrom izgorelosti, samopodoba in anksioznost
Zavod RS za olstvo, Ljubljana
Povzetek: Besedilo obravnava sindrom izgorelosti pri srednjeolcih (gimnazijcih) in vpliv nekaterih
dimenzij samopodobe in anksioznosti na posamezne dimenzije izgorelosti. Podatke za raziskavo smo
dobili s pomoèjo prirejenega vpraalnika MBI (The Maslach Burnout Inventory), Spielbergovega
vpraalnika potezne anksioznosti in Offerjeve lestvice Self-Imagination Questionnaire. V raziskavi smo
zajeli 1868 srednjeolcev starih od 15 do 18 let, od teh je izkazalo visoko stopnjo izgorelosti 6.7
odstotkov gimnazijcev. Rezultati so pokazali, da se sindrom izgorelosti pojavlja v razliènih stopnjah
jakosti med srednjeolsko mladino, ki obiskuje gimnazijski program. Rezultati multivariantne analize so
potrdili tudi dve temeljni predpostavki, da imajo mladostniki z visoko stopnjo izgorelosti negativno
samopodobo na posameznih podroèjih v primerjavi z ostalimi mladostniki ter da nekatere dimenzije
*Naslov / address: mag. Branko Slivar, Zavod RS za olstvo, Poljanska 28, Ljubljana, Slovenija, e-mail:
samopodobe vplivajo na dimenzije izgorelosti.
Kljuène besede: izgorelost, samopodoba, anksioznost, srednjeolci
Burnout may be defined as a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion that
results from long-term involvement with people in situations that are emotionally de-
manding (Pines & Aronson, 1981). The concept of burnout is usually mentioned in
connection with workplace stress, especially in professions that involve extensive
contact with people in emotionally demanding situations (nurses, doctors, teachers,
social workers, managers, etc.). Yet we can also speak about burnout when referring
to students. Why?
School is essentially a conflictive institution, where various relations are formed
among peers as well as among students and teachers.teachers. For a student it is a
social space, the meaning and the effects of which are placed immediately after
those of the family (Kos, 1993). In the first place school represents a stimulative
environment where students can fulfil their needs and interests, develop their social
skills, acquire knowledge, etc. It is however also a place where an ongoing confirma-
tion of ones own skills and knowledge is required. In the same way as other social
environments school, among other things, also produces numerous threatening and
negative occurrences, which at times concern most students (Kos, 1993). Maslach
(Maslach & Leiter, 1997) described six most significant and frequent reasons for
burnout. These are: work overload, lack of control over ones work, lack of reward
for contributions, lack of community, lack of fairness and a value conflict. Let us take
a look at the more important threatening occurrences that can cause burnout in schools:
1. With its constant productiveness demands school is overtaxing students with
schoolwork wherefore a feeling of overburdening of youngsters during school-
ing increases. The Slovene secondary school system (gymnasia programme)
is still overloaded with school demands such as overloaded syllabus at certain
subjects, too many subjects (Slivar, 2000), external assessment (matura), per-
formance pressures (achieving the best grade, be the best in the class) that
accumulate in the course of years. Beèaj (Beèaj, 2000) has found that there is
a strong connection between matura and the ovrproductive school climate in
grammar schools.Students are overloaded and alarmed by matura and the pres-
sure to achieve the best possible results (Beèaj, 2000). Tomori (Tomori, Stergar,
Pinter, Rus-Makovec & Stikoviè, 1998) studied a sample of students and found
that the majority of students experience temporary or frequent overtaxing.
The feeling of being overloaded provokes psychosomatic symptoms. Bencik
Murko (1988) states in the reasearch on psychosomatic symptoms in students
that psychosomatis symptoms strongly correlate with overtaxing (30 % of sec-
ondary school students have psychosomatic symptoms). Lovin (Lovin et al.,
1988) found that in secondary schools in Ljubljana as much as 60 % of stu-
dents have school related psychosomatic problems. Students have to do a lot
of work in a relatively short time and with limited resources. Great expecta-
tions of parents, the youngsters aspirations and the school demands present a
constant pressure and the least of failures can cause distrust in ones own
2. Reduced opportunities of control over teaching, few opportunities for creativ-
ity, and active participation in the problem solvin, no participation in the planing
and decision making regarding the teaching and learning methods (Ilc-Rutar,
3. There is not enough incentive and praise for well-done work although we know
that rewards and incentives are of great importance for motivation and progress.
Schools also do little to encourage internal rewarding manifested as pride or
satisfaction of the knowledge and success, which is not directly linked to the
4. Lack of suitable interpersonal relations. These are mostly events arising from
exclusion by peers (conflicting relations with peers), accusations of adoles-
cents by teachers (negative emotions of one or more teachers directed per-
sonally toward the student), or disturbances and disputes of a more general
character within school (disputes and disturbances among teachers, lack of
5. Mostly due to expectations by significant others (family members), many stu-
dents live in fear of failure, criticism for lack of success or unpleasant conse-
quences in general. They experience school as a threat where injustices often
happen to individuals, for example in assessment. Students who pay regard to
school demands on the one side, while on the other side they feel fear or
opposition to them, will find themselves in a conflicting situation. School can
also cause feelings of fear, for example fear of being assessed, to which stu-
dents react differently. School related fear may lead to absenteeism (Punik,
6. There are often clashes of values in school, mostly between the values of the
students family and the school values, but also between the values of the
youth and those of the teachers (i.e. about learning, the meaning of knowl-
With their long-term effects, these factors of school stress can also cause the
burnout syndrome with certain individuals, who can start feeling overburdened, un-
successful and feel that they do not have enough control over the events in school.
Important determinants of burnout are also character traits. From the ones
that significantly influence the appearance of burnout we took a closer look at the
Burnout syndrome, self-image and anxiety
role and significance of self-image and anxiety. Self-image is an attitude component
of Self as known or Me (Burns, 1982) and it means the individuals description of
the self. The part of self image are commitments and beliefs, which are very impor-
tant in cognitive appraisal processes of the situation (Epstein, 1976; Hilgard, 1949).
For Kobasa (1985) the coping ability is determined with individuals self image, it is
the part of individuals self awareness or self confidence. A positive self-image is
among other things connected with psychological adaptedness and emotional stabil-
ity, greater activity and the feelings of greater psychic power, increased resistiveness
to negative feedback, positive emotional states etc. These are at the same time also
factors that play an important role in the experiencing of stress and burnout, respec-
tively. Fear and anxiety are two other negative emotions that contribute to burnout
(Maslach, 1997). In some researches (e.g. Richardsen, Burke & Leiter, 1992) it was
established that anxiety foretells all three components of burnout. Frequent emotional
exhaustion was also linked to higher anxiety.
The basic goals of this study are:
- the determination of the incidence of burnout among secondary school stu-
dents and the possible connection of this phenomenon with gender and some
school factors (school performance, number of students, absenteeism),
- the analysis of the relative influence of individual dimensions of self-image and
anxiety in the predictions of individual dimensions of burnout, and
- the establishment of the dimensions of self-image that are important for distin-
guishing between the group with burnout experience and the group with no
14 grammar schools were included in the sample. The choice was accidental, how-
ever the school region and the number of students at school were taken into consid-
eration. At small grammar schools (up to four classes of first year students) one class
of students of each year was included into the research. At large grammar schools
(five or more classes of first year students) two classes of each year were included
into the research. In this way, 2105 students participated. The analysis included 1868
secondary school students of all four years of Slovene gymnasiums, aged from 15 to
18 years. The sample contains 58,3 % of girls and 41,7 % of boys.
The questionnaire used in the study was the Offer Self-image Questionnaire OSIQ.
The adaptation of the questionnaire was carried out by Paènik and Zalar (1986). It
incorporates five images of the self, three of which were relevant for us and thus
included in the research (excluded were the Social Self and the Sexual Self):
1. Psychological Self (PS)
The Psychological Self comprises the adolescents concerns, feelings, wishes,
and fantasies. The scales that constitute this self deal with the teenagers
sense of control over impulses, the emotions and conceptions of their bodies.
The three relevant OSIQ scales are as follows: Impulse Control, Emotional
Tone and Body Image.
2. Familial Self (FS)
The feelings and attitudes teenagers have toward their families are crucial for
their overall psychological health. Barring extreme circumstances, the family
will contribute more to the development of adolescents than any other psycho-
social influence. The following scale is used: Family Relationships.
3. Coping Self (CS)
The scales constituting this aspect of the self measure the psychiatric symp-
toms the adolescents say they have, if any; they also allow the adolescents to
describe how they cope with the world. The three relevant OSIQ scales used
are as follows: Mastery of the External World, Psychopathology and Superior
The OSIQ questionnaire enables a multidimensional reflection of the self which
incorporates the everyday experiences of teenagers. Internal reliability coeffi-
cients for all scales ranged between 0,53 to 0,87. In our case it contains 121
items in the form of a 6-point Likert-type scale and is intended for youngsters
between the ages of 13 and 19. It was originally constructed by Daniel Offer
The questionnaire used for the evaluation of the anxiety level was the Spielberg trait
anxiety questionnaire, which contains 20 items (Lamovec,1994). The internal reliabil-
ity coefficient for the scale is 0,88.
Burnout syndrome, self-image and anxiety
Burnout was measured with the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI; Maslach &
Jackson, 1986). The MBI is a 22-item measure which produces three scores: Emo-
tional Exhaustion, Depersonalisation and Lack of Personal Accomplishment. Emo-
tional exhaustion caused by exagerated demands with which students are faced at
their school work is demonstrated through the feeling of being overloaded and exhauste.
Depersonalisation is a state in which one employs cynical, underestimating and im-
personal attitude towards other people. Lack of Personal Accomplishment is demon-
strated through the feeling of ineffectivenessand the loss of competence (Penko,
Some items were adjusted to the school environment terminology; the ques-
tionnaire has an adequate internal validity, the Crombach alpha is 0,72.
Although burnout can be regarded a continuous variable which is supposed to
vary from a minor to a greater burnout, a high score was regarded as such if it was in
the upper third of the result distribution on individual sub-scales of Emotional Exhaus-
tion and Depersonalisation, and in the lower third on the sub-scales of Personal ac-
complishment (Rafferty, Lemkau, Purdy & Rudsill, 1986).
The relationship between burnout and gender and school factors was estab-
lished by chi-square.
Direct effects: stepwise multiple regression procedures were used for each
dimension of burnout. The self-images variables and anxiety were regressed in com-
bination in order to test the overall effect. The measure of differentiation between
groups as regards the scale of burnout was established with the aid of logistic regres-
It was established that 6,8 % of gymnasium students in our sample have experienced
a high degree of burnout. Results have shown that girls are experiencing burnout
more than boys: 72,1 % of girls and 27,9 % of boys (chi-square=10,25; p=0,00). Girls
tend to experience especially emotional exhaustion.
The average academic success of the youngsters with a manifested burnout
tends to be a bit lower, in average sufficient to good. We presume that these are
essentially hard working and diligent students who are experiencing burnout due to
overburdening school demands and pressures. We were also interested whether the
youngsters experiencing burnout are missing classes. The results show that students
that have experienced burnout are absent more school hours per year than their
peers with no burnout. Students with burn out are absent on average 63 hours per
year, students with no burn out are absent 48 hours per year (the difference is statis-
tically significant, t-test=-3,24; p=0,00).
The analysis of variance (Table 1) for three groups of students (low absentee-
ism, average absenteeism, high absenteeism) has also shown that absenteeism is
enhanced by emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation. of students.
Fuelled by some research results confirming a higher degree of estrangement
between students and teachers, and more careless relationships between students in
larger schools (Lovin et al., 1988), we assumed that the portion of youngsters expe-
riencing burnout would be greater there. The results however did not confirm this
presumption since there is no significant correlation between the share of burnout-
affected youngsters and the size of the school.
II. (??? - tukaj bi lahko avtor kaj dopisal...pa se malce nedosledno je, ker ni nikjer videti I.)
Further on we were interested in the relative influence of individual dimensions of
self-image and anxiety in the prediction of the particular dimension of burnout. Thus
we first analysed the influence of individual dimensions of self-image and anxiety on
Depersonalisation and established that the interrelation is low yet statistically impor-
tant, the highest being the one with anxiety (0,31). The correlation of the psychologi-
cal self dimensions with depersonalisation is within in the range between 0,22 and
0,28, while the correlation of the coping self dimensions lies between 0,10 and 0,24.
The correlation between depersonalisation and family relationships lies at 0,26. In-
corporated in the model with the help of the multiple regression analyses are all
dimensions of self-image and anxiety as dependent variables and depersonalisation
as the independent variable.
Of the 8 variables included 6 contribute significantly to the clarification of
Burnout syndrome, self-image and anxiety
Between Groups 3000,870 2 1052,435 13.212 0.000
Within Groups 212075,141 1865 113,713
Exhausted Total 215080,010 1867
Between Groups 381,684 2 190,842 7.707 0.000
Within Groups 46183,329 1865 24,763
Depersonal. Total 46565,013 1867
Between Groups 321,485 2 160,742 2.940 0.053
Within Groups 101981,029 1865 54,682
Total 102302,514 1867
Table 1: Influence of absenteeism from school on dimensions of burnout: emotional
exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal accomplishment (analysis of variance ta-
depersonalisation (Table 2). The multiple coefficient of the correlation (R) between
depersonalisation and the chosen variables lies at 0,34; the determination coefficient
(R2=0,11) is low yet statistically significant (F=20,06; p=0,000).
We have determined that the independent variables included in the regression
model account for 11 percent of depersonalisation. Family relationships among the
self-image dimensions and anxiety are the most important contributing factors to the
above percentage. Of the three dimension of the psychological self, impulse control
has the greatest influence, and of the three dimensions of the coping self, superior
adjustment plays the most important role. Psychopathology and mastery of the exter-
nal world do not play an essential role and were not incorporated into the model.
The next step was to analyse the influence of the individual dimensions of self-
image and anxiety to lack of personal accomplishment. The interrelations are nega-
tive and low yet statistically important, the highest being the correlation with anxiety
(-0,38). The correlation of the dimensions of the psychological self with personal
accomplishment ranges from 0,28 to 0,36, the correlation of the dimensions of the
coping self ranges from 0,30 to 0,37 and the correlation between personal accom-
plishment and family relationships is 0,27. With the help of the multiple regression
analyses we have included all dimensions of self-image and anxiety as independent
variables and lack of personal accomplishment as the dependent variable.
Of the 8 variables included 6 contribute significantly to the clarification of the
lack of personal accomplishment (Table 3). The multiple coefficient of correlation
(R) between depersonalisation and the chosen variables is 0,45; the determination
coefficient (R2=0,20) is low yet statistically significant (F=58,08; p=0,000).
We have established that the independent variables included in the model ac-
count for 20 percent of lack of personal accomplishment. The most significant con-
tributor is anxiety and of the dimensions of self-image the coping self has the greatest
influence (the most important part being superior adjustment). In addition to the above
mentioned factors family relationships and emotional tone also influence the lack of
personal accomplishment while impulse control and body image do not play an essen-
tial role and were not incorporated into the model.
Lastly we analysed the influence of the individual dimensions of self-image
and anxiety to emotional exhaustion. The interrelations are of medium values and
Model R2 Ä R F Change Sig. F Change
anxiety ,078 ,078 157,43 ,000
family relationships ,095 ,018 37,12 ,000
impulse control ,101 ,007 13,58 ,000
superior adjustment ,104 ,003 6,52 ,011
psychopathology ,107 ,003 6,77 ,009
emotional tone ,111 ,005 11,02 ,001
Table 2: Multiple regression analyses predicting depersonalisation from anxiety, family
relationships, impulse control, superior adjustment, psychopathology, emotional tone.
statistically important, the highest being the correlation with anxiety (0,56). The cor-
relation of the dimensions of the psychological self with emotional exhaustion ranges
from 0,39 to 0,48, and the correlation of the dimensions of the coping self ranges from
0,28 to 0,45. With the help of the multiple regression analysis we have included all
dimensions of self-image and anxiety as independent variables and emotional ex-
haustion as the dependent variable.
Of the 8 variables included 3 contribute significantly to the clarification of
emotional exhaustion (Table 4). The multiple coefficient of correlation (R) between
depersonalisation and the chosen variables is 0,56; the determination coefficient
(R2=0,31) is low yet statistically significant (F=105,51; p=0,000).
We have established that the independent variables included in the model ac-
count for 31 percent of emotional exhaustion. The most significant contributor is
anxiety and of the dimensions of self-image impulse control has the greatest influ-
ence. In addition to the above factors mastery of external world also influences emo-
tional exhaustion while other dimensions of self-image do not play an essential role
and were not incorporated into the model.
This study was aimed at the establishment of differences between a group of young-
sters that did experience burnout and those that did not experience it as regards the
dimensions of self-image and trait anxiety. The logistic model included all dimensions
of self-image and trait anxiety as independent variables and two groups of youngsters
as to the (non) experience of burnout as the dependent variable. Negelkerke value,
Burnout syndrome, self-image and anxiety
Model R2 Ä R F Change Sig. F Change
anxiety ,141 ,141 304,26 ,000
superior adjustment ,176 ,035 79,41 ,000
mastery of external world ,183 ,007 16,68 ,000
psychopathology ,189 ,006 12,88 ,000
family relationships ,195 ,007 15,11 ,000
emotional tone ,200 ,004 10,42 ,001
Table 3: Multiple regression analyses predicting personal accomplishment from anxiety,
superior adjustment, mastery of the external world, psychopathology, family relation-
ships and emotional tone.
Model R2 Ä R F Change Sig. F Change
anxiety ,291 ,291 762,03 ,000
impulse control ,306 ,015 40,76 ,000
mastery of the external world ,310 ,005 12,43 ,000
Table 4: Multiple regression analyses predicting emotional exhaustion from anxiety,
impulse control and mastery of the external world.
which is comparable to the R2, is 0,25. Of the 8 dimensions included four have a
significant effect on the differences between the two groups. The group of young-
sters that did experience burnout is differentiated from the other group by the follow-
ing dimensions: trait anxiety, family relationships, impulse control and mastery of the
external world. The most contributing dimension is anxiety, followed by dimensions of
self-image: family relationships, mastery of the external world and impulse control.
The study represents a contribution to the analysis of burnout with adolescents. It is
however necessary to emphasise that the gained results have to be used with a certain
measure of cautiousness. The reasons therefore are especially: the restricted methodol-
ogy used (i.e. measures of self report), the choice of personality traits and their respec-
tive measurement (i.e. reduced inventories OSIQ) and omission of other potential
antecedents (i.e. locus of control, self esteem).
The results have confirmed that self-image and anxiety are connected with the
appearance of burnout. Compared to the dimensions of self-image it is necessary to
emphasise the high predictive value of trait anxiety in the prediction of burnout while, on
the other hand, various dimensions of self-image predict individual dimensions of burn-
out in various ways. Of the three dimensions of burnout emotional exhaustion is best
explained with the dimensions of self-image and anxiety, while the depersonalisation
sub-scale is explained worst.
The results for emotional exhaustion are not surprising; as was already men-
tioned anxiety plays the most important role in emotional exhaustion, the role of school
also having great importance in this issue. Many students live in fear of failure, criticism
for lack of success and unpleasant consequences arising therefrom (not being able to go
to college). School is experienced as a threat whereby injustices happen to individuals,
for example in assessment. Youngsters who respect the schools demands on the one
side and feels fear or resistance to it on the other will come into a conflicting situation
triggering stress or burnout. Decreased impulse control also contributes to emotional
exhaustion. It is a dimension of self-image that reflects the power of the ego apparatus
in coping with different internal and external pressures. The lower the ego power is, the
higher the feeling of overburdening and exhaustion tends to get. Beside impulse control
another dimension of self-image plays an important part in the prediction of emotional
exhaustion mastery of the external world, which reflects the individuals capability to
cope with the demands of the external world. In so far as this capability is reduced we
can expect a higher degree of emotional exhaustion.
Findings for personal accomplishment also show that the most contributing di-
mension is anxiety (14 % of the variance). Besides anxiety personal accomplishment is
affected especially by all three dimensions of the coping self. A specially important role
is attributed here to superior adjustment. A reduced capacity to cope with the challenges
of the environment increases feelings of inefficiency and lack of success. To a lesser
extent mastery of the external world and psychopathology also play a role in this case.
A reduced capacity to cope with demand and the presence of psychopathological signs
increase the feeling of decreased personal accomplishment; familiar self and emotional
self also contribute to a decreased personal accomplishment. Family relationships, in
our case bad relations between the youngster and the members of the family, negative
family climate, an increased fluctuation of emotions and a reduced measure of harmony
additionally fuel the feeling of a decreased personal accomplishment.
Depersonalisation is the dimension least explained with self-image and anxiety
(11 % of the variable). Noted in this dimension is the highest contribution by anxiety (8
% of the variance), with family relationships and one of the dimensions of the psycho-
logical self impulse control, contributing in a lesser extent. Even lower but still notice-
able are the contributions of the emotional tone and two dimensions of the coping self
superior adjustment and psychopathology.
Taking a close look at the differences between the group that did experience
burnout and the group that did not, it was established that the former differ from the
latter in anxiety, family relationships, mastery of the external world and impulse control.
These youngsters have are manifesting increased anxiety, their families have a history of
bad interpersonal relations and negative climate, they have a reduced capability to mas-
ter the external world and their ego apparatus is not strong enough to cope with various
pressures arising from both the external and the internal environments.
We have thus established that besides anxiety some dimensions of self-image also
play an important part in the prediction of burnout. Worth mentioning are especially
family relationships, impulse control, emotional tone (psychological self), mastery of
the external world, superior adjustment and psychopathology (coping self). Burnout is
more common with girls and is one of the reasons for missing school lessons.
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