ArticlePDF Available


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to focus on the career of the burnout concept itself, rather than reviewing research findings on burnout. Design/methodology/approach – The paper presents an overview of the concept of burnout. Findings – The roots of the burnout concept seem to be embedded within broad social, economic, and cultural developments that took place in the last quarter of the past century and signify the rapid and profound transformation from an industrial society into a service economy. This social transformation goes along with psychological pressures that may translate into burnout. After the turn of the century, burnout is increasingly considered as an erosion of a positive psychological state. Although burnout seems to be a global phenomenon, the meaning of the concept differs between countries. For instance, in some countries burnout is used as a medical diagnosis, whereas in other countries it is a non‐medical, socially accepted label that carries a minimum stigma in terms of a psychiatric diagnosis. Originality/value – The paper documents that the exact meaning of the concept of burnout varies with its context and the intentions of those using the term.
Burnout: 35 years of research and
Wilmar B. Schaufeli
Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Michael P. Leiter
Acadia University, Wolfville, Canada, and
Christina Maslach
University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to focus on the career of the burnout concept itself, rather
than reviewing research findings on burnout.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper presents an overview of the concept of burnout.
Findings The roots of the burnout concept seem to be embedded within broad social, economic, and
cultural developments that took place in the last quarter of the past century and signify the rapid and
profound transformation from an industrial society into a service economy. This social transformation
goes along with psychological pressures that may translate into burnout. After the turn of the century,
burnout is increasingly considered as an erosion of a positive psychological state. Although burnout
seems to be a global phenomenon, the meaning of the concept differs between countries. For instance,
in some countries burnout is used as a medical diagnosis, whereas in other countries it is a
non-medical, socially accepted label that carries a minimum stigma in terms of a psychiatric diagnosis.
Originality/value – The paper documents that the exact meaning of the concept of burnout varies
with its context and the intentions of those using the term.
Keywords Stress, Social change, Medical diagnosis
Paper type General review
Job burnout emerged as an important concept in the 1970s, and it captured something
very critical about people’s experience with work. It continues to do so today, some 35
years since its introduction to psychological literature and to cultural discourse. Both
then and now, burnout has been a concept that seems to ring true to a common
experience among people. It has inspired researchers to study it and try to better
understand what it is and why it happens. It has inspired practitioners to figure out ways
to cope with it, prevent it, or combat it. Thus, from the beginning, burnout has enjoyed a
joint recognition from both researchers and practitioners as a social problem worthy of
attention and amelioration. As this recognition has spread to many other countries,
beyond its American origins, it has become a phenomenon of notable global significance.
Currently, burnout is a well-established academic subject on which thousands of
publications have appeared, and about which numerous congresses and symposia are
held. We estimate that currently over 6,000 books, chapters, dissertations, and journal
articles have been published on burnout (for reviews see: Schaufeli and Enzmann, 1998;
Maslach et al., 2001; Halbesleben and Buckley, 2004). The concept of burnout has
stimulated research on job stress, particularly in areas like the helping professions,
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received 26 November 2008
Revised December 2008
Accepted 22 December 2008
Career Development International
Vol. 14 No. 3, 2009
pp. 204-220
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/13620430910966406
which had not been the focus of attention before. It also stimulated theorizing,
particularly in the area of emotional labor, symptom contagion, and social exchange.
In the occupational medical setting of some European countries with elaborated social
security systems – notably Sweden and The Netherlands – burnout is an established
medical diagnosis. This means that it is included in handbooks, and that physicians and
other health professionals are trained in assessing and treating burnout. Furthermore,
psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, counselors, human services officers,
organizational consultants offer a wide array of interventions, ranging from individual
treatment programs, via preventive workshops to organizational consultancy. A
concrete example with special relevance for career development is the burnout reducing
effect of employee mentoring (Van Emmerik, 2004). In other words, many professionals
earn a living by treating burnout victims, giving workshops on burnout, or consulting
with organizations on how to prevent burnout and build work engagement. In this sense,
burnout has boosted professional practice.
As we look back over 35 years of research and practice, what have been the critical
themes, insights and conclusions that have emerged? What accounts for the
remarkable longevity of a concept that originally was dismissed as “pop psychology”
(Maslach and Schaufeli, 1993). What are the lessons learned, and what are is the
current challenge to be addressed?
Understanding the nature of burnout
As a metaphor for the draining of energy, burnout refers to the smothering of a fire or
the extinguishing of a candle. It implies that once a fire was burning but the fire cannot
continue burning brightly unless there are sufficient resources that keep being
replenished. Over time, employees experiencing burnout lose the capacity to provide
the intense contributions that make an impact. If they continue working, the result is
more like smoldering – uneventful and inconsequential – than burning. From their
own perspective or that of others, they accomplish less. In summary, the metaphor
describes the exhaustion of employees’ capacity to maintain an intense involvement
that has a meaningful impact at work.
The success of the burnout metaphor reflects the concept’s origins in general
discourse. People used the term to describe an experience before scientific psychology
identified it as a phenomenon worthy of study. Freudenberger (1974) borrowed the
term from the illicit drug scene where it colloquially referred to the devastating effect of
chronic drug abuse. He used the term to describe the gradual emotional depletion, loss
of motivation, and reduced commitment among volunteers of the St Mark’s Free Clinic
in New York’s East Village that he observed as a consulting psychiatrist. Such free
clinics for drug addicts and homeless people had grown out of the counter-movement
against the establishment. Not unimportantly, Freudenberger himself fell victim to
burnout twice, which increased his credibility in spreading the message of burnout. His
writings on the subject were strongly autobiographical and his impact is illustrated by
the fact that in 1999, he received The Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the
Practice of Psychology at the APA Convention in Boston.
Independently and simultaneously, Maslach and her colleagues came across the term
in California when interviewing a variety of human services workers. As a social
psychological researcher, Maslach was interested in how these workers coped with their
emotional arousal using cognitive strategies such as detached concern. As a result of
these interviews she learned that these workers often felt emotionally exhausted, that
they developed negative perceptions and feelings about their clients or patients, and that
they experienced crises in professional competence as a result of the emotional turmoil
(Maslach, 1976, 1993). These practitioners referred to this syndrome as “burnout”.
In a thorough process of interviews, observation, and psychometric development,
Maslach and her colleagues developed a method for assessing burnout as a
multidimensional construct that went beyond mere exhaustion (Maslach and Jackson,
1981; Maslach et al., 2008). At the outset, burnout was predominantly identified within
the human services: “Burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion,
depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among
individuals who work with people in some capacity” (Maslach et al., 1996, p. 4).
However, by the late 1980s, researchers and practitioners began to recognize that
burnout occurred outside the human services, for instance, among managers,
entrepreneurs, and white- and blue collar workers. Thus, the burnout metaphor was
extended from the intense requirements of client service to other work requiring
creativity, problem solving, or mentoring. In this more general form, burnout was
defined as “...a state of exhaustion in which one is cynical about the value of one’s
occupation and doubtful of one’s capacity to perform” (Maslach et al., 1996, p. 20).The
term burnout, then, was transferred from a literal reference to a depletion of physical
resources supporting combustion to the psychological domain. But why did burnout
suddenly gain momentum in the USA in the mid 1970s in the first place, and why does
it continue to remain an important and popular issue?
The social and cultural context of emerging burnout
When burnout began to be described and discussed in the 1970s, it was primarily in
reference to work in the human services, such as health care, social work,
psychotherapy, legal services, and police work. Qualitative interviews and case studies
gave a vivid picture of the experience in which people lost both their energy and their
sense of the value of their job. The loss of meaning was especially poignant within
professions dedicated to lofty goals to help and serve others. Tellingly, burnout
discussions began within the human services, because they were better able to give
“voice” to issues of emotions, values, and relationships with people concepts that had
not been widely recognized within the research literature on the workplace.
The roots of the burnout concept seem to be embedded within several broad social,
economic, and cultural developments of the 1960s in the USA. Below we summarize
these developments whose impact on burnout is by their very nature speculative
rather than empirically demonstrated.
In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy ignited a vision of public service, as
he challenged Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what
you can do for your country”. Subsequently, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the
“War on Poverty” that caused a large influx of idealistically motivated young people
into human services professions. However, after struggling to eradicate poverty for a
decade or so, they found themselves increasingly disillusioned. They came to learn that
the systemic factors perpetuating poverty nullified their efforts to alleviate poverty’s
downstream impact on people and frustrated their efforts to open opportunities for
children of poor families. Frustrated idealism was a defining quality of the burnout
experience, mirroring the intensity of combustion. It was critical to the concept’s
momentum: service providers were appalled at their diminished capacity to perform or
to show compassion towards their recipients. The experience of burnout was not
merely an inconvenience or an occupational hazard, but a devastating attack on their
professional identity. They had chosen a career path of service, forsaking other options
in the vibrant American economy of the era. Exhaustion on its own would not be so
compelling: dedicated people may even derive fulfillment from exhausting themselves
through exerting extraordinary effort for a deeply valued cause. The lack of
compassion and diminished effectiveness implicit in the full burnout experience had a
much more devastating impact on their identity (Farber, 1983).
From the 1950s onwards the human services in the USA as well as in Europe
rapidly professionalized and bureaucratized as a result of greater government and
state influence. Small-scale, traditional agencies where work was considered a calling,
transformed into large-scale modern organizations with formalized job descriptions.
Arguing this point, Cherniss and Kranz (1983) observed that burnout was virtually
absent in monasteries, Montessori schools, and religious care centers where people
consider their work as a calling rather than merely a job. They argued that such
“ideological communities” provide a collective identity that prevents burnout from
occurring because of social commitment, a sense of communion, contact with the
collective whole, and shared strong values. Seen from this perspective, burnout
represents the price paid of professionalizing the helping professions from “callings”
into “modern” occupations. The frustration and disillusionment arising from a
widespread, institutionalized clash of utilitarian organizational values with providers’
personal or professional values contributed further to burnout.
The “cultural revolution” of the 1960s weakened the professional authority of –
among others – doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers and police officers. The
traditional prestige of these professionals was no longer evident after the 1960s.
Simultaneously, empowered recipients expected much more than ever before. As a
consequence, recipients’ demands of care, service, empathy, and compassion intensified.
Together, these two trends increased the technical and emotional demands of
professional work considerably. Even if they relinquished professional ideals, embracing
the values of institutionalized services, service providers were unlikely to experience
fulfillment from their work. From the perspective of social exchange, a discrepancy grew
between professionals’ efforts and the rewards they received in recognition and
gratitude. This “lack of reciprocity” is known to foster burnout (Schaufeli, 2006).
The three factors mentioned so far are more or less specific for the human services,
the occupational group where burnout was observed first. However, there were
additional socio-cultural developments that seem to have contributed to the emergence
and proliferation of burnout in the mid-1970s as well. Since the Second World War,
traditional social communities and networks such as the church, the neighborhood, and
the family have gradually eroded. According to Sennett (1998) this is the result of the
emerging “flexible capitalism” that replaces traditional rigid, homogeneous and
predictable social institutions by more flexible, heteronymous and continuously
changing ones. This development encourages social fragmentation and what he calls
“the corrosion of character,” a notion somewhat similar to burnout. Not only has
community support decreased, but increasingly, individualism has prospered. People
have created personal definitions of their own social and occupational roles because
society no longer has provided shared definitions. In parallel, a “narcissistic culture”
(Lasch, 1979) developed that is characterized by transient, unrewarding and even
combative social relationships that produce self-absorbed, manipulative individuals,
who demand immediate gratification of their desires but remain perpetually unsatisfied.
As Farber (1983, p. 11) noted, the combination of the trends toward individualization and
towards narcissism produces “a perfect recipe for burnout”: the former produces stress
and frustration while the latter undermines people’s coping resources.
An overarching development that includes many of the previous issues and that
seem to have fostered burnout is the rapid and profound transformation from an
industrial society into a service economy that took place in the last quarter of the past
century. This social transformation goes along with psychological pressures, which, in
their turn, are subject to public discourse. A striking parallel exists with neurasthenia
literally, weakness of the nervous system that was first observed at the end of the
nineteenth century when American society transformed from an agricultural into an
industrial society (Loriol, 2002). Tellingly, neurasthenia appeared first among the icons
of the new industrial era – the dynamic business men – like burnout appeared
similarly first among the icons of the new service era the human services
professionals. To George Beard, who coined the term in 1869, neurasthenia was the
product of rapid technological change as expressed, for instance, by the telegraph
(Cooper and Dewe, 2004, p. 5), whereas for Freudenberger (1974) and Maslach (1976),
burnout was the product of rapid change in social relationships. Although this
particular constellation of political, social, and cultural developments in the USA seem
to have set the stage for the concept of burnout, what sustains burnout’s momentum in
the twenty-first century?
Burnout in the twenty-first century
Burnout was originally viewed as a specific hazard for naı
¨ve, idealistic, young service
professionals who became exhausted, cynical, and discouraged through their
experiences in cold bureaucratic systems serving entitled, unresponsive clients with
intractable problems. But that was long ago. The young idealists entering the workforce
in the 1960s are at the time of this writing heading toward retirement. Young
professionals in the early twenty-first century have fewer opportunities for naivety.
Television dramas give thoroughly gritty depictions of work life. A favorite and repeated
theme is the novice’s loss of innocence. Professional training programs for service
professionals, MBAs, and lawyers rarely paint a rosy picture. And the internet provides
an incessant stream of unfiltered and only occasionally corroborated information on any
topic imaginable (and a few that defy imagination). People have few illusions about the
working world. But they are nevertheless vulnerable to burnout (Cho et al., 2006; Gellert
and Kuipers, 2008). And the boomers who have been working since the 1970s, and who
should know better by now, are vulnerable as well (Leiter et al., 2008). It may be that
while naı
¨ve idealism magnifies one’s vulnerability to burnout, it is not an essential
prerequisite. The deciding factor may be the nature of work life and the broad cultural
context within which work occurs in the twenty-first century.
Two distinct contributors to the experience of work life explain burnout’s
persistence as an experience, a matter of social importance, and a focus of scientific
inquiry. The first contributor is a persistent imbalance of demands over resources
(Aiken et al., 2001; Bakker and Demerouti, 2007). When demands increase , e.g. more
service recipients with more intense requirements resources fail to keep pace. There
are insufficient personnel, equipment, supplies, or space to meet the demand (Aiken
et al., 2002). Insufficient opportunities to rest and regenerate depleted energy aggravate
the exhausting impact of demand/resource imbalances.
The second contributor concerns motives rather than energy. Employees in the
twenty-first century view organizational missions, visions, and values with skepticism
(Hemingway and Maclagan, 2004). Employees may hold personal values that differ
from the organizations. For example, a retail salesperson may be more interested in the
quality of customer service than meeting sales targets. Another salesperson may only
value maximizing personal sales commissions over developing ongoing relationships
with customers. In some circumstances, more clearly articulated corporate values may
provide a more fertile ground for value conflicts.
The potential for value conflicts is increased as organizations and employees reduce
their commitment to one another. The major value conflict for service professionals in
the 1970s was between the counterculture and an established social order (Martin and
Siehl, 1983). Young people distrusted older generations. They did not trust anyone over
30 and they did not trust their institutions either. The free clinic movement in the USA
sought to establish a new approach to health care. Working for organizations in the
establishment engendered one type of value conflict. Working for organizations within
the counterculture engendered another type of value conflict as the demands of business
or public sector accountability were generally inconsistent with counterculture ideals.
Professional service providers or managers entering a twenty-first century
workforce expect a much more varied career than their counterparts a generation
previously (McDonald et al., 2005). Neither party is ready to make a life-long
commitment. Accordingly, employees are less willing to put aside their personal
inclinations for the good of the company.
Another form of conflict occurs between the organization’s stated values and its
values in action (Argyris, 1982). Employees exercise severe judgment when they
witness a gap between organizational intentions and reality. Rather than attributing
the shortfall to market conditions or bad luck, they often attribute the problem to
corporate hypocrisy. This attribution may apply to the entire executive level or it may
pertain to distinct individuals who are abusing positions of authority to exploit the
company for their personal gain. In these scenarios, employees accept the
organizations’ espoused values. They experience conflict with the values they
attribute to the organizations’ shortcomings.
Public sector organizations in the twenty-first century often state ideals that far
exceed their resources (Potter et al., 2007). Few societies devote sufficient resources to
meet their populations’ needs. The systemic imbalance of demands to resources
promotes exhaustion and reduces professional efficacy while alienation from corporate
values reduces providers’ involvement in their work or their service recipients
(Schaufeli, 2006; Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004). Together, the principles inherent in
globalization promise to perpetuate burnout throughout information/service
Current management within a globalized economy proclaims lofty ideals that they
fail to support while they focus on the fiscal, policy, and political issues required to
maintain large organizations or corporations. As individuals struggle to chart a course
through complex, contradictory, and sometimes hostile institutional environments,
they are vulnerable to the exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy that define burnout.
The burnout phenomenon has grown from a specialized occupational hazard to a
pervasive workplace hazard.
Thus, it appears that the same basic factors seem to drive burnout now as before,
albeit with a slightly different quality. Most prominent are the imbalance between
demands and resources at work, and the conflict between values (i.e. between personal
values and those of the organization, and between the officially stated organizational
values and the values in action).
The globalization of burnout
During the past 35 years, burnout has attracted the attention of researchers,
practitioners and the general public almost anywhere around the globe. Despite
methodological problems, such as sampling bias, quantitative studies suggest that
burnout is not exclusively a North American or Western phenomenon (Golembiewski
et al., 1996; Perrewe
´et al., 2002; Savicki, 2002). For instance, a bi-cultural analysis of
American and Philippine nurses showed that the social work environment as well as
national value systems influences burnout-levels in both countries (Turnipseed and
Turnipseed, 1997). In a similar vein, Pines (2003) showed that despite different value
systems burnout was prevalent in Jewish and Arab Israelis. After its initial emergence
in the USA in the 1970s, the concept was introduced in the 1980s in Western Europe,
particularly the UK, the Low countries (Holland and Belgium), Germany, and the
Nordic countries (Scandinavia and Finland), as well as in Israel. From the mid 1990s
onwards burnout was also studied in the rest of Western and Eastern Europe, Asia, the
Middle East, Latin America, Australia, and New Zealand. Finally, after the turn of the
century, research on burnout spread to Africa, China, and to the Indian subcontinent. It
is interesting to note that, roughly speaking, the order in which the interest in burnout
seems to have spread corresponds with the economic development of the countries
involved. For instance, currently, the economies of India and China are booming, and
burnout now seems to attract attention in these countries as well. It has been suggested
that globalization, privatization, and liberalization cause rapid changes in modern
working life, such as increasing demands of learning new skills, the need to adopt new
types of work, pressure of higher productivity and quality of work, time pressure and
hectic jobs, which, in their turn, may produce burnout particularly in rapidly
developing countries like India (Kulkarni, 2006).
The fact that burnout occurs globally does not necessarily imply that the meaning
of the term is identical across countries and languages. A non-exhaustive overview
reveals that the term “burnout” is used quite differently in various languages.
Although in some languages equivalents of “burnout” or “to burn out” exist, often the
English term is preferred[1]. In other languages, a more or less free translation of the
English “burnout” is used by the lay public[2], whereas in these countries professionals
and scholars use the “scientific” English term. Also, instead of “burnout” the notion of
“exhaustion” is used, sometimes in conjunction with the adjective “professional” to
denote its work relatedness[3]. Quite interestingly, in yet some other languages the
connotation of the English term “burnout” – or its local equivalent – is considered too
strong, implying the impossibility to recover, i.e. a psychological death sentence. For
that reason a somewhat milder term – usually referring to exhaustion – is used[4].
Moreover, in some languages “exhaustion” denotes the process of burnout that
includes its milder forms as well, whereas “burnout” is used for the end-stage of that
process. This is at odds with the original use of “burnout” which was thought to cover
the entire range running from mild to severe symptoms.
JIn addition to linguistic reasons, the local social context plays a major role in the way
burnout is viewed. Namely, in some countries a formal burnout diagnosis opens the
possibility for the individual to profit from financial compensation arrangements,
counseling, psychotherapeutic treatment, and rehabilitation. In other countries, however,
a formal burnout diagnosis is not recognized, and burned-out employees are not eligible
for compensation or treatment of any kind. It is not surprising that, in the former instance,
“burnout” developed into a formal medical diagnosis, the end-stage of a process. Notably
this is the case in Sweden and the Netherlands. In these countries, “burnout” is an issue in
the medical consulting room, as is, for instance, diabetes or hypertension.
Burnout as social problem or medical diagnosis
The “medicalization” of burnout is intertwined with recent debates about whether
burnout should be considered as exhaustion, and no more. This “exhaustion-only”
view has been expressed by both some researchers and some practitioners. Most
scientific research uses the three-dimensional description of exhaustion, cynicism, and
inefficacy that is implied in the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI – Maslach and
Jackson, 1981). The MBI clearly dominates the field: by the end of the 1990s it was used
in 93 per cent of the journal articles and dissertations (Schaufeli and Enzmann, 1998, p.
71). Although meanwhile some alternative burnout instruments appeared the scene,
such as the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory (Kristensen et al., 2005) and the Oldenburg
Burnout Inventory (Demerouti et al., 2002), the MBI remains the “gold standard” to
assess burnout. Practically speaking, the concept of burnout concurs with the MBI, and
vice versa. Despite the supremacy of the MBI in scientific research, a debate among
scholars on the nature of burnout continues (see the special issue of Work & Stress,
Vol. 19 (3), 2005). This debate revolves around two interrelated issues: the
dimensionality of burnout and its scope. Some critics maintain that rather than
being a multi-dimensional phenomenon, burnout is essentially equivalent to
exhaustion (Pines and Aronson, 1981; Kristensen et al., 2005; Shirom and Melamed,
2005). For those in favor of the one-dimensional view, exhaustion is the one and only
hallmark of burnout. Although theoretically speaking various aspects of exhaustion
have been identified for instance, physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion (Pines
and Aronson, 1981), or physical and psychological exhaustion (Kristensen et al., 2005),
or physical fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and cognitive weariness (Shirom and
Melamed, 2005) self-report measures inevitably produce one single overriding
exhaustion factor. Champions of the exhaustion-only perspective argue that constructs
that emerge inductively from factor-analyses like the MBI are conceptually
inferior to constructs derived from theoretical frameworks. This criticism ignores the
iterative process through which Maslach and her colleagues developed the MBI
through extensive, in-depth interviews (Maslach and Schaufeli, 1993). This conceptual
work produced items reflecting a three-dimensional construct that was confirmed
statistically. The insistence of contrarily-minded researchers to label exhaustion as
burnout reflects the power of the metaphor. Chronic exhaustion physical or mental
is a legitimate label for problems encountered by many people within or outside the
working world. However, there is no scientific reason to use the term, burnout, when
referring to exhaustion only. But burnout is such a catchy metaphor, reflecting a broad
cultural experience that it is difficult to relinquish. Hence, our view is that reducing
burnout to mere exhaustion boils down to putting new wine (burnout) in very old
bottles (workplace fatigue).
As for the scope of burnout, some scholars consider burnout as a generic, context-free
phenomenon that may occur outside work. For instance, recently Kristensen et al. (2005, p.
197) proposed to discriminate between work-related burnout, client-related burnout, and
personal burnout. The latter is described as “...the degree of physical and psychological
fatigue and exhaustion experienced by the person”. In their view personal burnout may
also occur among those who do not work such as young people, unemployed, early retired
people, pensioners, and housewives. As a matter of fact, the assumption that burnout is a
context-free phenomenon has a history that goes back to the early days of burnout
research and does accompany it since (e.g. Pines and Aronson, 1981). However, a
multi-dimensional approach as in the MBI is by definition incompatible with the notion of
context-free burnout. Then in any context at work or outside work people may feel
exhausted, but cynicism and reduced professional efficacy refer to a particular object (i.e.
one is cynical about something and feels inefficacious to do something). A retired or
unemployed person may feel exhausted, but it is impossible to identify the “something”
about which unemployed or retired people should feel cynical or inefficacious. Hence,
arguing that burnout is a generic, context-free phenomenon goes necessarily hand in hand
with a limited definition of burnout as the equivalent to exhaustion. This approach not
only simplifies the concept, but it effectively as we noted above puts new wine in old
bottles. To conclude, although in practice the three-dimensional conceptualization of
burnout is used by the overwhelming majority of researchers, not all of them mean the
same thing when they refer to “burnout.”
The MBI defines burnout as a matter of degree on its three subscales. This quality is
compatible with regression-based statistical methods, and current statistical
developments, such as structural equation modeling, manage the three inter-related
continuous subscales. Professional practice has less patience with complex continuous
measures, though. Practitioners of individual psychological, psychiatric, or medical
treatment want to differentiate among people who are “burned out” and those who are
not. Medical practitioners favor dichotomous diagnoses, especially when informing
decisions on treatment or disability insurance claims. In this way the definition of
burnout is shaped by practical questions Who is to be treated? Who is to receive
financial compensation?
Both statistical and diagnostic criteria have been used to transform a continuous
burnout inventory such as the MBI into a dichotomy that discriminates between
burnout “cases” and “non-cases.” Statistically, cut-off points are determined, for
instance, for “low”, “average”, and “high” scores, based on the lower, medium, and
upper thirds of the score-distribution, as recommended in the test-manual of the MBI
(Maslach et al., 1996). However, such cut-offs are based on frequency distributions and
therefore do not refer to an external criterion. For example, a score at the 70th
percentile on exhaustion is relatively high, but it may not be associated with subjective
distress, health disorders, or poor performance.
The diagnostic strategy uses an independently established burnout diagnosis as an
external criterion to establish cut-off points. For example, Schaufeli et al. (2001) used
neurasthenia, as defined in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10, 1994) as
the equivalent of severe burnout (see also below). According to the ICD-10, a
neurasthenic diagnosis (code F43.8) requires:
.persistent and increased fatigue or weakness after minimal (mental) effort;
.at least two out of seven distress symptoms such as irritability and inability to
.the absence of other disorders such as mood disorder or anxiety disorder.
According to Schaufeli et al. (2001), in order to be diagnosed as “burnout,” the
neurasthenic symptoms should additionally be work-related, and the individual should
receive professional treatment. Based on this set of diagnostic criteria, clinically
validated cut-off scores for each of the three MBI-sales were established. Additional
research confirmed the validity of the MBI cut-off points and also established a
decision rule for combining the scores of the three burnout dimensions: an individual is
considered to be severely burned-out when he or she has a “highly negative” score on
exhaustion in combination with a “highly negative” score on either of the two
remaining MBI dimensions (Brenninkmeijer and Van Yperen, 2003; Roelofs et al.,
2005). This decision rule allows the transformation of the MBI a multi-dimensional
continuous burnout inventory into a dichotomy that can be used by practitioners in
order to diagnose burnout.
Through this process of dichotomization, burnout gradually expanded from a
psychological phenomenon to encompass a medical diagnosis as well, at least in some
European countries such as The Netherlands and Sweden. As a result, when
practitioners with a psychological background use the term “burnout,” they usually
refer to the whole spectrum of burnout complaints running from very mild to severe
burnout, whereas practitioners with a medical background refer to severe burnout
cases that meet these diagnostic criteria. Although medical diagnoses aspire to a clear
categorization, the practice is accustomed to integrating multiple sources of
information to differentiate among a plethora of potential health problems to
produce a diagnosis. As such, rather than simplifying burnout into exhaustion, the
diagnostic protocol for burnout integrates diverse information that may include the
three MBI subscales to arrive at a dichotomous diagnostic standard.
In Sweden the ICD-10 burnout diagnosis was introduced in 1997, soon after which it
became one of the five most common diagnoses and the one that showed the sharpest
increase, particularly within the public sector (Friberg, 2006, p. 72). “Burnout” was
initially diagnosed according to the ICD-10 which was translated into Swedish in
1997. The ICD-10 is the officially used diagnostic tool in Swedish health care, without a
formal ICD-10 diagnosis the person is not eligible for financial compensation in case of
sick-leave or disability. In the ICD-10 diagnostic system burnout (code Z73.0) is placed
in the category “problems related to life management difficulty” and loosely described
as “a state of vital exhaustion”, without further elaboration. This, of course, leaves
much room for interpretation for medical professionals. For that reason, in 2005 the
Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare has added the “exhaustion disorder”
(utmattningssyndrom) to the national version of the ICD-10 (code F43.8). Its criteria are:
physiological or mental symptoms of exhaustion for at least two weeks, an essential
lack of psychological energy, and symptoms such as difficulties to concentrate,
decreased ability to cope with stress, irritability or emotional instability, sleep
disturbances, muscle pain, dizziness or palpitations. These symptoms have to occur
every day during a two-week period and must cause significant suffering with
impaired work capacity. Finally the symptoms must not be related to other psychiatric
diagnosis, substance abuse, or medical diagnosis.
In a somewhat similar vein, in The Netherlands in the 1990s, practice guidelines for
assessing and treating stress-related disorders in occupational and primary health care
were issued by the Royal Dutch Medical Association in 2000 (Van der Klink and van
Dijk, 2003). The diagnostic classification of these guidelines distinguish between three
levels of stress-related disorders:
(1) distress (i.e. relatively mild symptoms that lead to only partly impaired
occupational functioning);
(2) nervous breakdown (i.e. serious distress symptoms and temporal loss of
occupational role); and
(3) burnout (i.e. work-related neurasthenia and long-term loss of the occupational
Clearly, “burnout” is defined as an end-stage. For both less severe conditions
traditional Dutch terms are used spanningsklachten and overspannenheid,
respectively). Particularly the connotation of the latter term (literally “overstrain”)
comes very close to the Anglo-Saxon “burnout”. The practice guidelines recommend
the use of the clinically validated cut-off points of the MBI as a diagnostic tool for
assessing stress-related disorders in occupational and primary health care.
Thus, the definition of “burnout” varies with its context and the intentions of those
using the term. Although the three-dimensional definition that is implied in the MBI
has achieved almost universal acceptance in research, some apply the term to simple
exhaustion. Furthermore, professionals with a psychological background tend to see
burnout as a continuous phenomenon, whereas those with a medical background tend
to see burnout dichotomously. To the former, burnout is a form of chronic distress that
results from a highly stressful and frustrating work environment, whereas for the
latter it is a medical condition. Although not necessarily at odds, both types of
practitioners refer to slightly different things when referring to burnout.
It has been maintained that the popularity of burnout in North America lies in the
very fact that “burnout” is a non-medical, socially accepted label that carries a
minimum stigma in terms of a psychiatric diagnosis (Shirom, 1989). Paradoxically, the
reverse seems to be true in Europe: burnout is very popular because it is an official
medical diagnosis that opens the gates of the welfare state with its compensation
claims and treatment programs.
Outlook: the positive future of burnout
Originally, burnout was defined as a negative state of mind, albeit that one of its three
constituting elements – reduced professional efficacy – was measured with positively
worded items that were reversed to constitute a negative scale. A broader, more
positive perspective emerged in the mid-1990s when Maslach and Leiter (1997)
rephrased burnout as an erosion of a positive state of mind, which they labeled
engagement. According to Maslach and Leiter (1997, p. 24) the burnout process starts
with the wearing out of engagement, when “ turns into exhaustion,
involvement turns into cynicism, and efficacy turns into ineffectiveness”. Accordingly,
engagement is characterized by energy, involvement and efficacy – the direct
opposites of the three burnout dimensions. By implication, engagement is assessed by
the opposite pattern of scores on the three MBI scales: unfavorable scores are indicative
for burnout, whereas favorable scores are indicative for engagement. By rephrasing
burnout as an erosion of engagement with the job the entire range of employee
well-being is covered by the MBI running from the positive pole (engagement) to the
negative pole (burnout).
Schaufeli and his colleagues took a different approach to the concept of engagement
(Schaufeli and Salanova, 2007). They defined and operationalized engagement in its
own right. Although they agreed with positioning engagement as the positive
antithesis of burnout, they did not accept the operationalization of assessing the state
by the opposite profile of MBI scores. Instead, they developed the Utrecht Work
Engagement Scale (UWES) to measure vigor, dedication, and absorption as the three
dimensions that constitute engagement (Schaufeli et al., 2002). Meanwhile, research
showed that the UWES and the MBI are negatively related and that exhausting and
vigor, as well as cynicism and dedication each constitute a continuum that was dubbed
energy and identification, respectively (Gonza
´et al., 2006).
This changing focus in burnout research from an exclusively negative approach to
the erosion of a positive psychological state coincides with the emergence of Positive
Psychology. Quite symbolically at the brink of the new millennium, in January 2000, a
special issue of the American Psychologist sparked interest in Positive Psychology. In
that issue, its most prominent advocates, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000, p. 5),
stated that the purpose of Positive Psychology “ to begin to catalyze a change in the
focus of psychology from pre-occupation only with repairing the worst things in life to
also building positive qualities”. After less than a decade, positive psychology is
thriving, including the field of positive occupational behavior, which is defined as “...the
study and application of positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological
capacities that can be measured, developed, and effectively managed for performance
improvement in today’s workplace” (Luthans, 2003; p. 179). Although the notion of
engagement was formulated a couple of years before the “official” commencement of the
positive psychology movement in 2000 and the first empirical studies were carried out
before that date, this movement certainly reinforces the interest in work engagement.
Then clearly, the concept of work engagement fits neatly into this emerging positive
trend and illustrates that the deficit-based study of burnout is complemented with a
positive approach that focuses on work engagement. The growing scientific interest for
work engagement is exemplified by special issues of leading journals such as the Journal
of Organizational Behavior (Bakker and Schaufeli, 2008) and Work & Stress (Bakker et al.,
2008). Moreover, widespread interest in the business community encourages the
scientific community’s shift towards a positive perspective that rephrases burnout as the
erosion of engagement. Today’s organizations face rapid and continuous changes.
Instead of traditional organizational structures (i.e. control mechanism, chain of
command) and a strong emphasis on economic principles (i.e. cost reduction, efficiency,
cash flow), the focus in modern organization is on the management of human capital.
Currently, organizations expect their employees to be proactive and show initiative,
collaborate smoothly with others, take responsibility for their own professional
development, and commit to high quality performance. This increased psychologization
is illustrated by Ulrich (1997, p. 125), who writes in his seminal book Human Resources
Champions, “Employee contribution becomes a critical business issue because in trying
to produce more output with less employee input, companies have no choice but to try to
engage not only the body but the mind and soul of every employee”. Evidently, this
objective is not achieved with a work force that is “healthy” in the traditional sense,
meaning that employees are symptom-free and do not suffer from physical illness or
burnout. In order to thrive, organizations need engaged employees who are motivated,
proactive, responsible, and involved. Instead of just “doing one’s job,” employees are
expected “to go the extra mile”. So for today’s organizations burnout prevention is
replaced by the promotion of work engagement. Preventing burnout is not enough, it is
necessary to go further to foster work engagement. The practical implications were
evident in a recent meta-analysis that convincingly showed the economic benefits of
business-units with high average levels of engagement compared to those with lower
levels of engagement (Harter et al.,2002).
In sum: it can be concluded that developments in science (the recent emergence of
positive psychology) and organizations (increased attention for positive organizational
behavior of employees) strengthen the positive turn in burnout research that is the
rephrasing of burnout as an erosion of engagement. Seen from this perspective, the future
of burnout lies in the realization that it constitutes the negative pole of a continuum of
employee well-being, of which work engagement constitutes the opposite positive pole.
The scientific challenge for the future will be to uncover in how far different psychological
processes are responsible for producing burnout and work engagement. A recent example
is the Job Demands Resources model that posits that burnout plays a key role in a health
impairment process that is mainly driven by high job demands, whereas engagement
plays a key-role in a motivational process that is driven by job resources (Bakker and
Demerouti, 2008; Schaufeli et al., in press). As for the practice of burnout, it remains to be
seen if corporations and public sector organizations are willing to provide the necessary
resources to maintain extraordinary efforts from their employees, or whether efforts to
inspire extraordinary efforts become a new source of burnout.
1. For instance, in Afrikaans (uitgebrand ), Chinese ( juandai ), Danish (udbrændthed ), Dutch
(opgebrand ), Finnish (loppuunpalanut), German (ausgebrannt), Italian (bruciare), Japanese
(), Norwegian (utbrenthet), Polish (wypalenie zawodowe), Spanish
(quemarse), and Swedish (utbra
¨nd ).
2. For instance in Hungarian (kie
´s) and Greek (
3. For instance in as in French (E
´puissement professional), Hebrew (shechika ()), Italian,
(esaurito), and Portuguese (exausta
4. For instance, in Finnish (tyo
¨uupumus), Hungarian (kimeru
´s), Norwegian (utmattethet), and
Swedish (utmattningssyndrom).
Aiken, L.H., Clarke, S.P., Sloane, D.M., Sochalski, J. and Silber, J.H. (2002), “Hospital nurse
staffing and patient mortality, nurse burnout, and job dissatisfaction”, Journal of the
American Medical Association, Vol. 288, pp. 1987-93.
Aiken, L.H., Clarke, S.P., Sloane, D.M., Sochalski, J.A., Busse, R., Clarke, H., Giovannetti, P., Hunt, J.,
Rafferty, A.M. and Shamian, J. (2001), “Nurses’ reports on hospital care in five countries:
the ways in which nurses’ work is structured have left nurses among the least satisfied
workers, and the problem is getting worse”, Health Affairs, Vol. 20, pp. 43-53.
Argyris, C. (1982), Reasoning, Learning, and Action: Individual and Organizational, Jossey-Bass,
San Francisco, CA.
Bakker, A.B. and Demerouti, E. (2007), “The job demands resources model: state-of-the-art”,
Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 22, pp. 309-28.
Bakker, A.B. and Demerouti, E. (2008), “Towards a model of work engagement”, Career
Development International, Vol. 13, pp. 209-23.
Bakker, A.B. and Schaufeli, W.B. (2008), “Positive organizational behavior: engaged employees
in flourishing organizations”, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Vol. 29, pp. 147-54.
Bakker, A.B., Schaufeli, W.B., Leiter, M.P. and Taris, T.W. (2008), “Work engagement:
an emerging concept in occupational health psychology”, Work & Stress, Vol. 22,
pp. 187-200.
Brenninkmeijer, V. and Van Yperen, N. (2003), “How to conduct research on burnout: advantages
and disadvantages of a unidimensional approach to burnout”, Occupational and
Environmental Medicine, Vol. 60, Suppl. 1, pp. 16-21.
Cherniss, C. and Kranz, D.L. (1983), “The ideological community as an antidote to burnout in the
human services”, in Farber, B.A. (Ed.), Stress and Burnout in the Human Services
Professions, Pergamon, New York, NY, pp. 198-212.
Cho, J., Laschinger, H.K. and Wong, C. (2006), “Workplace empowerment, work engagement, and
organizational commitment of new graduate nurses”, Nursing Leadership, Vol. 19,
pp. 43-60.
Cooper, C.L. and Dewe, P. (2004), Stress: A Brief History, Blackwell, Malden, MA.
Demerouti, E., Bakker, A.B., Vardakou, I. and Kantas, A. (2002), “The convergent validity of two
burnout instruments: a multitrait-multimethod analysis”, European Journal of
Psychological Assessment, Vol. 18, pp. 296-307.
Farber, B.A. (1983), “Introduction: A critical perspective on burnout”, in Farber, B.A. (Ed.), Stress
and Burnout in the Human Services Professions, Pergamon, New York, NY, pp. 1-20.
Freudenberger, H.J. (1974), “Staff burnout”, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 30, pp. 159-65.
Friberg, T. (2006), “Diagnosing burn-out: an anthropological study of a social concept in
Sweden”, Media Tryck, PhD thesis, Lund University, Lund.
Gellert, F.J. and Kuipers, B.S. (2008), “Short- and long-term consequences of age in work teams”,
Career Development International, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 132-49.
Golembiewski, R.T., Boudreau, R.T., Munzenrider, R.F. and Luo, H. (1996), Global Burnout:
A Worldwide Pandemic Explored by the Phase Model, JAI Press, Greenwich, CT.
´, V., Schaufeli, W.B., Bakker, A. and Lloret, S. (2006), “Burnout and engagement:
independent factors or opposite poles?”, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Vol. 68, pp. 165-74.
Halbesleben, J.R.B. and Buckley, M.R. (2004), “Burnout in organizational life”, Journal of
Management, Vol. 30, pp. 859-79.
Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L. and Hayes, T.L. (2002), “Business-unit-level relationship between
employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and business outcomes: a meta-analysis”,
Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 87, pp. 268-79.
Hemingway, C.A. and Maclagan, P.W. (2004), “Managers’ personal values as drivers of corporate
social responsibility”, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 50, pp. 33-44.
ICD-10 (1994), International Classification of Diseases, World Health Organization, Geneva.
Kristensen, T.S., Borritz, M., Villadsen, E. and Christensen, K.B. (2005), “The Copenhagen
burnout inventory: a new tool for the assessment of burnout”, Work & Stress, Vol. 19,
pp. 192-207.
Kulkarni, G.K. (2006), “Burnout (Editorial)”, Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental
Medicine, Vol. 10, pp. 3-4.
Lasch, C. (1979), The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Returns,
Norton, New York, NY.
Leiter, M.P., Jackson, N.J. and Shaughnessy, K. (2008), “Contrasting burnout, turnover intention,
control, value congruence, and knowledge sharing between Boomers and Generation X”,
Journal of Nursing Management, Vol. 16, pp. 1-10.
Loriol, M. (2002), “‘Mauvaise fatigue’ et contro
ˆle de soi: une approche sociohistorique [‘Bad
tiredness’ and self-control: a sociohistorical approach]”, Perspectives Interdisciplinaires sur
le Travail et la Sante
´, Vol. 4, pp. 124-48.
Luthans, F. (2003), “Positive organizational behavior (POB): implications for leadership and HR
development and motivation”, in Steers, R.M., Porter, L.W. and Bigley, G.A. (Eds),
Motivation and Leadership at Work, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, pp. 178-95.
McDonald, P., Brown, K. and Bradley, L. (2005), “Have traditional career paths given way to
protean ones? Evidence from senior managers in the Australian public sector”, Career
Development International, Vol. 10, pp. 109-29.
Martin, J. and Siehl, C. (1983), “Organizational culture and counterculture: an uneasy symbiosis”,
Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 12, pp. 52-64.
Maslach, C. (1976), “Burned-out”, Human Behavior, Vol. 9, pp. 16-22.
Maslach, C. (1993), “Burnout: a multidimensional perspective”, in Schaufeli, W.B., Maslach, C.
and Marek, T. (Eds), Professional Burnout: Recent Developments in Theory and Research,
Taylor & Francis, Washington, DC, pp. 19-32.
Maslach, C. and Jackson, S.E. (1981), “The measurement of experienced burnout”, Journal of
Occupational Behavior, Vol. 2, pp. 99-113.
Maslach, C. and Leiter, M.P. (1997), The Truth about Burnout, Jossey-Bass, New York, NY.
Maslach, C. and Schaufeli, W.B. (1993), “Historical and conceptual development of burnout”,
in Schaufeli, W.B., Maslach, C. and Marek, T. (Eds), Professional Burnout: Recent
Developments in Theory and Research, Taylor & Francis, Washington, DC, pp. 1-16.
Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E. and Leiter, M.P. (1996), MBI: The Maslach Burnout Inventory: Manual,
Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA.
Maslach, C., Leiter, M.P. and Schaufeli, W.B. (2008), “Measuring burnout”, in Cooper, C.L. and
Cartwright, S. (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Wellbeing, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, pp. 86-108.
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W.B. and Leiter, M.P. (2001), “Job burnout”, Annual Review of Psychology,
Vol. 52, pp. 397-422.
´, P.L., Hochwarter, W.A., Rossi, A.M., Wallace, A., Maignan, I., Castro, S.L., Ralston, D.A.,
Westman, M., Vollmer, G., Tang, M., Wan, P. and Van Deusen, C.A. (2002), “Are work stress
relationships universal? A nine-region examination of role stressors, general self-efficacy,
and burnout”, Journal of International Management, Vol. 8, pp. 163-87.
Pines, A.M. (2003), “Occupational burnout: a cross-cultural Israeli Jewish-Arab perspective and
its implications for career counselling”, Career Development International, Vol. 8,
pp. 97-106.
Pines, A. and Aronson, E. (1981), Burnout: From Tedium to Personal Growth, Free Press, New
York, NY.
Potter, M.A., Gebbie, K.M. and Tilson, H. (2007), “The public health workforce”, in Novick, L.F.,
Morrow, C.B. and Mays, G.P. (Eds), Public Health Administration, Jones & Bartlett,
London, pp. 225-60.
Roelofs, J., Verbraak, M., Keijsers, G.P.J., De Bruin, M.B.N. and Schmidt, A.J.M. (2005),
“Psychometric properties of a Dutch version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General
Survey (MBI-GS) in individuals with and without clinical burnout”, Stress and Health,
Vol. 21, pp. 17-25.
Savicki, V. (2002), Burnout across Thirteen Cultures: Stress and Coping in Child and Youth Care
Workers, Praeger, Westport, CT.
Schaufeli, W.B. (2006), “The balance of give and take: toward a social exchange model of
burnout”, The International Review of Social Psychology, Vol. 19, pp. 87-131.
Schaufeli, W.B. and Bakker, A.B. (2004), “Job demands, job resources and their relationship with
burnout and engagement: a multi-sample study”, Journal of Organizational Behavior,
Vol. 25, pp. 293-315.
Schaufeli, W.B. and Enzmann, D. (1998), The Burnout Companion to Study and Research:
A Critical Analysis, Taylor & Francis, London.
Schaufeli, W.B. and Salanova, M. (2007), “Work engagement: an emerging psychological concept
and its implications for organizations”, in Gilliland, S.W., Steiner, D.D. and Skarlicki, D.P.
(Eds), Research in Social Issues in Management (Volume 5): Managing Social and Ethical
Issues in Organizations, Information Age Publishers, Greenwich, CT, pp. 135-77.
Schaufeli, W.B., Bakker, A.B. and Van Rhenen, W. (in press), “How changes in job demands and
resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism”, Journal of
Organizational Behavior.
Schaufeli, W.B., Salanova, M., Gonza
´, V. and Bakker, A.B. (2002), “The measurement of
engagement and burnout: a confirmative analytic approach”, Journal of Happiness Studies,
Vol. 3, pp. 71-92.
Schaufeli, W.B., Bakker, A., Schaap, C., Kladler, A. and Hoogduin, C.A.L. (2001), “On the clinical
validity of the Maslach Burnout Inventory and the Burnout Measure”, Psychology & Health,
Vol. 16, pp. 565-82.
Seligman, M.E.P. and Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000), “Positive psychology: an introduction”,
American Psychologist, Vol. 55, pp. 5-14.
Sennett, R. (1998), The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New
Capitalism, Norton, New York, NY.
Shirom, A. (1989), “Burnout in work organizations”, in Cooper, C.L. and Robertson, I. (Eds),
International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Wiley, New York, NY,
pp. 25-48.
Shirom, A. and Melamed, S. (2005), “Does burnout affect physical health? A review of the
evidence”, in Antoniou, A.S.G. and Cooper, C.L. (Eds), Research Companion to
Organizational Health Psychology, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 599-622.
Turnipseed, D.L. and Turnipseed, P.H. (1997), “A bi-cultural analysis of the costs of caring:
nursing burnout in the United States and the Philippines”, Career Development
International, Vol. 2, pp. 180-8.
Ulrich, D. (1997), Human Resource Champions, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.
Van der Klink, J.J.L. and van Dijk, F.J.H. (2003), “Dutch practice guidelines for managing
adjustment disorders in occupational and primary health care”, Scandinavian Journal of
Work Environment and Health, Vol. 29, pp. 478-87.
Van Emmerik, H. (2004), “For better or for worse? Adverse working conditions and the beneficial
effects of mentoring”, Career Development International, Vol. 9, pp. 358-73.
Work & Stress (2005), “Special issue on the conceptualization and measurement of burnout”,
Work & Stress, Vol. 20, pp. 187-267.
Further reading
Enzmann, D. and Kleiber, D. (1989), Helfer-leider: Stress und Burnout in psychosozialen Berufen
(Helper-ordeals: Stress and Burnout in the Human Services), Asanger, Heidelberg.
Schaufeli, W.B., Leiter, M.P., Maslach, Ch. and Jackson, S.E. (1996), “Maslach Burnout Inventory
– general survey”, in Maslach, Ch, Jackson, S.E. and Leiter, M.P. (Eds), The Maslach
Burnout Inventory (3rd ed.) – Test Manual, Consulting Psychologists Press, Palo Alto, CA.
About the authors
Wilmar B. Schaufeli is Professor for Work and Organizational Psychology at Utrecht University,
The Netherlands. He received his PhD from Groningen University and he is currently visiting
professor at Loughborough Business School, UK, and Jaume I Universitat, Castellon, Spain. For
almost three decades he has been an active and productive researcher in the field of occupational
health psychology, publishing over 300 articles, chapters and books. Initially, his research
interest was particularly on job stress and burnout, but in recent years this shifted towards
positive occupational health issues such as work engagement. Dr Schaufeli is a licensed
occupational health psychologist who has been actively involved in psychotherapeutic treatment
of burned-out employees and is now engaged in organizational consultancy ( In
addition, he held various managerial positions in (inter)national professional organizations. He is
the corresponding author and can be contacted at:
Michael P. Leiter is Professor of Psychology at Acadia University in Canada and Director of
the Center for Organizational Research & Development that applies high quality research
methods to human resource issues confronting organizations. He holds the Canada Research
Chair in Occupational Health and Wellbeing at Acadia University. He is a registered
psychologist in Nova Scotia, Canada. He received degrees in Psychology from Duke University
(BA), Vanderbilt University (MA), and the University of Oregon (PhD). Dr Leiter has conducted
research and written on job burnout throughout his career. Currently his research focuses on
enhancing the quality of collegial relationships to enhance work engagement and to prevent
burnout. He maintains international collaborations while maintaining an active involvement in
applied research in his local region of Eastern Canada.
Christina Maslach is Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, and Professor of Psychology at
the University of California at Berkeley. She received her AB in Social Relations from
Harvard-Radcliffe College in 1967, and her PhD in Psychology from Stanford University in 1971.
She has conducted research in a number of areas within social and health psychology. However,
she is best known as one of the pioneering researchers on job burnout, and has authored
numerous books and articles, as well as the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), the most widely
used research measure in the burnout field. She has received several awards for her teaching,
including national recognition as “Professor of the Year” in 1997, and was selected as a Fellow of
the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which cited her “For groundbreaking
work on the applications of social psychology to contemporary problems”).
To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail:
Or visit our web site for further details:
... In the present study, burnout is examined as the result of two independent processes: a health impairment process with exhaustion as the core dimension and a (reduced) motivational process with disengagement as the core dimension (Demerouti et al. 2021). However, the debate on how to conceptualize and measure burnout is still ongoing (Schaufeli et al. 2009;Demerouti et al. 2021). ...
... Although occupational burnout has been studied in a variety of health care settings (Maslach et al. 2001;Schaufeli et al. 2009), quantitative studies exploring the nature and prevalence of burnout among addiction therapists are relatively rare (e.g. Ogborne et al. 1998;Knudsen et al. 2009;Oser et al. 2013;Fentem et al. 2023). ...
... In another study (Schaufeli, Leiter, and Maslach, 2009), 54% of RNs intended to leave their job because of reasons linked to Burnout Syndrome. Such turnover has a strong negative impact on the quality of healthcare. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
RNs are a critically important component of the U.S. healthcare system. RN burnout-the feeling of exhaustion from working long hours without rest-is a real concern, having been reported in many hospitals. We examine the background, causes and consequences of burnout among RNs in U.S. hospitals, in order to identify solutions to this problem. Findings indicate that Burnout Syndrome in RNs can be analyzed in terms of four clusters of characteristics: individual, management, organizational, and work. The consequences of burnout include increased RN turnover rates, poor job performance, and threats to patient safety. RN burnout in hospitals negatively impacts the quality of care, patient safety, and the functioning of staff workers in the healthcare industry.
... Burnout syndrome is defined as a state of emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and low personal fulfillment [51,53], so it can be understood that its consequences go beyond work and are related to other areas of workers' lives, with implications of deterioration in the personal [54], couple [55], and family levels [56]. It occurs more frequently in workers who must spend much time in relationships with people as customers or users of a service provided by an organization [53]. ...
Full-text available
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a closer examination of organizational management’s role in facilitating positive outcomes in the workplace. This study explores the relationship between perceptions of healthy organizational practices (HOP) and levels of engagement and burnout among workers. We applied surveys to 213 workers (66% women) from different sectors (health, education, and municipal) in a south-center region of Chile. The results align with the existing literature, showing a positive correlation between HOP and engagement and a negative correlation between HOP and burnout in the total sample. ANOVA analysis revealed significant differences among organizations. Workers in the education organization reported higher perceptions of healthy practices, as well as higher engagement and lower burnout levels. These findings highlight the education organization as a potential exemplar of a healthy workplace. The study underscores the importance of healthy practices in promoting employee well-being and offers insights into sector-specific dynamics. Organizations, particularly in health and municipal sectors, should prioritize strategies that foster healthy work environments and mitigate the risk of burnout among their workforce. The findings of this research corroborate that HOP contributes to the sustainability of a healthy workplace. It discusses the need to investigate complementary variables that will allow the development of a model for healthy and sustainable organizations tailored to the specific organizations and the culture of its people.
... Work demands refer to the tasks, pressures, and responsibilities that employees need to deal with in their work [14]. The JD-R model consists of three core assumptions: (1) the "double pathway" hypothesis, which posits that work resources and demands have both beneficial and detrimental effects on employees [16]; ...
Full-text available
With the development of communication technology and the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly common for employees to maintain work connectivity after-hours, which has a significant impact on their psychological state at work. However, most of the existing studies have not reached a consensus on the impact of work connectivity behavior after-hours on employees' psychological state at work, and the existing studies have led to theoretical and practical disagreements. Based on the Job Demands-Resources model, we built a two-path model of work autonomy and emotional exhaustion to explore the impact of work connectivity behavior after-hours on work engagement. In addition, we compared the differences between different workplace statuses (managers and ordinary employees). Through surveys and analyses of 257 employees, the results show that work connectivity behavior after-hours positively impacts employees' work engagement by increasing managers' work autonomy and reducing ordinary employees' emotional exhaustion. This study not only reveals that work connectivity behavior after-hours positively affects work engagement but also illustrates the differences in impact between managers and ordinary employees; these findings contribute to the development of a consensus on the influence of work connectivity behavior after-hours on employees' psychological state at work, which provides insights for organizations seeking to manage work connectivity behavior after-hours, for example, by adopting different connectivity management strategies for employees with different workplace statuses.
... Special Education Teachers (SETs) face a high risk due to exposure to burnout-related factors (Brunsting, Sreckovic, and Lane 2014), resulting in more frequent exits from the profession compared to their colleagues in other teaching fields (Fu et al. 2022). Over time, the physical and emotional exhaustion in teachers who are disappointed with their profession grows which can lead to the emergence of negative emotions that impede their performance (Schaufeli, Leiter, and Maslach 2009). It has been determined that especially young teachers new to the profession and teachers more than 20 years are at risk Luk et al. 2010). ...
Burnout is an increasing issue among special education teachers (SETs), impacting students, the education system, and society. This study aimed to identify burnout profiles of SETs and explore the relationship between these profiles and the levels of teacher agency and meaningful work. Latent profile analysis was used to define burnout profiles as assessed by the three dimensions of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. The data was collected from SETs (n = 258) in the Turkey sample through an online survey. Five burnout profiles were identified: (1) Burnout (31%), (2) Disengaged (9%), (3) Overextended (25%), (4) Inefficacy (15%), and (5) Engagement (20%). Each burnout profile was associated with a different pattern of teacher agency and meaningful work. The results showed that the burnout profile corresponds to a relatively high number of SETs. Unlike previous studies, high levels of meaningful work (OR = 5.48) increased the odds of being classified in the burnout profile. Additionally, the level of teacher agency in the burnout profile was higher than in the other profiles. Albeit limited, the results suggested that the majority of the SETs require support through interventions to reduce burnout symptoms and enhance overall well-being.
... A burnoutkutatás szakirodalmában fellelhető sok száz burnout-definíció részben eltérően magyarázza a stressz, a kiégés és a depresszió fogalmait és ezek egymáshoz való viszonyát (vö. Freudenberger-North 1992;Barth 1990;Schaufeli-leiter-Maslach 2008;Kovács 2006;Burisch 2010;Bergner 2012). Jelen tanulmány az alábbi értelmezést veszi alapul: ...
... Gyakoriak a szorongásos, depressziós tünetek [9], az alvászavarok [10], a poszttraumás stressz szindróma [11] és a kognitív képességek diszfunkciója is [12], amelyek kiégésből [13] vagy fáradtságból adódóan betegségekhez is vezethetnek [14]. A kiégés, az érzelmi kimerültség, a krónikus stressz miatt csökkent teljesítmény vagy kompetenciahiány-érzet a cinizmus, azaz a távolságtartó, a pácienseket tárgyiasító attitűd tüneteivel jelenik meg [15] − ennek igen gyakori előfordulása tapasztalható az egészségügyi dolgozók körében, akik emberekkel foglalkoznak, és nagy munkahelyi stressznek vannak kitéve nemcsak külföldön, hanem Magyarországon is [16−19]. A kiégés nemcsak az egészségügyi dolgozók fizikai és mentális egészségére gyakorol negatív hatást, hanem a betegellátás minőségét is csökkenti. ...
Full-text available
Bevezetés: Az orvostanhallgatók mentális egészsége kritikus jelentőséggel bír az orvosi tanulmányok során, amelyek hosszú és kihívásokkal teli időszakot jelentenek. Az akadémiai elvárások, a nagy munkaterhelés és az emocionális stressz hozzájárulhat az orvostanhallgatók mentális terheléséhez és kiégéséhez, melyek a későbbiekben az egészségügyi rendszerre is fokozott terhet róhatnak. Ezért a pszichológiai támogatásnak és a mentálhigiénés szolgáltatásoknak kiemelt fontosságuk van az orvosképzésben. Célkitűzés: A jelen tanulmány célja, hogy bemutassa és vizsgálja a Pécsi Tudományegyetem Általános Orvostudományi Karán 2007 óta működő Pszichológiai Konzultációs Szolgálat szerepét az orvostanhallgatók mentális egészségének támogatásában. Módszer: A tanulmányban bemutatjuk a Szolgálatunk által a 2021 novembere, illetve 2022 októbere és 2023 májusa közötti időszakra vonatkozóan összesített kvantitatív és kvalitatív eredményeket, melyeket a tanácsadást igénybe vevő hallgatók és munkatársak, továbbá a Szolgálat tanácsadó pszichológusai regisztráltak a bejelentkezések számáról, a leggyakrabban megjelenő problémák mintázatáról (A pszichológiai tanácsadás szakmai alapprotokollja alapján), illetve a pszichológiai támogatást kapott populáció mentális jóllétéről (GHQ-12). Eredmények: A vizsgált időszakban összesen 1111 fő 2012 alkalommal vette igénybe a szolgáltatást. A hallgatók és a munkatársak is a leggyakrabban kapcsolati nehézségek (37,6%) és negatív életeseményekkel történő megküzdés (33,1%) megoldásában kértek segítséget Szolgálatunktól. A 2022 októbere óta gyűjtött adatok szerint (n = 113) a bejelentkezők közel 10%-a szed valamilyen gyógyszert pszichiátriai javallat alapján, ami jelentősen gyakoribb a külföldi hallgatók körében, továbbá 38,9%-uk részesült már professzionális segítségnyújtásban. A GHQ-12 kérdőíven elért átlagpontszám 8 pont, amely jelentősen meghaladja az 5 pontos küszöbértéket, ezt a kitöltők 78,6%-a érte el. Következtetés: Az eredmények azt mutatják, hogy a Pécsi Tudományegyetem Általános Orvostudományi Karán működő Pszichológiai Konzultációs Szolgálat jelentős szerepet játszik az orvostanhallgatók mentális egészségének támogatásában, hozzájárulva ezzel az akadémiai kihívásokkal történő eredményesebb megküzdéshez, az átélt emocionális stressz, illetve a kiégés kockázatának csökkentéséhez. Orv Hetil. 2023; 164(45): 1778–1786.
... On the contrary, the insecurity and the feeling of uncertainty that epitomize the mentality of private sector employees, along with the long working hours and work intensity, raise concerns regarding the potential rise of burnout cases. The term "burnout" was first coined by Herbert Freudenberger in 1970 to describe the gradual emotional exhaustion and loss of motivation in volunteers at St. Mark's Free Clinic in the East Village of New York (Schaufeli et al., 2009). ...
Full-text available
The research investigated the association between burnout syndrome and the variables of mental resilience and quality of life among the workers working in Greek private and public sectors. Data were collected from 112 study participants through a survey conducted using a structured questionnaire. The questionnaire encompassed demographic questions and psychometric tools such as Burnout Assessment Tool version 2.0, brief resilience scale, and Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire, which were used to measure the three variables examined the research. Pearson and Spearman correlation coefficients were used to test the relationship between two quantitative variables. In conclusion, the present study found a negative correlation between burnout and the variables of mental resilience and quality of life.
Language learning is a dynamic process involving fluctuating resources (e.g. resilience, motivation, and engagement) and stressors (e.g. burnout). With the guidance of Hobfoll’s Conservation of Resources Theory, the current study explored the mediating roles of resilience and motivation between burnout and engagement among 640 Chinese senior high school students. The results show that English learning burnout as a psychological stressor significantly and negatively predicted the psychological resources of engagement; resilience and motivation both mediated the relationship between burnout and engagement; and resilience and motivation jointly mediated the chain between burnout and engagement. Indeed, the mediating process could be deemed a process by which students’ psychological resources fluctuate. In this mediating process, students suffering from stress rely on their resource caravans and employ the resources they possess to avoid the psychological stressor’s consequences and replenish what has been lost.
Full-text available
In the course of social changes a crisis of helping professions becomes visible that is reflected individually in stress and burnout. The book offers a comprehensive analysis of concepts of burnout known so far. After screening relevant research on stress and burnout in the helping professions and based on concepts of clinical as well as occupational psychology the authors suggest an integration of previously known burnout models into an action theoretical approach.
Full-text available
Tiredness at work has long been associated with wear and tear on the body, leading to loss of strength and death. However, very early in human history, some individuals were confronted with activities that, although not requiring significant physical effort, nevertheless implied unprecedented commitment and control. New pathological categories emerged, ranging from acedia to chronic fatigue syndrome, to give a socially recognized meaning to this new form of fatigue experienced by individuals who found it difficult to adapt to the new requirements, and often to convey a sense of normality. These different nosologic entities share some similarities (attempt to organize pathological tiredness, lack of a recognized physiological basement, proximity to the dominant social norms among patients, etc.), but they are also embedded in a social context, which allows for a social constructionist approach.
Full-text available
It has been almost twenty years since the term "burnout" first appeared in the psychological literature. The phenomenon that was portrayed in those early articles had not been entirely unknown, but had been rarely acknowledged or even openly discussed. In some occupations, it was almost a taboo topic, because it was considered tantamount to admitting that at times professionals can (and do) act "unprofessionally." The reaction of many people was to deny that such a phenomenon existed, or, if it did exist, to attribute it to a very small (but clearly mentally disturbed) minority. This response made it difficult, at first, for any work on burnout to be taken seriously. However, after the initial articles were published, there was a major shift in opinion. Professionals in the human services gave substantial support to both the validity of the phenomenon and its significance as an occupational hazard. Once burnout was acknowledged as a legitimate issue, it began to attract the attention of various researchers. Our knowledge and understanding of burnout have grown dramatically since that shaky beginning. Burnout is now recognized as an important social problem. There has been much discussion and debate about the phenomenon, its causes and consequences. As these ideas about burnout have proliferated, so have the number of empirical research studies to test these ideas. We can now begin to speak of a "body of work" about burnout, much of which is reviewed and cited within the current volume. This work is now viewed as a legitimate and worthy enterprise that has the potential to yield both scholarly gains and practical solutions. What I would like to do in this chapter is give a personal perspective on the concept of burnout. Having been one of the early "pioneers" in this field, I have the advantage of a long-term viewpoint that covers the twenty years from the birth of burnout to its present proliferation. Furthermore, because my research was among the earliest, it has had an impact on the development of the field. In particular, my definition of burnout, and my measure to assess it (Maslach Burnout Inventory; MBI) have been adopted by many researchers and have thus influenced subsequent theorizing and research. My work has also been the point of departure for various critiques. Thus, for better or for worse, my perspective on burnout has played a part in framing the field, and so it seemed appropriate to articulate that viewpoint within this volume. In presenting this perspective, however, I do not intend to simply give a summary statement of ideas that I have discussed elsewhere. Rather, I want to provide a retrospective review and analysis of why those ideas developed in the ways that they did. Looking back on my work, with the hindsight of twenty years, I can see more clearly how my research path was shaped by both choice and chance. The shape of that path has had some impact on what questions have been asked about burnout (and what have not), as well as on the manner in which 2 answers have been sought. A better understanding of the characteristics of that path will, I think, provide some insights into our current state of knowledge and debate about burnout. In some sense, this retrospective review marks a return to my research roots. The reexamination of my initial thinking about burnout, and an analysis of how that has developed and changed over the years, has led me to renew my focus on the core concept of social relationships. I find it appropriately symbolic that this return to my research roots occurred within the context of a return to my ancestral roots. The 1990 burnout conference that inspired this rethinking took place in southern Poland, from which each of my paternal grandparents, Michael Maslach and Anna Pszczolkowska, emigrated to the United States in the early 1900s. Thus, my travel to Krakow had great significance for me, at both personal and professional levels.
Technical Report
Full-text available
This third version of the MBI was developed across several occupations and countries, in order to assess burnout in all occupations. It was originally published in 1996 by CPP, but is now published and distributed online by Mind Garden (
Context The worsening hospital nurse shortage and recent California legislation mandating minimum hospital patient-to-nurse ratios demand an understanding of how nurse staffing levels affect patient outcomes and nurse retention in hospital practice.Objective To determine the association between the patient-to-nurse ratio and patient mortality, failure-to-rescue (deaths following complications) among surgical patients, and factors related to nurse retention.Design, Setting, and Participants Cross-sectional analyses of linked data from 10 184 staff nurses surveyed, 232 342 general, orthopedic, and vascular surgery patients discharged from the hospital between April 1, 1998, and November 30, 1999, and administrative data from 168 nonfederal adult general hospitals in Pennsylvania.Main Outcome Measures Risk-adjusted patient mortality and failure-to-rescue within 30 days of admission, and nurse-reported job dissatisfaction and job-related burnout.Results After adjusting for patient and hospital characteristics (size, teaching status, and technology), each additional patient per nurse was associated with a 7% (odds ratio [OR], 1.07; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03-1.12) increase in the likelihood of dying within 30 days of admission and a 7% (OR, 1.07; 95% CI, 1.02-1.11) increase in the odds of failure-to-rescue. After adjusting for nurse and hospital characteristics, each additional patient per nurse was associated with a 23% (OR, 1.23; 95% CI, 1.13-1.34) increase in the odds of burnout and a 15% (OR, 1.15; 95% CI, 1.07-1.25) increase in the odds of job dissatisfaction.Conclusions In hospitals with high patient-to-nurse ratios, surgical patients experience higher risk-adjusted 30-day mortality and failure-to-rescue rates, and nurses are more likely to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction.