Six Key Categories of Job Burnout
In their paper “Reversing Burnout: How to Rekindle Your Passion for Your Work,” which appeared in the Winter 2005 installment of Stanford Graduate School of Business’ “Stanford Social Innovation Review,” Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter discuss the elements of career burnout, its causes and how to fix it.
Burnout, the authors write, stems from a misfit between people and their work, and reversing it requires looking at both the individual and the organization. Most of these mismatches fall into one or all of the following six categories:
1) Too much work and not enough resources.
2) Control issues such as micro-management, lack of influence, or accountability without power.
3) Not enough pay, acknowledgement or satisfaction.
4) A workplace community that breeds isolation, conflict and/or disrespect.
5) An unfair environment where there is discrimination or favoritism.
6) Ethical conflicts, or duties that center around meaningless tasks.
Nonprofit professionals are highly vulnerable to work overload. There are two reasons for this, Maslach and Leiter write.
“First, nonprofit organizations may often have fewer resources than organizations in other sectors, leaving workers with too little time and too few tools with which to handle their workload. Second, nonprofit employees have high expectations and are attempting to solve truly monumental problems. Their idealism can lead them to overextend themselves and take on too much,” they write. Ethical conflicts also are common as nonprofit workers strive to juggle their ideals and the realities of their day-to-day tasks.
To fix burnout, Maslach and Leiter suggest individuals and organizations first identify the areas where the mismatches lie and then look for ways to improve the fit. There are two ways to approach this, according to the authors: individually or organizationally.
1) Individually. With this approach, individuals identify the mismatches that are causing their burnout and then turn to their colleagues and the organization in addressing the mismatches.
2) Organizationally. Here, the process starts when management identifies mismatches that are common with all employees and then turns to the individuals to improve the fit. Maslach and Leiter recommend that one way an organization can identify commonly occurring mismatches is to give employees the opportunity to fill out a survey with questions that delve into their happiness with the aforementioned six categories.
The authors add that sometimes there isn’t much that can be done about the negative aspects of work. But in trying to beat burnout, the key is to increase the number of positives, and, they write, “building the opposite of burnout, engagement.”
“When burnout is counteracted with engagement,” Maslach and Leiter write, “exhaustion is replaced with enthusiasm, bitterness with compassion, and anxiety with efficacy.”
Christina Maslach is professor of psychology and the vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of California, Berkeley. Michael P. Leiter is professor of psychology at Acadia University in Canada and director of the Centre for Organizational Research & Development. For more on this article, visit www.ssireview.org/pdf/2005WI_Feature_Maslach_Leiter.pdf