Some experts say we’re not actually as burned out as we may think.
So, What is burnout?
People use burnout as a synonym for tired, and they’re missing the point that there’s a world of difference between those two states
On lots of occasions, I’ve told myself – and my friends and colleagues – that I’m experiencing burnout. Making a living as a freelancer can often mean working long hours, and trying to keep a lot of very different plates spinning at once. A few times a year, I hit what feels like a creative wall: I’m fresh out of good ideas, and I just really need to nap. For a long time, I’ve been calling that burnout. But I’ve been wrong.
We tend to think of burnout as an intangible – one of those things we can’t define, and we just know when we feel it. Right now, more of us may be feeling it than ever. In this stage of the pandemic, after more than a year spent trying to navigate its challenges, the general feeling is that we’ve all hit the wall.
But there is a scientific definition of burnout, and standards by which to measure it. And based on that criteria, a lot of folks who think they’re burnt out – myself included – really aren’t. That doesn’t mean we aren’t on the way there, though, and understanding how to really measure burnout can help individuals and organisations change course before it’s too late.
How to measure teacher burnout?
The biggest misconception about burnout is that it’s the same as exhaustion. For example, obstetricians, who often work chaotic schedules, are totally exhausted, but they’re bringing new life into the world, and making people’s lives better, and they care about that work.
The second largest group, after people who are just exhausted, is people who aren’t fully engaged. They’re going to work and it’s not exciting, it just pays the bills.
There’s another group that are just cynical. They don’t care about the clientele, or the work.
Still others may have low efficacy, with careers that are stalled for one reason or another.
Maslach’s Burnout Inventory
In 1981, Christina Maslach, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, developed the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), to define and measure the condition.
- The MBI attempts to clarify the subject by evaluating burnout based on three criteria: exhaustion or total lack of energy, feelings of cynicism or negativity toward a job and reduced efficacy or success at work.
- Respondents get scores in all three areas along a continuum, from more positive to more negative.
- A burnout profile requires a negative score in all three.
- So, in summary, scoring negatively on one measure, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re burnt out.
Teacher Burnout spectrum
- Burnout is a spectrum, and most of us are on it. Early this year, when job search site Indeed surveyed 1,500 US workers across ages and industries, more than half reported that they’re experiencing burnout. And more than two-thirds said the pandemic had made burnout worse.
That survey did not use the MBI, and chances are most of those respondents were using the colloquial definition of burnout, not the scientific one.
- But while burnout – the kind defined by three negative MBI scores – is a profile that Maslach says typically applies to 10% to 15% of people, that doesn’t mean everyone else is all the way on the other end of the spectrum.
- In fact, Maslach and Leiter’s newer research identifies three profiles in between: overextended, ineffective and disengaged.
- Evidence suggests more than half of employees fall into one of these profiles, with a strong negative score in exhaustion, efficacy or cynicism.
- Schoolteachers have struggled to continue teaching, and haven’t felt accomplished. They just know they’re not being the teacher they were before.
Why teacher burnout measurement matters
- Avoiding true burnout on a wide scale is vital, especially because it could mean a drain of qualified people from skilled professions. That’s where the MBI, and tests like it, become invaluable tools.
- Whilst, administered to individuals, the MBI measures working environments.
- An organisation seeing scores on the negative end of the spectrum should be acting quickly.
Our related Well-Being content
- Firstly, How is virtual burnout measured?
- Plus, Do your Tutoring Skills Need a Tune-Up?
- And also How stressed is your child?
- Finally, here is our VIRTUAL BURNOUT INDEX SURVEY.