Can You Avoid Burnout?

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Can You Avoid Burnout?

By Althea Need Kaminske

It’s January 2021! A new year and a fresh start. Given the general stress last year between the on-going COVID-19 pandemic and the switch online learning in order to avoid exposure to COVID-19, I think it’s safe to assume that most of us were feeling pretty burned out by the end of the year. I know I was. So I wanted to write a blog post about ways to avoid burn out this year. A quick list of things you can do to manage your stress to avoid feeling like a shell of a human being by the end of the school year. However, the more I read about the research on burnout the more I became convinced that I wouldn’t be able to make a list like that.

Burnout syndrome was first described in 1974 by American Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to describe emotional exhaustion, reduced performance, and cynicism due to extreme pressure at work (1). Despite its increasing prominence in discussions around mental health, there is no standard definition for burnout and it is not classified as a distinct mental health disorder (2). Studies that look at the prevalence of burnout often find that it is occurs along with official diagnoses of depression, making it difficult to tell whether or not it is a separate disorder (2). Despite the controversy around whether burnout syndrome qualifies as a mental health diagnosis, research into the causes and prevalence of burnout has brought increased awareness to the problem of occupational stress. High rates of burnout have been found in teachers (3) and students alike (4).

The original conception and early research on burnout syndrome focused on the organizational causes of burnout (1, 2).Freudenberger first described burnout syndrome among staff at a free clinic in New York City. The factors he thought contributed to their burnout were (2):

  • being dedicated and committed to their work

  • work that requires a significant amount of emotional work and empathy, personal involvement, and intrinsic motivation

  • being underpaid

I can’t recommend that you be less dedicated or committed. Or that you should stop being empathetic to your students. I will recommend that you get paid more, but chances are you and I have relatively little control over that. In other words, to truly address burnout changes need to be made to policies and procedures in the workplace, rather than putting onus on individuals to treat their own burnout.

In other words, to truly address burnout changes need to be made to policies and procedures in the workplace, rather than putting onus on individuals to treat their own burnout.