Burnout?

University dissertation from School of Social Work, Lund University, Box 23 S-22100 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: In this thesis, two questions are answered: What is burnout?, and What causes burnout? Essentialist conceptions of burnout are criticized and burnout is regarded as a syndrome in the sense of a practice concept, not possible to delineate exactly. Practice concepts are compared to social constructions. From the syndrome idea, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), is chosen as an operationalization of the burnout syndrome. There, the syndrome consists of three causally related components: emotional exhaustion leading to depersonalization, which leads to a sense of reduced personal accomplishment. The measure is psychometrically evaluated on a survey study of employees in two Swedish human service organizations: the Social Insurance Organization and the Individual and Family Care within the social welfare organization. First, personal accomplishment is found not to covary with the other two MBI components, and is therefore discarded from further analysis. The remainder of the thesis is devoted to investigate the relation between emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. This is done relating them to different levels of analysis, psychophysiology, social psychology and organization, using regression modelling also for multilevel problems in connection with occupational stress theory and the theory of human service organizations. Two distinctly different mechanisms are found behind the development of the two MBI components. This contradicts a general consensus in burnout research. It is concluded that the "burnout syndrome" is an artificial social construction. Emotional exhaustion and depersonalization are however real phenomena, but with different causal provenience. There are different reasons for people getting tired or mean.

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