Psychology Burnout
Michael P. Leiter, Christina Maslach
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 April 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0166


Burnout is a syndrome of exhaustion, cynicism, and diminished professional efficacy that is closely associated with the work environment. The exhaustion component consists of fatigue and depletion of one’s emotional and physical resources. The cynicism (or depersonalization) component encompasses a negative, callous, or excessively detached response to various aspects of the job. The inefficacy component comprises feelings of incompetence and a lack of achievement and productivity in work. Once established, the burnout syndrome persists and can have a wide range of effects on job performance and personal well-being. Burnout arises in response to chronic emotional, physical, and interpersonal stressors within the work environment. Although initially discovered and defined in North America, burnout has been an important focus of work in many countries around the world and across many job occupations. After the phenomenon of burnout was identified, researchers concentrated on further defining it, creating measurement tools that captured its complexity and studying various causes and outcomes. Subsequent research related burnout to other workplace phenomena, such as job satisfaction, work engagement, and workaholism, which place burnout within a broader framework of psychological relationships with work. Since publication of the influential review paper on burnout Maslach, et al. 2001, the research has shifted from a descriptive model of burnout to an emphasis on intervention and prevention. New conceptual and theoretical models have been established to provide greater insight into why the burnout syndrome occurs in some contexts and not others. The acceptance of burnout as a potential social and organizational problem has stimulated researchers to devise both preventative strategies for combating burnout before it occurs and intervention methods to alleviate distress once it has. This article considers the many areas into which burnout has expanded. The article examines the cross-cultural applicability of adapted versions of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) as well as other international assessment tools. The significance of negative outcomes associated with burnout is illustrated in this review, as researchers have given a high priority to understanding the various health, occupational, and organizational consequences of burnout. More attention is being given to new theoretical models and to the possible presence of a burnout syndrome within nonwork domains. Finally, this selective review highlights findings on both preventative measures and interventions to reduce the overall negative impact that burnout can have on the lives of many. The works chosen for this article were collected through the PsycINFO and Google Scholar databases. The authors used specific keywords, such as burnout construct, organizational burnout, dimensions of burnout, and burnout interventions, to identify topics on which the burnout literature has expanded. This article cannot encompass the vast extent of burnout research that has been published since 2001, but it does strive to offer a sample representing the major trends in this work.

Defining and Measuring the Construct

Although the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is the forerunner for assessment measures of the burnout syndrome, many researchers offer suggestions and criticisms to increase the applicability and reliability of this measure. Further expansions of burnout assessment tools have been made to increase their cross-cultural applicability, including the Dutch comparison of the MBI with the Burnout Measure (BM) (Schaufeli and van Dierendonck 1993), the Turkish adaptation of various burnout measures (Çapri 2013), the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory (CBI) (Kristensen, et al. 2005), the Israeli Shirom-Melamed Burnout Measure (SMBM) (Shirom and Melamed 2006), and the Spanish Burnout Inventory (SBI) (Gil-Monte and Figueiredo-Ferraz 2013). Additionally, various versions of the MBI were created to expand the assessment of the burnout syndrome to different types of occupations as well as student populations (Clapper and Harris 2008; Shin, et al. 2011; Rutherford, et al. 2011).

  • Çapri, B. 2013. The Turkish adaptation of the Burnout Measure–Short Version (BMS) and Couple Burnout Measure–Short Version (CBMS) and the relationship between career and couple burnout based on psychoanalytic-existential perspective. Kuram ve uygulamada eğitim bilimleri 13.3: 1408–1417.

    This study observed the validity, adaptation, and reliability of a Turkish version of the Burnout Measure–Short Form (BMS) and Couple Burnout Measure–Short Form (CBMS). The study also analyzed the relationships between occupations and significant differences in the career and couple burnout scores. Gender differences were found within the career and couple burnout scores and were explored further.

  • Clapper, D. C., and L. L. Harris. 2008. Reliability and validity of an instrument to describe burnout among collegiate athletic trainers. Journal of Athletic Training 43:62–69.

    DOI: 10.4085/1062-6050-43.1.62

    The Athletic Training Burnout Inventory (ATBI) included eighteen items from the MBI and forty-five new items describing factors leading to burnout for athletic trainers. Two field tests were run to obtain content validity of the ATBI. The version with four constructs (emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, administrative responsibility, time commitment, organizational support) was a reliable measure for this population.

  • Gascón, S., M. P. Leiter, N. Stright, et al. 2013. A factor confirmation and convergent validity of the “areas of worklife scale” (AWS) to Spanish translation. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes 11:63.

    DOI: 10.1186/1477-7525-11-63

    The Areas of Worklife Scale (AWS) was translated into Spanish and administered to health-care workers (n = 871) in Spain, along with the Spanish translation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory–General Survey (MBI-GS). Relationships between the areas of work life and burnout were assessed. Results indicate that the AWS and MBI-GS are valid measures for assessing quality of work life and burnout in Spain.

  • Gil‐Monte, P. R., and H. H. Figueiredo‐Ferraz. 2013. Psychometric properties of the “Spanish Burnout Inventory” among employees working with people with intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 57:959–968.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2788.2012.01591.x

    The SBI is based on a different definition of burnout, which is assessed by four subscales: enthusiasm toward the job, psychological exhaustion, indolence, and guilt. A psychometric analysis was conducted with 697 Spanish employees; it found that all four subscales exhibited high reliability, with Cronbach alpha values exceeding 0.70, and these were all significantly correlated with one another.

  • Kristensen, T. S., M. Borritz, E. Villadsen, and K. B. Christensen. 2005. The Copenhagen Burnout Inventory: A new tool for the assessment of burnout. Work and Stress 19:192–207.

    DOI: 10.1080/02678370500297720

    Criticisms of the MBI are given as well as an introduction to the CBI. The CBI is composed of three scales: personal burnout, work-related burnout, and client-related burnout. These scales offer a more generic application of burnout and address the pertinence of clients, customers, and colleagues within a work environment. The CBI was implemented on a large population (n = 1,914), and high internal reliability and validity were found.

  • Maslach, C., W. B. Schaufeli, and M. P. Leiter. 2001. Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology 52:397–422.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.397

    This article provides a major review and analysis of the prior twenty-five years of research on job burnout. The review includes a discussion of new conceptual models and a new emphasis on engagement, the positive antithesis of burnout. Determines that the social focus of burnout and the solid research basis concerning the syndrome and its specific ties to the work domain make a distinct and valuable contribution to people’s health and well-being.

  • Rutherford, B. N., G. Hamwi, S. B. Friend, and N. N. Hartmann. 2011. Measuring salesperson burnout: A reduced Maslach burnout inventory for sales researchers. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management 31:429–440.

    DOI: 10.2753/PSS0885-3134310405

    This study administered a shorter version of the MBI in an attempt to capture burnout levels among salespeople. The twenty-two-item MBI was reduced to ten items (four emotional exhaustion, three depersonalization, three personal accomplishment). Results showed that all three facets of burnout were retained and that this shortened measure yielded a more reliable and valid measurement of burnout for sales researchers.

  • Schaufeli, W. B., and D. van Dierendonck. 1993. The construct validity of two burnout measures. Journal of Organizational Behavior 14.7: 631–647.

    DOI: 10.1002/job.4030140703

    This study was the first to compare the construct validity of the MBI and the BM, using a sample of 667 Dutch nurses. The results showed that the MBI was a reliable and valid multidimensional indicator of burnout in professionals who work with people. In contrast, the BM only assessed one dimension, and not the rest of the burnout syndrome.

  • Shin, H., A. Puig, J. Lee, J. Lee, and S. Lee. 2011. Cultural validation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory for Korean students. Asia Pacific Education Review 12:633–639.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12564-011-9164-y

    The factorial validity of the Maslach Burnout Inventory Student Survey (MBI-SS) was assessed on a population of Korean students (n = 947). Through a series of structural equation model analyses and factorial invariance tests, the authors found that the MBI-SS was a valid measure of academic burnout among Korean students. Results indicate that there is a strong potential for the MBI-SS to maintain its validity when applied cross-culturally.

  • Shirom, A., and S. Melamed. 2006. A comparison of the construct validity of two burnout measures among two groups of professionals. International Journal of Stress Management 13.2: 176–200.

    DOI: 10.1037/1072-5245.13.2.176

    This study compared the psychometric qualities of the MBI-GS and the SMBM. In contrast to the three dimensions of the MBI, the SMBM focuses on two dimensions of exhaustion: physical fatigue and cognitive weariness. Positive results were found for both measures.

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