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Burnout: What it is and How to Deal with it

(Find out how the Teach Well Alliance's Teach Well Toolkit can reduce workload and burnout in your school: www.teachwellalliance.com#teach-well-toolkit)

What is Burnout?

The term ‘burnout’ was coined in the ’70s by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger who compared the state of burnout to a burnt-out house:

‘If you have ever seen a building that has been burned out, you know it’s a devastating sight... some bricks or concrete may be left; some outline of windows. Indeed, the outer shell may seem almost intact. Only if you venture inside will you be struck by the full force of the desolation… [the] inner resources are consumed as if by fire, leaving a great emptiness inside’.

Freudenberger says, like a burned-out house, someone who’s burnt out may not seem that way on the outside. This is especially true of teachers, nurses, police officers and other caring professionals which depend on maintaining an outward appearance which may be very different from how they are feeling. Burnout can be divided into three components:

  • Exhaustion
  • Cynicism
  • Inefficacy

Exhaustion from burnout could lead you to be easily upset, have trouble sleeping, getting sick more often and struggling to concentrate.

Cynicism is sometimes called depersonalization, because it is categorized by feeling alienated from the people you work with and lacking engagement in your work.

Inefficacy refers to a lack of belief in your ability to perform your job well, a decrease in a sense of achievement, and feeling that you are not doing a good job.

What Causes Burnout?

According to Alexandra Michel, a science writer at the Association for Psychological Science, ‘…burnout results when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors outstrips rewards, recognition, and relaxation.’ Do you recognise this in yourself or other teachers in your school?

Christina Maslach, of the University of California, has been studying burnout since the 70’s. She comments:

‘It is a common belief that there is just one dimension to job stress, work overload. Indeed, overload is often considered to be a synonym for stress. But in our burnout model, overload is only one of six mismatches in the workplace’.

Maslach’s view is critical. The current government view is that workload is causing teacher stress and burnout and that, if it is addressed, this will raise morale and reduce stress. Although workload is a factor in burnout, dealing with burnout alone is unlikely to solve the serious problem of teachers leaving the profession.

Maslach came up with six components of the workplace environment that can contribute to burnout:

  • Work overload: Maslach explains that work overload occurs ‘…when the quantity of work exceeds the amount of time available, or when the job is simply too difficult given your current resources, skillset or level of ability’. In teaching, the lack of time and resources are most commonly cited as reasons for work overload.
  • Control: Teachers feel a lack of control when they are not given an appropriate level of responsibility, or the tools or resources needed to do their jobs well.
  • Reward: Workplace rewards involve anything that makes the daily experience of teaching satisfying. They could be financial rewards (pay); social (recognition from those around you); and intrinsic rewards (the feeling that you’re doing a good job).
  • Community: Maslach explains, ‘People thrive in community and function best when they share praise, comfort, happiness, and humour with people they like and respect. In addition to emotional exchange and instrumental assistance, this kind of social support reaffirms a person’s membership in a group with shared values’. If your school is a place where teachers rarely laugh, this is a certain indication that teachers are suffering from burnout.
  • Fairness: A perceived lack of fairness can lead to feelings of being disrespected or powerless; for example, inequity in workload or pay; inappropriate handling of promotions or appraisals; or poor resolution of disputes or disagreements.
  • Values: When your values and goals do not coincide with your school and/or with government policy. If, for example, you believe that testing or exams are not the most important aim of education, your values of creativity and personal development may be inconsistent with the government and Ofsted judging you and your school on exam results.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Teachers end up with burnout when one or more of these areas of their work don’t match their needs.

How to deal with burnout

The Teach Well Alliance believes that, if burnout is a common experience in your school, only a whole-school approach to reducing workload and improving teachers’ experience in each of Maslach’s six components will reduce the incidents of burnout.

The Teach Well Alliance also believes that it is vital that you seek medical help if you are experiencing symptoms as identified in the image published by the Australian Institute of Management at the head of this article, and/or you have a score on the Maslach Burnout Inventory that concerns you (below).

Whether or not you are receiving medical help, you can reduce the impact of burnout on your wellbeing by doing the following:

Focus on Your Daily Care

Try to eat well. Drink plenty of water and drink it regularly. Take a bottle of water to class. Walk each day for at least 20 minutes. Get more sleep. Find more time to do activities which help you to relax.

Do What You Enjoy

Part of burnout is feeling resentful because teaching is preventing you doing what you value outside of school. This could be spending time with your friends and family or doing activities that you enjoy – watching sport or going to the cinema. Invest time in your personal relationships – burnout can make you feel that you want to isolate yourself or shut yourself away.

Add Something New

At first sight, this might seem a ridiculous suggestion. If you don’t have time for everything now, how will you fit in something else? As long as it is something that benefits you and you enjoy, you will find time for it. It could be learning a new skill or going to an exercise class. Something that makes you feel good about yourself.

Burnout makes you feel that you have no control over your time. You do.

Yes – you will need to reduce the amount of time you spend on a school-based task and compromise. But the benefit of doing so is that you will have more energy for teaching.

If you are advised by your GP to take time off to rest, follow the advice. Your health and wellbeing is more important than school. Without your health, you may well deteriorate to the point of total exhaustion where your body shuts down and you are unable to function. If you are at that stage now, seek medical help. If you are not at that stage, but feel you are heading towards it, take time off before you get there.

                              Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI)

The inventory consists of 22 questions which have five graded Likert-type answers. To determine the risk of burnout, the MBI explores three sub-scales: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment. A high score in the first and third sections and a low score in the second section may indicate burnout.

The term ‘recipient’ in teaching terms means pupils.

Note: This Inventory is not intended to replace a professional medical diagnosis. If you are concerned about your health after completing the questions, take the MBI to your GP and discuss it with him/her.

Score each answer according to the scale below

Never 0

Rarely 1

Sometimes 2

Frequently 3

Always 4

  1. Emotional Exhaustion

I feel emotionally drained from my work

0

1

2

3

4

I feel used up at the end of the workday

0

1

2

3

4

I feel fatigued when I get up in the morning and have to face another day on the job

0

1

2

3

4

Working with people all day is really a strain for me

0

1

2

3

4

I feel burned out from my work

0

1

2

3

4

I feel frustrated by my job

0

1

2

3

4

I feel I’m working too hard on my job

0

1

2

3

4

Working with people directly puts too much stress on me

0

1

2

3

4

I feel like I’m at the end of my rope

0

1

2

3

4

2. Personal Accomplishment

I can easily understand how my recipients feel about things

0

1

2

3

4

I deal very effectively with the problems of my recipients

0

1

2

3

4

I feel I’m positively influencing other people’s lives through my work

0

1

2

3

4

I feel very energetic

0

1

2

3

4

I can easily create a relaxed atmosphere with my recipients

0

1

2

3

4

I feel exhilarated after working closely with my recipients

0

1

2

3

4

I have accomplished many worthwhile things in this job

0

1

2

3

4

In my work, I deal with emotional problems very calmly

0

1

2

3

4

3. Depersonalization

I feel I treat some recipients as if they were impersonal ‘objects’

0

1

2

3

4

I’ve become more callous toward people since I took this job

0

1

2

3

4

I worry that this job is hardening me emotionally

0

1

2

3

4

I don’t really care what happens to some recipients

0

1

2

3

4

I feel recipients blame me for some of their problems

0

1

2

3

4

Find out how the Teach Well Alliance's Teach Well Toolkit can reduce workload and burnout in your school: www.teachwellalliance.com#teach-well-toolkit

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