April is Stress Awareness Month – a perfect time for reflecting on your own well-being and how you tackle stress in your life and work!
The aim of this article is to raise awareness of some of the more theoretical work that has been done in the area of (tackling) stress and burnout, particularly among teachers, and to provide impetus for reflecting and discussing with colleagues. The post can be used to support stress awareness discussions in staff meetings and other developmental groups. If you’re unable to join a discussion in person, please add your comments and answers to the ‘Talking Points’ in the comments box below.
One of the most widely used definitions of the complex construct of ‘burnout’ was developed by Maslach & Jackson (1981). Their research explored the organizational contexts which often provide a background to burnout and similar syndromes, and they developed the multidimensional Maslach model, which includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment as its three main symptoms. Maslach, Jackson & Leiter (1996) described these symptoms of burnout in more detail. Emotional exhaustion is linked to feelings of anxiety and fatigue, for example, and a general feeling that one’s emotional resources are depleted. Highly correlated with exhaustion is depersonalization; the development of negative or cynical perceptions of others. The third aspect, reduced personal accomplishment, refers to dissatisfaction and prevailingly negative self-evaluation regarding professional activities.
This model of burnout and the self-diagnosis tool derived from it, the ‘Maslach Burnout Inventory’ (MBI) (Maslach & Jackson, 1981), have promoted a vast amount of research over the last few decades, and many studies have shown the MBI’s reasonably high internal consistency and test-retest reliability, and as well as good levels of validity, both concurrent and predictive.
TALKING POINT: Have you ever experienced any of the symptoms of burnout (in bold in the text above), or other negative effects of stress? Have you ever noticed any of these symptoms in your colleagues? How did these symptoms manifest themselves concretely in your life? What would you advise other teachers to watch out for when it comes to catching burnout symptoms early enough to do something about?
A strong sense of well-being, then, is the positive antithesis of burnout; something we should all strive for. The term ‘well-being’ is used to imply a sense of balance between being under-stimulated and overwhelmed, with regard to various facets of life. Holmes (2005), for example, denotes four intrinsic sub-categories of well-being: physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Physical well-being starts with the absence of illness, and extends to being in good physical shape. For an individual’s emotional well-being, they need to be able to suitably handle the emotions they feel and apply this to maintaining healthy relationships with others. Within Holmes’ definition, intellectual, or mental, well-being involves having a positive attitude to developing both personally and professionally. And finally, spiritual well-being is the ‘ability to be constructively self-conscious and self-critical when a sense of greater good is being pursued’ (Holmes, 2005, p.10). This four-category definition of well-being provides a useful framework for any work or discussions pertaining to well-being training and awareness.
TALKING POINT: What do you do to maintain or improve your own well-being? What do you do to help others maintain or improve their well-being? How do these activities relate to the four categories in Holmes’ definition? Did you choose these activities deliberately to counteract stress? What activities would you recommend to other teachers?
Holmes, E. (2005). Teacher well-being: Looking after yourself and your Career in the classroom. London & New York: Routledge Falmer. http://dx.doi.org/10.4324/9780203465400
Lee, R.T. & Ashforth, B.E. (1990). On the meaning of Maslach’s three dimensions of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75(6), pp. 743-7. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.75.6.743
Maslach, C. (1982). Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Maslach, C. & Jackson, S.E. (1981). The measurement of experienced burnout. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 2. pp 99-113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/job.4030020205
Maslach, C., Jackson, S.E. & Leiter, M.P. (1996). Maslach burnout inventory manual (3rd edition). Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists press.