Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work. Burnout has been assumed to result from chronic occupational stress (e.g., work overload). However, there is growing evidence that its etiology is multifactorial in nature, with dispositional factors playing an important role. Despite its great popularity, burnout is not recognized as a distinct disorder, neither in the DSM, nor in the ICD-10. This is notably due to the fact that burnout is problematically close to depressive disorders. In the only study that directly compared depressive symptoms in burned out workers and clinically depressed patients, no diagnostically significant differences was found between the two groups: Burned out workers reported as many depressive symptoms as clinically depressed patients. Moreover, a recent study by Bianchi, Schonfeld, and Laurent (in press) showed that about 90% of burned out workers meet diagnostic criteria for depression, suggesting that burnout may be a depressive syndrome rather than a new or distinct entity.
Clinical psychologist Herbert Freudenberger first identified the construct “burnout” in the 1970s. Social psychologists Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson developed what is the most widely used instrument for assessing burnout, namely, the Maslach Burnout Inventory. The Maslach Burnout Inventory operationalizes burnout as a three-dimensional syndrome made up of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. Some researchers and practitioners have argued for an “exhaustion only” model that views that symptom as the hallmark of burnout.
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