June 27, 2011 Being over-burdened with work, monotony and the perception of lack of recognition can all be catalysts for burnout syndrome. A team of scientists has analysed the factors that influence the development of the three sub-types of this condition -- 'frenetic', 'under-challenged' and 'worn out'.
Chronic workplace stress and the perception of lack of recognition at work create a breeding ground for burnout syndrome. "This condition is increasing in prevalence in Spain and poses a serious problem to society because of the economic losses it causes and its consequences for health," Jesús Montero-Marín, lead author of the study and a senior researcher at the Aragon Institute of Health Sciences, said.
The experts distinguish three profiles depending on the features of the syndrome displayed -- 'frenetic', 'under-challenged' and 'worn out'. The study, published in BMC Psychiatry, reveals the sociodemographic and employment factors associated with each of these. The Montero-Marín team used questionnaires to survey a sample of 409 employees working at the University of Zaragoza, including administrative, services, teaching and research staff and interns.
"The 'frenetic' profile is associated with the number of hours worked," explains Montero-Marín. A person who spends more than 40 hours per week working is six times more likely to develop the syndrome than a person working less than 35 hours. These kinds of employees are usually heavily involved in their role, are very ambitious and have a large task overload.
A worker who does monotonous tasks, with a tendency to get bored and a lack of personal development opportunities, is more at risk of developing the 'under-challenged' profile. Administrative and services staff are almost three times more likely to fall within this group than teaching and research staff. It is also a primarily masculine profile. "While men tend to distance themselves from the company's objectives, women are more likely to develop emotional exhaustion," the psychologist explains.
The 'worn out' profile, meanwhile, tends to appear among people with a long history in the same job, who ends up ignoring their responsibilities due to the lack of recognition they perceive in their environment. A worker with more than 16 years' service in the same place of work is five times more at risk of developing this profile than another worker with a service record of less than four years.
People holding down multiple jobs and those on temporary contracts end up 'frenetic.'
Whatever kind of burnout it is that they suffer, workers will experience emotional exhaustion, cynicism or lack of efficacy at work. In general, the experts consider that this syndrome is present if the person displays at least one of these three characteristics.
The type of contract a person is employed on also impacts on whether they will develop burnout. Employees on temporary contracts are more involved with the company, because they seek to form connections that will give them greater stability. This attitude may result in them developing a 'frenetic' profile, which is also the case with people on half-day contracts, "who probably have multiple jobs," the expert points out.
Apart from the factors that cause this syndrome, a person's social environment can act as a counterweight to it appearing in the first place. "Having a family, partner or children can act as a protective 'cushion', because when people finish their day at work they leave their workplace worries behind them and focus on other kinds of tasks," the psychologist explains.
With regard to a person's academic level, people at the two opposite ends of the scale suffer most from burnout -- those who have had little training and those with the highest levels of studies. This can be explained because people with little education usually take jobs that require fewer qualifications, and in which they receive little recognition. However, PhDs with long careers also end up burnt out, because they "feel they are investing more in the job than they get in return," says Montero-Marín.
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- Jesús Montero-Marín, Javier García-Campayo, Marta Fajó-Pascual, José Carrasco, Santiago Gascón, Margarita Gili, Fermín Mayoral-Cleries. Sociodemographic and occupational risk factors associated with the development of different burnout types: the cross-sectional University of Zaragoza study. BMC Psychiatry, 2011; 11 (1): 49 DOI: 10.1186/1471-244X-11-49
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