The Three Burnout Subtypes

[NOTE: This post was updated November 2016]

Burnout is a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion (overwhelming exhaustion), cynicism (cynicism and detachment), and inefficacy (a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment) (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2009).

More broadly, Maslach and Leiter (2005) said burnout includes losing three things:

  1. Burnout is lost energy.
  2. Burnout is lost enthusiasm.
  3. Burnout is lost confidence.

We typically think of a “burnt-out” employee as someone who has been on the job for a long period of time. A worker who experiences burnout is someone who is exhausted emotionally. This individual exhibits low motivation and lack of energy for the job (Spector, 2008). However, there are, in fact, more than one type of burnout.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), a scale measuring burnout, divides it into three components:

  • Emotional exhaustion is feeling tired and fatigued at work (it can result in absence from work).
  • Depersonalization is developing a callous/uncaring feeling, even hostility, toward others (either clients or colleagues).
  • Reduced personal accomplishment is feeling you (the employee) are not accomplishing anything worthwhile at work. This can lead to a lack of motivation and poor performance.

The Burnout Clinical Subtype Questionnaire (BCSQ-36), another scale, also divides burnout into three subtypes:

  • The “frenetic” type describes involved and ambitious subjects who sacrifice their health and personal lives for their jobs.
  • The “underchallenged” type describes indifferent and bored workers who fail to find personal development in their jobs.
  • The “worn-out” type describes neglectful subjects who feel they have little control over results and whose efforts go unacknowledged.

In a study of 409 employees at a university in Spain, Montero-Marín and colleagues (2011) discovered that those who work more than 40 hours a week faced the greatest risk for “frenetic” burnout. They found that administration and service personnel encountered the greatest risk of “underchallenged” burnout compared to teaching and research staff. Finally, the researchers found that employees with more than sixteen years of service in the organization faced the greatest risk of “worn-out” burnout versus those with less than four years of service.

Take-Away: The “frenetic” profile is associated with the number of hours per week dedicated to work. The “underchallenged” profile is related with the type of occupation and the “worn-out” profile is associated with the cumulative effect over time of the characteristics of an organization.

Suggestions: There are two, rather obvious, ways to reduce burnout. One is to take a vacation (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006), even though a few weeks after returning to work, feelings of burnout often return. The second way to reduce burnout is to have supervisors offer emotional support to workers through positive feedback and discussions about the positive aspects of the job (Kahn, Schneider, Jenkins-Henkelman, & Moyle, 2006).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant

References

Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: The role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(4), 936–945. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.936

Kahn, J. H., Schneider, K. T., Jenkins-Henkelman, T. M., & Moyle, L. L. (2006). Emotional social support and job burnout among high-school teachers: Is it all due to dispositional affectivity? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27, 793–807. doi:10.1002/job.397

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Maslach, C., Leiter, M. P., & Schaufeli, W. (2009). Measuring burnout. In S. Cartwright & C. L. Cooper (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford: Oxford Univerrsity Press.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Montero-Marín, J., García-Campayo, J., Fajó-Pascual, M., Carrasco, J. M., Gascón, S., Gili, M., & Mayoral-Cleries, F. (2011). Sociodemographic and occupational risk factors associated with the development of different burnout types: The cross-sectional University of Zaragoza study. BMC Psychiatry, 11:49. doi:10.1186/1471-244X-11-49

Spector, P. E. (2008). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.