Keeping workplace burnout at bay: Online coping and prevention resources

Darcy Del Bosque; Susie Skarl


Workplace burnout has been defined as “… a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.”1 It has been an ongoing issue among workers, especially in the helping professions, for decades. Librarianship has not escaped the problem, with rapidly changing jobs, increasing workloads due to budget cuts, and frequent interactions with patrons, all leading to burnout.

This guide addresses burnout from multiple perspectives, covering both individual employees and organization-wide aspects. In addition to providing general resources for employees and managers and a sample of MOOCs, videos, and lectures, a section of this guide will focus on burnout information within the library profession. While this guide of online burnout websites is by no means comprehensive, it will provide resources from the last decade and a half that center upon occupational burnout issues, including definitions, symptoms, and prevention tactics.

Job burnout—Signs of burnout

Occupational burnout—General

  • Burnout and the Brain. Alexandra Michel provides a history of burnout, going back to the 1970s when it was first identified as a problem. As people become overwhelmed with unfulfillable demands of their position, it becomes difficult to cope, resulting in negativity and cynicism that often leads into personal, as well as professional, aspects of people’s lives. She highlights numerous research studies on burnout, noting how burnout creates changes in the brain, how it impairs cognitive functioning, and how it can create inflammation throughout the body. Michel concludes by discussing research on reversing the impact of burnout, suggesting that there is potential for intervention to make a difference. Access: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2016/february-16/burnout-and-the-brain.html.
  • Burnout Comes in Three Varieties. The “Minds for Business: Psychological Science at Work” blog produced this entry about burnout, which addresses three different subtypes of burnout that were identified through a survey of 429 university employees. The three subtypes—overload, boredom, and worn-out—were all attributed to different, but equally ineffective, coping styles. It includes a link to a research article that discusses developing preventative therapies to overcome these weak coping skills. Access: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/minds-business/burnout-comes-in-three-varieties.html.
  • Job Burnout. Authors Christina Maslach, Wilmar B. Schaufeli, and Michael P. Leiter provide a critical analysis of what has been learned from the past 25 years of work on job burnout. Along with defining and providing the history of occupational burnout, the authors analyze issues such as situational factors, individual factors, and implications for intervention. Access: http://www.wilmarschaufeli.nl/publications/Schaufeli/154.pdf.
  • PubMed Health: Depression, What is Burnout Syndrome? This short PubMed Health entry discusses how there is currently no clear definition of burnout and although there are a few questionnaires that help to diagnosis it, there is not a well-researched method to determine if someone has burnout. Along with providing an overview of current research on the signs and symptoms of burnout, the entry compares burnout with depression. Access: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072470/.

  • Reversing Burnout: How to Rekindle Your Passion for Your Work. This article, written by Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter, appeared in Stanford Social Innovation Review. It acknowledges that burnout is more than an individual or an organizational problem, but rather a bad fit between the two groups. It provides a case study of two individuals, discussing how they were feeling at work and the steps they took to try and turn the situation around. It also defines six categories of burnout and suggests that individuals and organizations can use these as a framework to determine which specific problems are most prevalent and design interventions to alleviate some of the problems. Access: http://ssir.org/articles/entry/reversing_burnimout.

Burnout—MOOC, video, lectures, and statistics

  • Mental Health Studies—Understanding Behaviour, Burnout and Depression. ALISON, an online learning community that provides access to education resources to help build workplace skills, provides a short unit on mental health studies that includes a module on burnout. It defines burnout and discusses some of its causes. A free account is required to use the resources. Access: https://alison.com/courses/Mental-Health-Studies-Understanding-Behaviour-Burnout-and-Depression/content.

  • Statistics and Facts about Stress and Burnout. Thus far, there are very few statistics about workplace burnout. Statista has collected some quick facts and figures about the topic. They also provide a link to a dossier, which compiles the most important statistics about burnout and can be downloaded in PowerPoint or PDF. Access: http://www.statista.com/topics/2099/stress-and-burnout/.
  • TED: Talks for When You Feel Totally Burned Out. This YouTube playlist features ten TED talks that can help the burned out regain some enthusiasm. Segment topics vary from mindfulness, to getting in the flow, to the power of taking time off. Across all of the segments is a theme to be present, embrace stillness, and find balance. The themes of detaching suffering from creativity, reframing how you view stress, and centering on positivity in the process instead of emphasizing outcomes are also explored. Access: https://www.ted.com/playlists/245/talks_for_when_you_feel_totall.
  • Thriving in Science Lecture: Understanding Burnout, Christina Maslach December 10, 2014. This recorded lecture features Christina Maslach, a professor from UC-Berkeley and a pioneer in research about burnout. She speaks about the costs of burnout from both an economic and health perspective, the reasons that often lead to burnout, and workplace solutions to help with burnout issues with employees. Access: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kLPyV8lBbs.

Burnout prevention

Organizational response

  • Burnout Response. Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, an initiative of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, wrote this piece on burnout, which is geared towards an organizational response to the issue. Along with discussing burnout symptoms of employees, the resource provides strategies to reduce workplace stress, in turn lowering the potential for burnout, and encourages creating a workplace plan to support those who have been identified as suffering from burnout. Access: https://www.workplacestrategies-formentalhealth.com/managing-workplace-issues/burnout-response.
  • How to Prevent Employee Burnout. The Kissmetrics blog provides a definition of burnout and discusses some of its causes. It also defines seven effects of burned out employees. More importantly, this blog entry discusses 30 things that organizations can do to combat burnout in employees. Access: https://blog.kissmetrics.com/prevent-employee-burnout/.
  • Low Staff Morale and Burnout: Causes and Solutions. Chungsup Lee, Jarrod Scheunemann, Robin Hall, and Laura Payne created this resource for the Office of Recreation and Park Resources at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. It defines burnout and provides some possible causes of it. It also discusses four potential solutions to burnout, which include problem-focused coping, emotional-focused coping, relationship-focused coping, and lifestyle-coping. The report then discusses low staff morale and provides potential approaches to combat the problem. Access: https://illinois.edu/lb/files/2012/06/01/39974.pdf.
  • Preventing Job Burnout in Your Organization. Mannaz, a European leadership organization, provides an interview with Christina Maslach, a leader in burnout research. The interview puts a spotlight on what organizations can do to prevent employee burnout. Maslach provides six areas (workload, control, reward and recognition, workplace community, fairness, and conflict of values) that are often a mismatch between employees and organizations, which often leads to burnout. These six areas provide a framework for organizations to review in order to pinpoint where they need to make improvements to avoid potential problems with burnout. Access: http://www.mannaz.com/en/insights/preventing-job-burnout-in-your-organization/.
  • Strategic Organizational Responses to Workplace Stress, Burnout and Trauma. This workshop report, written by Patricia M. Fisher, for the Conference Board of Canada Council on Workplace Health and Wellness, draws attention to stress in the workplace and discusses the costs to business. It provides risk and resiliency factors for both organizations and individuals and then discusses strategic approaches to the problem. Additionally, it provides a case study from the Community Corrections Division of the British Columbia Ministry of Public Safety and Security. Access: https://www.fisherandassociates.org/pdf/StrategicOrgResponses_03.pdf.

Workplace burnout in the library profession

  • A Passion Deficit: Occupational Burnout and the New Librarian: A Recommendation Report. Following a review of the literature, author Linda A. Christian determines the causes and effects of occupational burnout among new librarians and recommends administrative and personal techniques to prevent the escalation of this issue within the profession. She offers recommendations for library school instructors and for library managers to help prevent burnout in newly hired librarians. Access: http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1533&context=seln.
  • Burnout and Job Engagement among Business Librarians. Author Kevin Harwell presents results from a survey academic and public business librarians about incidence of burnout and job engagement in their jobs. The study suggests that burnout can be reduced by reducing work overload, emotional demands, and work-home interference by increasing job autonomy, learning opportunities, social support, and performance feedback. Access: https://journals.tdl.org/llm/index.php/llm/article/viewFile/2084/6218.
  • Burnout in Academic Libraries. Julie Huprich sheds light on the following questions: What is burnout? What causes burnout? What does this mean for academic libraries? What can I do to prevent burnout in my academic library? Access: http://ala-apa.org/newsletter/2007/10/16/burnout-in-academic-libraries/.
  • Letters to a Young Librarian. Jessica Olin, library director at Wesley College, has created a web resource that offers advice to those who are new (or even not so new) to librarianship. The blog posts cover a wide variety of academic librarian issues and guidance from the author and guest contributors on topics such as résumés and interviewing, tenure and academic freedom, and leadership. In addition to these issues, this site addresses the topic of burnout in the library field and offers ways to prevent it (such as engaging in professional development on a regular basis), maintaining a healthy lifestyle (with exercise, sleep, and healthy foods), and enjoying a life away from the library world. Access: http://letterstoayounglibrarian.blogspot.com/.
  • Librarianburnout.com. Librarian Maria Accardi has created a blog for librarians to share stories about their burnout experiences. In addition to Accardi’s and guest bloggers’ insights, the blog analyzes collected stories, identifies common themes, and situates them in the context of discussion of the literature of the library profession. Discussion topics include work-life balance, mindfulness, workplace rejection, mental health issues, and burnout prevention. Access: https://librarianburnout.com/.
  • Library Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, Solutions. This article, written by Christine Martin, highlights burnout symptoms (such as low productivity, inability to concentrate, and increased absenteeism) and causes (including budget pressures, heavy workloads, and few opportunities for advancement) in the library profession. Moreover, the article also offers strategies and tips for employees (i.e., not taking work home) and managers (i.e., being an advocate for staff) to prevent burnout before it becomes a serious problem. Martin also includes a list of further reading materials on the issue and an inventory that readers can take to determine if they are at risk for burnout. Access: http://ala-apa.org/newsletter/2009/12/01/spotlight-2/.
  • Running on Empty: Dealing with Burnout in the Library Setting. Although this article was written over ten years ago, it is still relevant to today’s library professionals. Authors Tim and Zahra M. Baird note that the very nature of library work, including demands for our services, heavy workloads, and shifts in priorities, predisposes us to burnout. The authors recommend personal and work strategies, along with professional solutions and a burnout maintenance plan for library staff members. Access: http://www.liscareer.com/baird_burnout.htm.

Note
1. Maslach, C. Schaufeli, WB.. Leiter, MP.. , “Job burnout. ,” Annual Review of Psychology 2001 , vol. 52.
Copyright © 2016 Darcy Del Bosque and Susie Skarl

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