News

Identifying Burnout in the Workplace

unhappy doctor cover face in hospital office.

Following on from the expansion of the definition of workplace burnout by the World Health Organisation, and particularly in an era where switching off from the workplace is becoming more difficult through increased connectivity, Australians are being encouraged to consider if they might be experiencing burnout.

Research shows that workers who deal with people on a regular basis are at increased risk of suffering from burnout. This includes teachers, care workers, prison officers, lawyers and retail staff. At even higher risk are emergency service workers such as police, paramedics, and healthcare professionals who continually work in environments of high stress.

According to an article published in the British Journal Association in October 2017 which looked at burnout and resilience in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine, the incidence of burnout among medical professionals is rising. The authors of the article state the increase could be attributed to improved recognition and diagnosis. A cross-sectional survey of 379 respondents working in French hospital emergency departments found that almost half of them had experienced burnout, while Medscape’s National Physician Burnout, Depression and Suicide Report 2019 states that 44% of American physicians reported feeling burnout.

Research and resources

It is recognised that job-related burnout can have serious consequences but it is difficult to diagnose in a clinical setting. Most often used is the Maslach Burnout Inventory, developed by Christina Maslach, a leading researcher in the field. However, Maslach herself has previously stated she does not view burnout as a medical disease but rather a social epidemic.

The British Medical Association has an online burnout questionnaire, directed at healthcare professionals, which is based on the Oldenburg Burnout Inventory and which contains a series of statements to which respondents are asked to agree or disagree.

The Black Dog Institute in Australia, which is dedicated to understanding, preventing and treating mental illness, is currently running a research study on burnout and seeking people between the ages of 18 and 65 who self-identify as experiencing burnout to complete a 40 minute online questionnaire. The study aims to distinguish the nature of burnout from depression.

Workers who feel they may be experiencing burnout are encouraged to contact their employee assistance program, contact a support service such as Lifeline, or visit their GP. There are a number of e-mental health programs available online to the public and GPs, along with psychologists and mental health practitioners, are encouraged to be familiar with the online programs their patients may be using.

The Australasian Doctors’ Health Network lists some resources which specifically dealt with burnout for doctors. Nurses and midwives can avail themselves of a free and confidential national online and telephone support service at NM Support.