Academic journal article Social Work

Burnout in Gerontological Social Work

Academic journal article Social Work

Burnout in Gerontological Social Work

Article excerpt

During the past 12 years, "burnout" has become a widely used term in the social work literature. Maslach and Jackson (1981) described burnout as a state of emotional exhaustion, increased depersonalization of clients, and decreased feelings of personal accomplishment. Burnout goes beyond the negative effects it has on individual social workers; it influences social workers' organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and job retention (Jayaratne & Chess, 1984; LeCroy & Rank, 1987; Leiter & Maslach, 1988; Riggar, Godley, & Hafer, 1984).

Maslach (1978) found that one-third of all human services workers had high levels of burnout (one-third had moderate levels and one-third had low levels). More recent research studies have consistently shown, however, that the rates of burnout vary considerably by field of practice. Sze and Ivker (1986) found burnout rates among social workers as high as 59.9 percent, as did Hagen (1989) in a survey of income maintenance workers. Conversely, Paine (1982) found rates well below the norm (between 5 and 15 percent), as did Beck (1987) in her national survey of family services practitioners. Only 10 percent to 20 percent of residential services workers surveyed scored high on the three components of burnout (Ursprung, 1986), whereas mental health professionals in Savicki and Cooley's (1987) study had burnout scores similar to Maslach's (1978) original study.

LeCroy and Rank (1987) found that child welfare workers generally had significantly greater emotional exhaustion than did workers in family services or mental health. Jayaratne and Chess (1984), studying the same three groups, found no significant difference in workers' emotional exhaustion, although family services workers had significantly less depersonalization than did the other two groups.

Although burnout has been explored in some depth, no studies have been done of burnout among gerontological social workers. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that work with elderly clients produces emotional stresses. Social work with elderly people "requires confronting loss, declining health and death" (Carrilio & Eisenberg, 1984, p. 308). Working with their clients constantly reminds gerontological social workers that someday they also may be alone, sick, and vulnerable (Carrilio & Eisenberg, 1984). Greene (1986) found that geriatric workers experienced higher levels of death anxiety than did other social workers.

Predictors of Burnout

A multidimensional approach to understanding the variables related to burnout focuses on organizational factors, client factors, and worker characteristics (Blostein, Eldridge, Kilty, & Richardson, 1985; Courage & Williams, 1987; LeCroy & Rank, 1987; Ursprung, 1986). Burnout has been positively correlated with multiproblem clients and caseloads with high proportions of clients with chronic and complex problems (Beck, 1987). Higher burnout rates (emotional exhaustion and depersonalization) have also been correlated with workers' negative impressions of their clients (Blostein et al., 1985; Corcoran, 1987).

Studies have also found that the worker's personal characteristics are related to burnout. Golembiewski and Kim (1989) found that progressive, advancing phases of burnout were associated with decreasing self-esteem. Corcoran (1987) found that as practitioners got older and gained more experience in the human services, they experienced less emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Himle, Jayaratne, and Chess (1987) found that male workers experienced higher levels of depersonalization than did female workers.

Organizational factors are associated with burnout. Studies have found that high job stress is related to burnout (Jayaratne & Chess, 1986; Ratliff, 1988; Savicki & Cooley, 1987; Sze & Ivker, 1986). Several studies have demonstrated that workers who experience greater job autonomy and control over their jobs have lower levels of burnout than do those with less autonomy and control (Arches, 1991; Kafry & Pines, 1980; LeCroy & Rank, 1987; McCulloch & O'Brien, 1986; Viv-Vogel, 1987; Wade, Cooley, & Savicki, 1986). …

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