Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Multilevel Examination of Burnout among High School Staff: Importance of Staff and School Factors

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Multilevel Examination of Burnout among High School Staff: Importance of Staff and School Factors

Article excerpt

Feelings of exhaustion related to one's job can result in low levels of job satisfaction, which contribute to higher rates of teacher burnout, turnover, and early retirement (Leithwood, Menzies, Jantzi, & Leithwood, 1999). In contrast, when staff feel supported and respected, they are able to thrive professionally, thus allowing them to better meet the needs of their students (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2011). With over 10% of public school teachers leaving the profession after 1 year and an additional 12% leaving after 2 years of teaching (Kaiser, 2011), there is a growing need to understand contributors to staff turnover, specifically feelings of professional burnout. Prior research suggests that burnout is not typically linked to a single event or interaction, but rather to a dynamic combination of the individual's perceptions of the people, behavior, resources, and safety of the school community (McCarthy, Lambert, Beard, & Dematatis, 2002). Yet few studies have taken into account staff perceptions of connectedness, efficacy, and safety in conjunction with the broader school context when studying staff burnout. The current study employed a multilevel approach to examine how staff-level variables (i.e., demographics, perceptions of efficacy, connectedness, and safety) and school-level contextual variables (i.e., student-teacher ratio, suspension rate, and location) relate to high school staff members' reports of burnout. The overarching goal of this study was to identify the most important staff-and school-level characteristics related to burnout within high schools. In turn, this information may help inform professional development and burnout prevention programming related to enhancing connectedness, efficacy, and feelings of safety.

Defining School Staff Burnout

Staff burnout is defined as the combination of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that results from prolonged work-related stress (Kyriacou, 1987; Maslach & Jackson, 1981; Pas, Bradshaw, Hershfeldt, & Leaf, 2010). Much of the extant research has focused on the emotional exhaustion component, which occurs when a staff member is no longer physically or emotionally able to provide students with support (Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1996). Burnout is a concern because it can result in one's inability to effectively perform one's job, and thus it has been investigated in a variety of work settings (Freudenberger, 1974), including schools (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). Specifically, when experiencing high levels of burnout, one is more likely to also experience physical and mental health problems (Huberman, 1993). Staff who report high levels of burnout also report having less control of their classrooms, lower commitment to the teaching profession, increased likelihood of quitting (Klassen & Chiu, 2011), and greater absenteeism (Schonfeld, 2001).

Potential Predictors of Burnout

The sections below review factors identified in current research as potential predictors of school staff reports of burnout. This includes teacher's self-efficacy for handling problems in the classroom; their level of connectedness to their school, students, and colleagues; perceptions of safety at school, as well as demographic characteristics.


Across nearly all grade levels, studies have shown that the experience of burnout is related to low levels of self-efficacy to motivate, instruct, and discipline students (Martin, Sass, & Schmitt, 2012; Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2010). Theoretical literature suggests that low self-efficacy precedes burnout, conceptualizing burnout as "a crisis in self-efficacy" (Leiter, 1992). Specifically, this process may occur among teachers who recognize the importance of competence, but lack confidence in their abilities (Brouwers & Tomic, 2000; Friedman & Farber, 1992; Leiter, 1992). Teachers with a low level of mastery may feel more stress than those with high mastery (and thus efficacy), which in turn leads to an increased likelihood of burnout (Chwalisz, Altmaier, & Russell, 1992; Friedman & Farber, 1992). …

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