Handbook of Health Psychology

By Andrew Baum; Tracey A. Revenson et al. | Go to book overview

This seems to be a more promising approach for dealing with individual burnout in its situational context. Moreover, a focus on what would promote engagement in the workplace could be a better framework for developing effective interventions than a focus simply on what would reduce stress. The former is more likely to change the job situation, and the latter leads to strategies of changing the person (Maslach & Goldberg, 1998).

Furthermore, the recognition of six areas of job-person mismatch expands the range of options for intervention. For example, rather than concentrating on the area of work overload for an intervention (such as teaching people how to cope with overload, or how to cut back on work, or how to relax), a focus on some of the other mismatches may be more effec-. tive. People may be able to tolerate greater workload if they value the work and feel they are doing something important, or if they feel well-rewarded for their efforts, and so an intervention could target these areas of value and reward.

Organiizational Interventions

Organizational interventions rooted in ongoing management practices are the most effective and enduring route to alleviating or preventing burnout. They have three critical advantages over individual treatment that people may seek, either on their own initiative or through some sort of employee assistance program. First, organizational interventions have a wider scope. They improve the quality of the work environment for a large number of people, in contrast with the individual focus of most therap.y are not solely oriented toward eliminating a problem; they are directed toward improving the effectiveness of the work setting. This quality of organizational interventions increases their duration because they are not an ongoing cost for an organization, but a means of furthering organizational goals of ser. vice provision or productivity. Third, organizational interventions focus directly on the work environment rather than implicitly blaming the victims for experiencing problems. That is, they approach burnout as a management problem, not as an individual failing. This perspective shifts responsibility for action to a more powerful sector with greater resources for effecting change in organizational life.

An organizational approach to burnout (Maslach & Leiter, 1997) is much more demanding than individual treatment. For one, many more people must reach agreement on the nature of the problem and the urgency in addressing it than is the case with individual treatment. Often important stakeholders in an organization are committed to opposing perspectives on a problem and its solution, as is evident in many conflicts between management and unions or among professional groups. Second, the information required for cooperative action is not readily available. The staff survey process that assesses burnout, engagement with work, and the six areas of organizational life demands considerable time, collaboration, and sophisticated analysis (see Maslach & Leiter, 1997, for a more extensive discussion of this process).

Designing and implementing interventions that have a lasting impact on burnout and its consequences for health are a major challenge in large organizations. The six mismatch framework indicates the range of organizational problems related to burnout. The web of relationships among these six areas of organizational life captures the complexity inherent in an organization. The capacity to make effective interventions will grow with increased knowledge about organizational dynamics and their impact on the thoughts and feelings of the people who make up large organizations.


Burnout is a syndrome of exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment in contrast to engagement with work that is characterized by energy, involvement, and effectiveness. Although the sources and immediate consequences of burnout lie within the work environment, burnout compromises the physical health and psychological well- being of people at work and at home. Alleviating and preventing burnout requires an understanding of six critical areas of work environments: workload, control, reward, community, fairness, and values. These six areas of organizational life have a variety of consequences for the way people feel about their work. This interactive view of burnout provides a rich and dynamic approach to understanding the impact of a critical life arena-the work environment-on health.


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programs. Second, organizational interventions




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