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Burnout

Do You Have a Burnout-Prone Personality?

Rest, or stepping away, can delay burnout but not prevent it.

Key points

  • Burnout is when you have high levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and low levels of personal accomplishment.
  • The two strongest relationships between personality traits and burnout are extroversion and neuroticism.
  • Resting from an environment designed to foster burnout only puts a small stopper in it. It doesn’t curtail or prevent it.

Burnout is when you have high levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and low levels of personal accomplishment. It’s more than just hating your job. Burnout is a multidimensional construct consisting of three separate but related dimensions that include emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment.

Emotional exhaustion comes from feelings of tension and frustration due to your fears that you will be unable to sustain your past levels of work performance. This internalized stress saps your energy to consider adaptive alternatives. You’re just too exhausted to think differently.

Depersonalization is when you distance yourself from your work by creating dehumanizing perceptions of tasks, clients, or coworkers. By doing this, you create barriers in an effort to lessen some of the negative outcomes you’re experiencing at work.

Lastly, (reduced) personal accomplishment, which is when you have self-evaluative feelings of incompetence and lack of achievement at work. This is a component of the imposter syndrome, which is when you doubt your skills, abilities, or achievements and possess a chronic internalized fear of being “found out” that you’re really a fraud.

These three dimensions, which were assessed using the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI; Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1997), are corrosive to your work life, and the more burnt out you are, the greater the likelihood it spills into your home life and personal relationships.

To answer his question, I discuss these three dimensions of burnout from a personality perspective based on the research (Alarcon, Eschleman, & Bowling, 2009; Grist, & Caudle, 2021; Kim, Jörg, & Klassen, 2019; Piedmont, 1993).

I use the Five-Factor Model of personality, which includes (show image): Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. This can be simplified into an acronym, OCEAN to help you remember them.

Emotional exhaustion has been found to be negatively related to extraversion and positively associated with neuroticism. This manifests with feelings of tension and frustration due to your fears that you will be unable to sustain your past levels of work performance, so you seek out solitude, tend to hold things inside while contending with your anxiety, anxious thoughts, and due to this, you become prone to actions without considering the full consequences that come from your behavior.

Depersonalization has been found to be positively related to neuroticism and negatively associated with agreeableness. This manifests as you distancing yourself from your work by creating dehumanizing perceptions of tasks, clients, or coworkers. This results in you experiencing anxiety and anxious thoughts about them and how they perceive you, and this can cause you to feel skeptical about the motives of your coworkers and feel like they may be up to something, and you become cognitively intractable to alternative viewpoints. No matter what anyone says, you cannot be convinced otherwise.

(Reduced) personal accomplishment has been found to be positively associated with extraversion and negatively related to neuroticism. This manifests as you having self-evaluative feelings of incompetence and lack of achievement at work, and even though you’re outgoing, sociable, and try to connect with others in a calm and confident manner, you don’t see the social fruits of your labor. This causes anxiety and a pervasive sense of uneasiness.

The Greatest Personality Link to Burnout

The two strongest relationships between personality traits and burnout are extraversion and neuroticism. Burnout is not a singular issue, and just taking more time to relax has not been found to be highly effective in decreasing burnout (Maslach & Leiter, 2008). Burnout is systemic and must be seen and treated that way. Taking more days off is just not enough. Resting from an environment designed to foster burnout only puts a small stopper in it, doesn’t curtail or prevent it.

Employers, supervisors, and employees must realize that cultures need to change to combat burnout to maximize the power of the personnel they have, or they’ll have higher absenteeism and more employees using health insurance for chronic stress-related issues, which increases premiums. It’s very much a pay now or later issue.

If you believe you may possess those personality characteristics that put you at an increased likelihood of burnout, it is best to see a psychologist who can perform testing to assess not only those characteristics that put you at risk for burnout but can also identify those traits that insulate you from it.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Facebook image: DimaBerlin/Shutterstock

References

Alarcon, G., Eschleman, K. J., & Bowling, N. A. (2009). Relationships between personality variables and burnout: A meta-analysis. Work & stress, 23(3), 244-263.

Kim, L. E., Jörg, V., & Klassen, R. M. (2019). A meta-analysis of the effects of teacher personality on teacher effectiveness and burnout. Educational psychology review, 31(1), 163-195.

Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2008). The truth about burnout: How organizations cause personal stress and what to do about it. John Wiley & Sons.

Maslach, C., Jackson, S. E., & Leiter, M. P. (1997). Maslach burnout inventory. Scarecrow Education.

Piedmont, R. L. (1993). A longitudinal analysis of burnout in the health care setting: The role of personal dispositions. Journal of personality assessment, 61(3), 457-473.

Grist, C. L., & Caudle, L. A. (2021). An examination of the relationships between adverse childhood experiences, personality traits, and job-related burnout in early childhood educators. Teaching and Teacher Education, 105, 103426.

Valcour, M. (2016). Beating burnout. Harvard Business Review, 94(11), 98-101.

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