The Psychological Elements of Burnout and the Measures/Strategy to Preventing Employee Job Stress

‘'Burnout can be determined with a piece of equipment administered to employees''. The scale that has gained popularity in measuring employee burnout is the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). The MBI assesses the three (3) dimensions of burnout (such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization/cynicism and decreased individual accomplishment).

The reliability and the validity of the MBI construct have been questioned by early research scholars that led to further review of the measure. Early scientific researchers perceived that the MBI evaluated only the first dimension of burnout (emotional depletion) but didn't touch on the remaining two areas of job burnout which calls for further research of the construct. The original MBI was initially found to review the human service professions. In recent times, this thought has been stretched to impact all types of professions. The MBI birthed different versions (e.g. the MBI-Human Service Survey (MBI-HSS); the MBI-General Survey (MBI-GS); and the MBI-Education Survey (MBI-ES). The MBI-HSS, the MBI-ES and the MBI-GS scales, measure the three (3) dimensions of burnout. These versions of the MBI are very reliable and valid measures for predicting burnout outcomes and the strategies to adopt in the prevention of employee job burnout.


The psychological element of reduced workers productivity and incentives in organisations is caused as a result of employees' limited autonomy (job demand/control) to work tasks. Job Demand/Control may stem from an employee's capacity to influence what can happen in his/her job schedule. It can be having control over work tasks, the control over work timing and the freedom of working independently without being micromanaged. High job demand is very tiring and detrimental to an employee's psychological, physical, and behavioural health and well-being. The psychological effects can be emotional reactions (such as frustration and fatigue), the physical symptoms derived from headaches, stomach upsets, and sicknesses and the behavioural effect, for example, accident, turnover, the use of dangerous substances or any unforeseen circumstantial event that can cause behavioural responses for an employee.

In the literature work of Bakker and Costa (2014), the researchers contend that ‘'employees who are faced with huge job burnout are seldom found in a working context with job higher demand and poor job resources''.

Organisations must provide dyadic support (social and organisational) perspectives of the job for employees. For instance, the fostering of a healthy and ethical connection between employees and managers/supervisors will build and improve employee's health and well-being, and in turn, boost job productivity. The psychological factor of burnout is the harmful physical and emotional response that may occur when the job requirements (job demand) do not match the ability/capabilities of the needs of the workers (job resources). Aguenza & Ahmad (2012) termed the job demand/control concept as job characteristics/control. The literature affirms that job characteristics are the extent to which the work provides substantial independence/freedom for employees to have control over their scheduled work and to determine the process of executing such work.

In an early work of literature, the Karasek Demand/Control model (1979) was established to create a balance between high job demand and work control schedules. The model claims that job demands are a class of stressors like workload that needs employee job adjustment all the time. The theory also presumes that a person gets to be adapted to the environmental manipulation of the job. As such, job demand may lead to job strains if there is an employee limited control over the job - but when job control is on the high side, job demand cannot lead to employee burnout. In brief, the model suggests that giving employees control over their work tasks and the decrease of micromanagement in an organisation can be a successful strategy for reducing or preventing burnout and workers reduced productivity and motivation. Although, the research support for the Karasek's Demand/Control model has been tainted according to (Spector, 2012, p. 286) with only small numbered pieces of literature finding its hypothesized reliability and validity. In recent research, the establishment of the Job Demand-Resources theory/model (JD-R) has better-predicted employee job burnout and outcome. The (JD-R) theory is a two-way process model. While job demand predicts employees' job burnout and outcomes, job resources better predict motivation and reward (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007, 2014; Bakker et al., 2014). 


Another strategy for decreasing job burnout for an employee is through work-life balance. Work-life balance has become a prevalent issue at work specifically in a society full of contradictory obligation. The conflict that exists between work and career path and between private daily living has been predominant in our society. There is a need for organisations to adopt work-life balance policies to assist employees to reduce stressful situations at work. The adoption of work-life balance policy within organisations will impact and help to reduce family life conflict and employee job burnout, thereby, increasing work commitment and motivation as workers know that their work-life and family life are been met. The establishment of work-life balance policy in the workplace for employers will mean more staff loyalty and work commitment and in turn, bring about the reduction of employee turnover intention. In a recent survey, as cited by Aguenza & Ahmad (2012), Green Slopes, a private Hospital in Australia found that investing in employees better work and family initiatives led to a 5.5% decrease in employee turnover and a 23% reduction in staff compensation costs. In a like manner also, as cited by (Aguenza & Ahmad, 2012) St George Bank in Australia, reported a reduction in employee turnover from 18% in 2001 to 15% in 2006; an improved employee satisfaction from 48% in 2002 to 73% of employees in 2006 as some of the positive results of recommending work-life balance policy initiative at work. Work-life balance policies aimed at improving employee's health and well-being are successful if they are implemented in an organisation that is supportive of employee's success. 

Accordingly, the following are the suggested strategies for preventing or treating burnout. These strategies include:

  1. An extreme change in the working process, for example, working less, abstaining or reduction from overtime job and balancing between work and family life.
  2. Resolving employee-supervisor conflict (organizational conflict).
  3. Adoption of a good time management policy through employee personal goal setting.
  4. Promoting healthy living (fitness) through different forms of therapy and counselling sections.
  5. Setting boundaries that involve effective utilization methods. (For example, solving work-related issues, taking work breaks very seriously and going for short vacations).

A current systematic review and meta-analysis study was conducted by (Ahola, Toppinen-Tanner and Seppanen, 2017) to come to terms with the existing research concerning the impact of alleviating burnout intervention and the support to return to work among burnout victims. The result indicated that employers need to set up preventive strategies to help the sufferers of burnout return to work and to create an environment that is supportive of their health and well-being.

Burnout can be alleviated through several means which includes alleviating the burnout syndrome during the occurrence and to take precautionary measures before it occurs via organisational preventive strategies. Burnout is detrimental to an employee's health and well-being and organisational productivity. Collective factors, for example, poor management, job dissatisfaction, wrong recruitment and selection process, etc. can cause burnout and in turn, lead to organisational turnover.


In summary, reduced workers productivity and incentives have been a critical issue that is challenging organisations/businesses. The link between burnout and workers performance is the burnout syndrome itself. ‘'Burnout'' has a dangerous effect on employees working life. It can impact negatively on workers productivity and organisational resources. Organisations need to create a very strong job characteristics/control policy that can support the decrease of higher job demand and favour the increase of job resources by effecting or establishing an adequate training and development programme in the workplace.



Aguenza, B.B., & Ahmad, P.M.S. (2012). Motivational Factors of Employee Retention and Engagement in Organizations. International Journal of Advances in Management and Economics, 1(6), 88-95. Retrieved from

Ahola, K., Toppinen-Tanner, S., and Seppanen, J. (2017). Interventions to alleviate burnout symptoms and to support the return to work among employees with burnout: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Burnout Research, 4, 1-11. https://doi/10.1016/j.burn.2017.02.001

Bakker, A.B. (2009). Building engagement in the workplace. In The Peak Performing Organization. (ed.). RJ. Burke, CL Cooper, pp. 50–72. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Bakker, A.B., Demerouti, E., & Sanz-Vergel, A.I. (2014). Burnout and Work Engagement: The JD-R Approach. The Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behaviour, 1, 389-411. doi://10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091235

Bakker, A.B., and Costa, P.L. (2014). Chronic Job Burnout and Daily Functioning: A theoretical analysis. Journal of Burnout Research, 1(3), 112-119.

Bakker, A.B., and Demerouti, E. (2014). Job demands–resources theory. In Wellbeing: A Complete Reference Guide. (ed.). C Cooper, P Chen, pp. 37–64. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bakker, A.B., and Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands–resources model: state of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 223), 309–328. doi:

Karasek, R.A., Jr. (1979). “Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implication for job redesign. Administrative Science Quarterly, 24(2), 285-308. Retrieved from

Spector, P.E. (2012). Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Research and Practice, International Student Version. (6th ed.). USA: Wiley.


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