resources for staff

December 2014 wellbeing

Mental Health in Schools Center at UCLA discusses burnout

Minimizing Stress Reactions & Preventing Student and Staff “Burnout”

“Never smile before Christmas” was a phrase a teacher jokingly shared about his philosophy of creating a serious and disciplined classroom. Such an approach, however, takes a toll on both the teachers and school staff, as well as students and families. Since we have made it to the holiday season and it is now safe to smile, it also is time to look at providing the type of student and staff supports that will help make the rest of the school year minimize burnout. The following focuses on staff. It highlights the role of stress in general and so can be applied to students and their families.


What Causes Burnout?

Burnout is used to describe a syndrome that goes beyond physical fatigue from

overwork. Stress and emotional exhaustion are part of it, but the hallmark of

burnout is the distancing that goes on in response to the overload. Christina Maslac


Some Primary Causal Factors:

  • Lack of Control Over One's Destiny >Work Overload or Underload
  • Lack of Occupational Feedback and Communication >Training Deficits
  • Contact overload resulting from the necessity for frequent on-the-job encounters
  • Role conflict/ambiguity (uncertainty about what one is expected to do at work).
  • Individual factors (e.g., financial instability, marital problems, excessive shyness,
  • inflexibility, poor stress management skills)


Some Secondary Factors:

  • Poor working conditions >Lack of job security >Lifestyle changes
  • Rapidly changing society that forces individuals to make unexpected adjustments in

their way of life and work


An Intrinsic Motivational Perspective of Burnout

The behavior referred to as burnout is a psychological phenomenon. One way to understand the problem is in terms of three psychological needs that theorists posit as major intrinsic motivational determinants of behavior. These are the need to feel competent, the need to feel self-determining, and the need to feel interpersonally connected. From this perspective, burnout can be viewed as among the negative outcomes that result when these needs are threatened and thwarted. and, such

needs are regularly threatened and thwarted by the prevailing culture of schools.


Dealing with Burnout

As with so many problems, it is easiest to view burnout as a personal condition. and, as in many other instances, this would be the least effective way to understand what must be done over the long-run to address the matter. The problem is multifaceted and complex. while stress-reduction activities often are prescribed, they are unlikely to be a sufficient remedy for the widespread draining of motivation. Reducing environmental stressors and enhancing job supports are more to the point, but again, alone these are insufficient strategies. The solution requires reculturing schools in ways that minimize the undermining and maximize the enhancement of intrinsic motivation. This involves policies and practices that ensure a daily focus


Individuals are capable of learning new coping skills.

Research demonstrates that educational sessions are effective in helping individuals to

learn to cope with the demands of their jobs.

• Changing the job environment, as well as the person in it, is essential for

interventions to deal with burnout.

The most effective interventions combine changes in managerial practice with

individual-level educational interventions.

• A combined managerial and educational approach to intervention tends to

emphasize building engagement with work.

Focusing on engagement creates an increased alliance with the organizational mission.

Work settings which support positive development of energy, vigor, involvement,

dedication, absorption, and effectiveness among employees should be successful in

promoting their well-being and productivity.


Promoting Well-Being and Preventing Burnout

School-based programs should include the following key elements:

• Inducting newcomers into the school culture in a welcoming and socially supportive way.

• Opening classroom doors and creating appropriate teams of staff and students who

support, nurture, and learn from each other every day.

• Personalized staff development and support, including:

In-service programs that account for interests strengths, weaknesses and limitations;

Approaches that overcome avoidance motivation;

Structure that provides personalized support and guidance;

Instruction designed to enhance and expand intrinsic motivation for learning and

problem solving.

• Restructuring school governance to enable shared decision-making.


All staff can play a role in providing strategies and skills so everyone at a school can take

care of each other and enhance a nurturing environment.


A Few Related Center Resources

Burnout – http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/qf/burnout.htm


Understanding and Minimizing Staff Burnout –

http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/Burnout/burn1.pdf


School Staff Burnout – http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/pdfdocs/Burnout/burn1.pdf


Environments that Support Learning – http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/qf/environments.htm