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Burnout has been defined as a job-induced syndrome combining emotional exhaustion, depersonalization/cynicism, and a sense of reduced personal accomplishment. In this article, we expand on past analyses of burnout by reviewing key, yet overlooked, problems affecting the construct. We concomitantly examine the implications of these problems for the overall validity of burnout research. Our work shows that burnout research is undermined by 4 main problems. First, what constitutes a case of burnout is unclear. Second, the basic conceptualization and operationalization of burnout are ill aligned. Third, burnout is unlikely to be the specifically job-induced syndrome it has been posited to be. Fourth, the discriminant validity of the burnout construct is unsatisfactory. These fundamental problems, disregarded for decades, render burnout research inconclusive. This state of affairs (a) bears on researchers’ and practitioners’ ability to monitor and protect workers’ health and (b) prevents public health policymakers from producing authoritative recommendations. The burnout construct thus appears to not well serve the goal of promoting occupational health. The depression construct may offer occupational health specialists a way out of the “burnout impasse.” Depression is diagnosable. Like burnout, depression can be studied dimensionally (i.e., as a process) and examined from both an individual and a social standpoint. Methods for investigating the etiological link between depressive symptoms and disorders and job stress are available.


This work was originally published in International Journal of Stress Management, available at doi:10.1037/str0000088



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