The extent to which burnout refers to anything other than a depressive condition remains an object of controversy among occupational health specialists. In three studies conducted in two different countries and two different languages, we investigated the discriminant validity of burnout scales by evaluating the magnitude of the correlation between (latent) burnout and (latent) depression. In Study 1 (N = 911), burnout was assessed with the Maslach Burnout Inventory–General Survey’s Exhaustion subscale and depression with the depression module of the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ). In Study 2 (N = 1,386), the Shirom–Melamed Burnout Measure was used to assess burnout and the PHQ, depression. In Study 3 (N = 734), burnout was assessed with the Maslach Burnout Inventory–Educators Survey and depression, with the PHQ and the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scale; additionally, anxiety was measured with the Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale. In each study, we examined the burnout– depression association based on confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), controlling for item-level content overlap. In the three studies, latent exhaustion, the core of burnout, and latent depression were highly correlated (correlations ranging from .83 to .88). In Studies 2 and 3, second-order CFAs indicated that depressive (and anxiety) symptoms and the exhaustion and depersonalization components of burnout are reflective of the same second-order distress/dysphoria factor. Our findings, with their replication across samples, languages, and measures, together with meta-analytic findings, cast serious doubt on the discriminant validity of the burnout construct. The implications of burnout’s problematic discriminant validity are discussed.
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