Towards a Brief Definition of Burnout Syndrome by Subtypes

Development of the "Burnout Clinical Subtypes Questionnaire" (BCSQ-12)

Jesús Montero-Marín; Petros Skapinakis; Ricardo Araya; Margarita Gili; Javier García-Campayo


Health and Quality of Life Outcomes. 2011;9(74) 

In This Article


Burnout syndrome is considered a uniform condition with relatively consistent aetiology and symptoms resulting from prolonged exposure to chronic stressors in the workplace.[1] This syndrome tends to be given standard operationalization through the "Maslach Burnout Inventory General Survey" (MBI-GS) by means of the dimensions of 'exhaustion', 'cynicism' and professional 'inefficacy'.[2] 'Exhaustion' is the feeling of not being able to offer any more of oneself at an emotional level; 'cynicism' is contemplated as a distant attitude towards work; and 'inefficacy' is the feeling of not performing tasks adequately.

Clinical experience, however, shows that burnout is manifested in different ways that can be classified depending on the level of dedication with which individuals cope with work-related tasks.[3,4] The "frenetic" burnout sub-type is characterized by the investment of a large amount of time to work and is common in highly involved, ambitious and overloaded individuals. 'Involvement' is the investment of every effort required to overcome difficulties; 'ambition' is a great need to obtain important success and achievements at work; and 'overload' is risking one's own health and neglecting of one's own personal life in the pursuit of good results.[4–7] The "underchallenged" burnout subtype is influenced by the occupation type. It appears in indifferent and bored individuals who do not find personal development in their work. 'Indifference' is lack of concern, interest and enthusiasm in work-related tasks; 'boredom' is caused by the understanding of work as a mechanical and routine experience with little variation in activities; and 'lack of development' is the absence of personal growth experiences for individuals together with their desire for taking on other jobs where they can better develop their skills.[4–7] The "worn-out" burnout subtype is determined by the rigidity of the organizational structure of an individual's workplace and is characterized by a lack of control over results, lack of recognition for efforts and neglect of responsibilities. 'Lack of control' is the feeling of helplessness as a result of dealing with many situations that are beyond their control; 'lack of acknowledgement' is the belief that the organizations those individuals work for fail to take their efforts and dedication into account; and 'neglect' refers to individuals' disregard as a response to any difficulty.[4–7]

This conceptualization of burnout, operationalized through the "Burnout Clinical Subtype Questionnaire" (BCSQ-36), is very useful for the specific evaluation of the syndrome and for the design of treatment strategies depending on the characteristics of each clinical case. This is practicable given that it provides a broader framework that exceeds the possibilities for evaluation and intervention implicit in the standard design of the MBI-GS, which is more directed towards a unified (although three-dimensional) definition of the syndrome.[7,8]

The dimensions of 'overload', 'lack of development' and 'neglect', belonging to the subtypes of "frenetic", "underchallenged" and "worn-out", respectively, could construct a brief definition of burnout that is able to bring the typological perspective of the BCSQ-36 closer to the MBI-GS standard.[8] These dimensions have been proposed as a definition of burnout that could cover common ground between the typological and standard approaches, and have been selected as a result of a second order factor analysis, carried out between the dimensions of BCSQ-36 and MBI-GS taken together.[1,2,4,7,8] These dimensions showed good discriminant validity, which makes them very useful for the brief identification of clinical subtypes of burnout.[8] However, it is necessary to explore and confirm the structure of this new definition, in view of the fact that it groups the items of the original scale in a different way. It will also be necessary to analyse its criterion validity because this new design reduces the extent of the initial typological definition.

The main objectives of this study were to test the factorial structure of the differential design proposed by means of the dimensions of 'overload', 'lack of development' and 'neglect' through the BCSQ-12, and to estimate its discriminatory strength compared to the dimensions of 'exhaustion', 'cynicism' and 'inefficacy' of the MBI-GS standard. We also proposed to evaluate the internal consistency of the dimensions and possible differences caused by gender and occupation.


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