Burn-out und Werte in der Arbeitswelt

Ist Burn-out eine Epidemie, die die gesamte Arbeitswelt erfasst hat? Oder ein Erschöpfungszustand, der zu oft diagnostiziert wird? Und wenn letzteres, warum ist das so? Ist Burn-out nur ein Hype, ausgelöst von der größeren Visibilität psycho-sozialer Themen und hinausgeplärrt in die Welt durch soziale Medien? Darüber ließe sich wohl trefflich streiten – hier werden wir diese Fragen weder behandeln noch lösen. Allerdings möchte ich mich euch einen Artikel der BBC Worklife teilen, in dem führende Burn-out Wissenschaftler das Thema differenziert beleuchten. Warum ich in meinem Blog plötzlich über Burn-out spreche?

Christina Maslach und Michael Leiter, die im folgenden Artikel genannten Experten, stellen das Phänomen „Burn-out“ in einen organisationalen Kontext. Diagnostiziert eine Organisation bei ihren MitarbeiterInnen ein Ansteigen der drei Auslöserfaktoren (fehlendes Engagement, nachlassende Wirksamkeit, zunehmender Zynismus), dann es ist an der Zeit gegenzusteuern und organisationale Schäden zu verhindern. Fehlendes Engagement zieht operationales Risiko nach sich, nachlassende Wirksamkeit schlägt sich in Key Performance Ratios nieder, Zynismus führt zu einer organisationalen Depression und vergiftet die Unternehmenskultur nachhaltig.

Das „Gegengift“, das Maslach und Leiter verschreiben, besteht aus nachfolgenden „organisational detox“ - Maßnahmen:

. Identifikation der gefährdeten Organisationseinheiten

. „Empowerment“ der betroffenen MitarbeiterInnen, indem ihnen weitreichendere Kompetenzen, Pouvoirs und Selbstbestimmung in der Arbeitsweise eingeräumt werden als bis dato.

Klingt einfach, wird aber kaum praktiziert. Dabei stärken Ermessensfreiheit und Kontrollumkehr das Selbstwirksamkeitserleben der betroffenen MitarbeiterInnen und lassen auch hohe Zielvorgaben, intensive Jobs und schwierige Arbeitsbedingungen bewältigbar erscheinen. Das sollte nicht weiter erstaunen, zeigt doch meine Studie Werte in der Arbeitswelt - was Arbeitnehmer und Arbeitgeber verbindet, dass das Streben nach Selbstbestimmung, Eigenständigkeit und Autonomie einerseits wesentliche Treiber menschlichen Verhaltens und andererseits Leistungsverstärker in der Arbeitswelt sind. Allerdings zeigt die Studie auch auf, dass ArbeitnehmerInnen in der DACH-Region diese Leistungsverstärker in der Arbeitswelt vermissen. Traditionell-hierarchische Unternehmenskulturen, in denen der organisationale Sinn für Empowerment gering ausgeprägt ist, scheinen vorzuherrschen. Ein Grund mehr, solche Kulturen schleunigst zu dekonstruieren und damit einen wichtigen Beitrag für Gesundheit, Nachhaltigkeit, Effektivität und Effizienz zu leisten. Wer sich in diesem Zusammenhang für die Sichtweisen von ArbeitnehmerInnen auf den „Wohlfühlfaktor“ in ihren Unternehmen interessiert, sei auf ein separates Kapitel in der obengenannten Studie verwiesen.

Der nachstehende Artikel wurde unter dem Titel „Why we may be measuring burnout all wrong“ am 29.4.2021 von Kate Morgan auf BBC Worklife veröffentlicht. Ich gebe ihn hier auszugsweise wieder.


[…] In 1981, Christina Maslach, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, developed the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), to define and measure the condition. “The challenge is people use the term to mean different things,” says Maslach. “It’s a catchy term, so people apply it to all kinds of stuff. So, are we all speaking the same language?” The MBI attempts to clarify the subject by evaluating burnout based on three criteria: exhaustion or total lack of energy, feelings of cynicism or negativity toward a job and reduced efficacy or success at work. Respondents get scores in all three areas along a continuum, from more positive to more negative. A burnout profile requires a negative score in all three. “There’s a tendency to think if you score negatively on one measure, you’re burnt out,” says Maslach, but that’s an incorrect usage of the MBI. The biggest misconception about burnout, adds Michael Leiter, a Nova Scotia-based organisational psychologist and the co-author, with Maslach, of The Truth About Burnout, is that it’s the same as exhaustion.

“People use burnout as a synonym for tired, and they’re missing the point that there’s a world of difference between those two states,” says Leiter. He gives the example of obstetricians, who often work chaotic schedules. “They’re delivering babies at all hours of the night, and they’re totally exhausted, but they’re bringing new life into the world, and making people’s lives better, and they care about that work. That’s overextended and exhausted, but it’s not burnout.” There are plenty of others who meet one of the MBI criteria. “The second largest group, after people who are just exhausted, is people who aren’t fully engaged,” says Leiter. “They’re going to work and it’s not exciting, it just pays the bills. There’s another group that are just cynical. They don’t care about the clientele, or the work.” Still others may have low efficacy, with careers that are stalled for one reason or another.

But fewer people can report that all three conditions apply. I can’t. While I’ve definitely experienced exhaustion, and even some disengagement, I still love what I do and haven’t become cynical about my work. It takes all three – exhaustion, cynicism and lack of efficacy – to get what’s scientifically defined as burnout. The majority of us aren’t there. “It’s not an epidemic; it’s over-diagnosed,” says Leiter. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, or that conversations around burnout aren’t increasing for a reason. “Qualities of burnout are on the rise,” concedes Leiter. “Certainly, more people are heading in that direction.” […]

Burnout is a spectrum, and most of us are on it. Early this year, when job search site Indeed surveyed 1,500 US workers across ages and industries, more than half reported that they’re experiencing burnout. And more than two-thirds said the pandemic had made burnout worse.

That survey did not use the MBI, and chances are most of those respondents were using the colloquial definition of burnout, not the scientific one. But while burnout – the kind defined by three negative MBI scores – is a profile that Maslach says typically applies to 10% to 15% of people, that doesn’t mean everyone else is all the way on the other end of the spectrum.

In fact, Maslach and Leiter’s newer research identifies three profiles in between: overextended, ineffective and disengaged. Evidence suggests more than half of employees fall into one of these profiles, with a strong negative score in exhaustion, efficacy or cynicism. They’re not yet burnt out – but they’re on the way. For people in many professions, says Leiter, things have only got worse as a result of the pandemic, with efficacy issues especially becoming overwhelming. “Schoolteachers have struggled to continue teaching, and haven’t felt accomplished,” he says. “They just know they’re not being the teacher they were before, and that’s discouraging. It’s the same for physicians. It’s improved, but early in the game there were no protocols for dealing with Covid, and everything they were doing was wrong.”

Those issues have shifted the data on burnout. A study conducted between March and June of 2020 administered a series of tests, including a burnout inventory similar to the MBI, to more than 3,500 healthcare workers in the UK, Poland and Singapore. Just under 67% measured as burnt out. While historically the true burnout profile for employees in all professions hovers just above 10%, Maslach says “that’s clearly gone up” in light of the pandemic. Now, she believes, it may be closer to 20%.

And that’s a huge problem, because true burnout can’t be fixed with a vacation or a wellness retreat. “When people really get to the extreme, the vast majority can’t go back to the same employer or the same kind of work,” says Leiter. “They have to change careers. Burnout runs so deep – just even the feel of going into that building, or that sort of building can be a trigger. It very often prompts career change.” […]

Avoiding true burnout on a wide scale is vital, especially because it could mean a drain of qualified people from skilled professions. That’s where the MBI, and tests like it, become invaluable tools.

Learning that I was not, in fact, experiencing real burnout was helpful. I was able to evaluate what I was actually feeling (overextension), and start thinking about what was causing that and what changes I could make. That is the point of a burnout inventory; it’s not really about diagnosing or ruling out burnout. In fact, says Maslach, “it’s not a diagnostic tool at all. People have misused it that way, but it’s a research measure.”

Though it’s administered to individuals, what the MBI is really designed to measure is their environment. “If there are negative scores, it doesn’t mean the problem is the individual. It’s what they’re responding to,” says Maslach. “You’re not trying to figure out who it’s happening to, you’re trying to figure out whyit’s happening. You don’t use it by itself, you use it with other data to say why is the pattern of scores the way it is? Those scores should be used as warning signals.”

An organisation seeing scores on the negative end of the spectrum should be acting quickly, says Maslach, and that doesn’t mean offering yoga classes or mindfulness seminars. “Work is getting tougher, longer and harder to do. People are working more hours because they’re scared they won’t get a promotion, or will lose their job. Doing more with less is at the heart of corporate culture, and that’s not how people do the best work,” she says. “There’s this gigantic self-care industry out there all focused on how to cope with that stress; but to prevent, or reduce, or eliminate burnout, it’s not about fixing the people. It’s about fixing the job.” It’s not actually about measuring how many workers are or are almost burnt out, says Maslach. It’s about identifying workplaces with unmanageable workloads, and using that information to give employees more control, better tools and the discretion to figure out how to do their jobs better – without burning out.

“There’s that old saying, ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,’” says Maslach. “The thrust of our argument is, why don’t you change the heat? How about redesigning the kitchen?”