Burnout: A 3-part series in distilling the research on the lore, the implications and the protections against burnout for career counselors This 3-part series will discuss research from a variety of sources to provide a definition of burnout, where burnout may appear, consequences of burnout, implications of it for career counselors, and lastly, strategies to mitigate the effects of burnout in hope that we may keep our candle lit. This first installment will focus on assessing what burnout is, where it may appear, and the consequences of it.

Burnout. It is a word often utilized to describe this vague sense of a lack of something---lack of energy, lack of fulfillment, and even a lack of feeling like a fully functional human being. This feeling was first described as “burnout” when discussing human service workers—a population which includes career counselors (Freudenberger, 1974). Schaufeli and colleagues provide a metaphor of a candle to describe this “lack.” When sufficient resources are present, the candle may burn bright. When resources are depleted and withdrawn, the candle remains apt to be snuffed—leaving no light for the environment and no purpose for the candle.

Christina Maslach, Ph.D., a renowned scholar on burnout, describes it as a combination of three distinct elements (1981):

  • Emotional exhaustion: Feeling extended emotionally and exhausted while at work
  • Depersonalization: Feeling impersonal towards clientele, towards yourself, and overly cynical to the world
  • Reduced personal accomplishment: Feeling ineffective and inefficient at work

How does it feel to picture the candle without resources? To read these symptoms of burnout? Familiar? Uncomfortable? These feelings tend to not be pleasant. Unfortunately, burnout does not just affect one area of our life.

Additional research from Kristensen and colleagues (2005) shows that burnout is likely to occur in one of three domains:

  • Personal burnout: Focused on fatigue and exhaustion felt by the worker in their life
  • Work-related burnout: Related to burnout in all areas of work which are not client related. These could be organizational, with people in your direct office, or direct organization, or even towards tasks and projects.
  • Client-related burnout: Emphasizes fatigue and exhaustion related to work tasks specifically involving clients.

To further dim one’s happiness, we know that consequences of burnout affect the worker, the client, and even the entire system (Garcia, McGeary, McGeary, Finley, & Peterson, 2014). These effects can be severe. It is likely to decrease the worker’s morale, the worker’s performance, while increasing absenteeism (Maslach, 1978). The system possesses lower staff retention (AbuAlRub & Al-Zaru, 2008), which increases financial costs in loss of productivity, turnover, and in training of new hires (Stoller, Orens, & Kester, 2001).

Perhaps most importantly for career counselors though, it is the client that also suffers. For many, serving the client remains a profound reason for doing the work. Yet, clients of burned out workers are more likely to possess lower quality of care (Leiter, Harvie, & Frizzell, 1998), lower treatment outcomes (Lasalvia et al., 2009), and they are more likely to be the recipient of negative staff attitudes (Holmqvsit & Jeannea, 2006).

Recognizing burnout can also be helpful for working with students. Our next installment will focus on why burnout remains important to career counseling, and different strategies for coping with burnout in various situations. Until then, keep your candle burning.


Craig Warlick is a guest blogger from University of Kansas.