Beating Burnout: 6 Factors to Watch

Tips for international educators—especially those in leadership positions—to identify and address burnout at work.
By developing collaborative relationships with employees, leaders can address each of the six factors and reduce or prevent burnout among staff. Photo: Shutterstock
 

In her op-ed “A Better Way to Beat Burnout” (published in The LiGHT Book in 2020), Christina Maslach, PhD, professor emerita of psychology at the University of California-Berkeley, writes, “The research evidence points to the work environment as the source of burnout, so maybe the appropriate strategy is to fix the job. But I want to argue that an even better strategy is to do both, by fixing the fit between the person and the job.” She identifies six factors that can cause burnout or that can be addressed to prevent it.

The Six Factors

  1. Workload: the balance between demands and resources
  2. Control: the amount of autonomy and choice
  3. Reward: the likelihood of deserved recognition
  4. Community: the social and interpersonal climate in the workplace
  5. Fairness: the presence of ethical and impartial practices and policies
  6. Values: the meaning and importance of the work

“Sometimes it’s finding those little pebbles in the shoes—the chronic stressors that are there all the time, that drive employees nuts, and that take away from the joy and fulfillment of doing the work,” Maslach says. “It can be as simple as asking, ‘How could we do this differently?’ And sometimes the fix doesn’t require a lot of money.”

Often, managers can be misguided in their efforts to improve employees’ well-being, Maslach says. She cites the example of a well-intentioned manager who had an expensive volleyball court installed on the roof of the company’s building. However, it is rarely used, she says, because few employees have time to get a team together and play during the workday. 

“Fixing” the workplace requires listening to employees and being open to their ideas for improving processes, streamlining workflows, boosting productivity, and enhancing the overall work environment. She suggests collaborating with employees to identify “the smaller pebbles, rather than the bigger boulders” that create challenges on the job.

A Practical Approach in Action

This is the approach Sabrina Bahir, MA, took. As director of global enrollment management at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, she began rewriting her department’s strategic plan last year, and she invited her team’s input on the institution’s operations for international recruitment and admissions.

One idea that emerged from these conversations was the development of an agent-accessible online portal containing resources and training materials. This site, which is currently in development, will help reduce the amount of time Bahir and her staff must invest in managing relationships with overseas agents who represent the institution’s international recruitment efforts.

“I think my team’s investment [in solutions] is really critical,” Bahir says. “They’re a generation younger than me, and I think their ideas are really important piece of this to understand their perspective. We scheduled regular meetings just to look at how we’ve been operating, talk through the challenges, and identify where we could innovate.”  

Collaborate and Communicate

By developing collaborative relationships with employees, leaders can address each of the six factors identified above, helping to reduce or prevent burnout. Maslach emphasizes the importance of two-way, rather than top-down, communication to identify and manage the chronic job stressors creating problems for employees. 

Before making changes, it’s critical for managers to get feedback from the people who will be expected to implement those new ways of doing things.  

“Too often I have seen leaders do something to fix the workplace without having any communication with the people who will have to live with that fix and deal with the level of ‘misfit’ every day,” Maslach writes in the op-ed. She encourages leaders to “get to know your employees, understand the stressors they face, and collaborate with them to achieve a better fit between the worker and the workplace.”  •

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NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world's largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education and exchange. NAFSA's 10,000 members are located at more than 3,500 institutions worldwide, in over 150 countries.