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Burnout in university teaching staff

Posted by Jayde Cahir on April 15th, 2011

In March, Jenny Watts and Noelle Robertson from the University of Leicester, published an article entitled Burnout in university teaching staff: a systematic literature review, in Educational Research. Watts and Robertson’s article reveals how ‘few studies have investigated the emotional consequences of teachers’ stress and even fewer have specifically focused on university educators. [Their] systematic literature review was thus conducted to evaluate the extent of burnout for university teaching staff and specifically to reveal predictive variables, which may explain this experience in this understudied occupational group’.

Watts and Robertson used ‘six databases including Educational Resources Information Centre (ERIC), PsychINFO and Scopus were searched using the terms burnout, university, academics, teaching staff, lecturers, research staff and faculty. Papers were limited to English language peer-reviewed empirical investigations of burnout in full-time university teaching staff. Papers not adopting a clear operationalisation of burnout were rejected. Twelve papers met the criteria and were included in the review. A detailed data extraction form was used to reveal relevant information from each paper’.

Watts and Robertson claim ‘the review revealed that staff exposure to high numbers of students, especially tuition of postgraduates, strongly predicts the experience of burnout. Other predictive variables included gender, with higher depersonalisation scores found in male teachers and female teachers typically scoring higher on the emotional exhaustion dimension. Age also demonstrated an association, with younger staff appearing more vulnerable to emotional exhaustion. Burnout in university teachers was comparable with other service sector employees such as school teachers and healthcare professionals. The current review reveals a scarcity of comparative studies across different university contexts, therefore multi-site studies are required in order to control for the potential influence of moderating variables such as institution age when measuring burnout in university teachers’.

Reference: Watts, J. · Robertson, N. (2011) ‘Burnout in university teaching staff: a systematic literature review’ Educational Research, 53, 1 pp.33-50.

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