Job Burnout - The Indian Perspective


Ms. Anviti Gupta
Faculty (HR)
Amity Business School
Amity University
Uttar Pradesh


The Indian Managers today operate in an environment full of uncertainties, turbulence & even hostility.  Competition has increased manifold with its attending consequences both good as well as bad.  It is logical to surmise that stress levels have gone up and burnout is not far.  What is disturbing is the high stress and burnout level at comparatively younger age levels.  We find more & more young managers suffering from psychological distress, depression, anxiety, burnout syndromes & physical ailments.

The Indian Social Scientists in response to the changes and their impact in terms of illness and wellness have paid some attention to these phenomena.  A large number of researchers are devoting time and energy to study the stress process with its accompanying manifestations & consequences.  Burnout which is a negative consequence of chronic stress has been a topic of research of many social researchers. The following article concentrates on the Indian experience of Job Burnout.

Burnout appears to be a response to interpersonal stressors on the job in which an overload of contact with people causes changes in attitude & behavior towards them.  The following article, a step towards explanation of the concept and determinants of Burnout, is the interpretation of various researchers conducted on Burnout in the Indian context.


Burnout, a phenomenon that has been widely acknowledged as an important issue among people helping professional, still lacks both precise theoretical foundations and substantial empirical support.  Its conceptual and operational definitions vary widely.  The broadcast definitions equate Burnout with stress, connect it with a long list of adverse health and well being variables and suggest that it is caused by relentless pursuit of success.

Burnout has been related to human service professions with chronic inter-personal stress as its caused (Maslach and Jackson, 1981).  It is conceived as a state of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, typically occurring as a result of long-term involvement with people in situations, which are emotionally demanding.

Cherniss (1980) states that burnout is transactional process consisting three stages-

a. An imbalance with resources and demands (stress).

b. An immediate short-term emotional response to this imbalance (strain), the response is characterized by feelings of anxiety, tension, fatigue and emotional exhaustion.

c. A number of changes in attitude and behavior.

Burnout can be defined as the end result of stress experienced but not properly coped with resulting in symptoms of exhaustion, irritation, ineffectiveness, discounting of self, others and problems of health (Hypertension, Ulcers and Heart Problems).


The studies so far have been focused on doctors and teachers.  These studies reveal that burnout exists in either low or moderate amount but not in very high amount.  These findings pose certain questions regarding burnout' first, what is it that prevents this dysfunctional consequence of stress from reaching very high levels?  Second, can studies of stress/burnout, work values/work ethics, relationship throw some light on the process that lead to burnout?

On one hand we may think that philosophy of life that an Indian imbibes through specialization leads to high involvement, dedication and commitment in Indians, thereby buffering the effects of chronic stress in terms of burnout or we may say that the rapidly changing values in Indian society have probably led the people-helpers also to attach high importance to money and other motivators.  If so, the lack of high commitment in the initial stage of service or career will result in other dysfunctional consequences of job stress or role stress other than burnout.  The Indian philosophy also emphasizes on the feeling of detachment also with the preference of one's duties.  That also helps him in not being cognitively and emotionally disturbed by loss or gain.  Naidu and Pandey (1986) found detachment to be powerful predictor for perceived distress and strain suggesting the health endowing capacity of the attitude of detachment.

The findings also suggest that certain personality characteristics predispose the people-helpers to burnout.  Further, they often affect burnout in interaction with the coping strategy used by the individual to meet the stressors.  Type A Behavior Pattern, personality hardiness and coping are some such variables related to burnout (Dixit 1992, Sahu 1993).

Some questions are to be answere4d when focusing on the variables related to burnout.  First, apart from personality hardiness and Type A Behavior Pattern (TABP), which other personality characteristics predispose individuals to burnout?  Second, how will specific dimensions of interpersonal interaction between helper-recipient be related to burnout and finally, what are the basic motivations of caregiver's in our country.

The conservation of resources theory holds that when the basic motivation is threatened or denied, stress occurs and when stress consumes all the energy, burnout is bound to occur.  We Indians seem to be quite permissive in our interaction, e.g., even if we are quite discontented by the behavior we do not communicate it to him/her.  Is there not a possibility that such permissiveness will result in the helper not being aware of his/her failure in care giving as experienced by the recipient, thereby not feeling lack of personal accomplishment?

We may reiterate that till now the researches have not focused on how burnout is influenced by commitment in interaction with certain other personality variables. (e.g., Locus of Control, Type A Behavior Pattern).  Will these characteristic values, specially work values and role models acquired through socialization not influence commitment?  The outcome expectation of highly committed internals will differ from those lowly committed internals and so will differ in their experience of burnout.  The latter will develop learned helplessness earlier but-highly committed internal will first make attempts to regain control, and if he meets failure in reaction, he will be a victim of learned helplessness, thus his chances of being burned-out are much less than lowly committed internal.

Prolonged low expectation for reinforcement on the job can lead to feeling of burnout.  Often only the recipient satisfaction is paid high attention but the needs to caregiver are largely ignored.  When the caregiver's need for recognition or self esteem do not find satisfaction by helping the client to improve, he may lack the sense of personal accomplishment through care giving and may thus be burned-out.  Further burnout is more likely to occur if one commitment to ideals of profession is significantly larges than ones sense of satisfaction from work.


So far as the status of theory regarding burnout is concerned, it is still premature to comment on the theoretical status of burnout in India, as very little amount of research has been done till today.  The researches in the west also have rarely yielded conceptual and operational definitions of burnout.  More attention has been given to practical aspects of burnout neglecting the scientific aspects.  It appears that in every parlance of many people-helping professionals, burnout has become a catch work for all type of job and self-dissatisfaction.  The first question that arises in our mind is whether burnout comprises of a unitary phenomenon or not (Paine 1982). Second, Maslach (1981) places most of the blame on the organization.  She holds that in certain jobs there is little that any individual (even the initially highly enthusiastic and committed person) can do prevent burnout. 

But the findings of Jain's Study (1991) and Dixit's study (1992), seem to extend support to interactionist positions which stated that causes of burnout do not reside solely in the individual or in the environment, rather burnout is a function of both individual and environmental influence.  Jain (1991) had observed significant partial effect of social support and Type I coping on stress-burnout relationships and Dixit (1992) obtained a significant effect on job stress and TABP all the three components of burnout thus we have still to find an answer to the question.  Can we account for the beginning and progress of burnout regardless of how the individual things or behave in response to job stress?  Instead of putting all the blame organization on studying both internal and external context of burnout especially how any internal factor interacts with any other external factor so as to give rise to burnout?

We may elaborate this point by seeing how the personal beliefs influence the contextual processing of events, information, behavior and stressors.  For example, a teacher's processing of pupils misbehavior would be dependent on his belief about his misbehavior which would effect his expectation and consequently the chances of his being burned out.  We may also contend that greater the flexibility of beliefs the lesser would be the occurrence of burnout.

Further referring to Maslach's logical conceptualization of burnout we may assume that higher the initial commitment involvement/dedication the later the person would burnout.  Sahu (1993) observed a negative relationship between commitment and efficacy expectations and depersonalization.  But Mishra and Bagchi (1993) did not find a relationship between work alienation and burnout.  The findings, however, are contradictory, thus we may ask what the modifiers of this relationship are or to be specific is job level an important moderator of this relationship.  At this point we may remind ourselves that Maslach (1989) has also held that in certain jobs even the initially highly committed can do little to prevent burnout.  Such contradictory evidence again hints at the possibility that cognitive feelings as well we behavior in response to stress, are all important determinants of Burnout.

Re-enforcement expectation, outcome expectation, efficacy expectation all influence which consequences of stress are experienced by the individual, contextual processing determined how these expectations are learned and changed.  The processing of environmental events (example-forces within the individual can influence thinking about work), memory processes as well as organizational process (example-Group norms) are not solely intrapsychic, rather expectation can be considered which produces readings on self environment interaction.

Further we know that things once memorized effect future processing of events, thus the future experience of stress and strains felt due to them will be dependant on what previous experience the caregiver has in memory and this will in turn be affecting his subsequent feelings such as burnout.  It follows that burnout would be les if the helper is capable of forgetting unpleasant events and experience that might effect the level of consonance he has been maintaining so far.  When the worker is able to reduce the dissonance by reasoning of the unpleasant events, they will not be experienced as strenuous and they will not result in burnout.

We construct models of self and world through internal dialogue and self-talk.  While communicating with people we communicate our internal models verbally and non-verbally.  If our models do not fit exactly to other we experience dissonance and try to sort it out.  Individuals in people-helping work are given an extra does of this dissonance sorting which puts an extra strain on them.  Sometimes they need social withdrawal to be able to sort out what they feel, know and believe.  In this process they may become some what mechanical in their working, depersonalize the client, feel emotionally exhausted and may also feel lack of personal accomplishment from providing help and care to client.


Such theoretical contentions draw our attention to methodological consideration.  Of utmost importance seems to be the longitudinal study of the phenomenon, we may question ourselves Shall we be satisfied with scales or inventories or should we take up a qualitative approach in analyzing the experiences from the day one takes up a people helping profession.

Though qualitative approach will call for more complaints about time pressure from the respondents thereby making data collection more difficult but it is for the researcher to decide whether he will be satisfied with large amount of, but not highly valid information or he will be contended with small but more valid data.


1. Jain, S (1991), Quality of Work Life, Deep & Deep Publication, Delhi

2. Naidu, R.K. (1986), Beliefs, Trust, Impulse Control & Health, Journal of Social & Economic Studies, 3(4).

3. Naidu, R.K. & Pandey N. (1988), On Qualifying a Spiritual Concept: an Interim Research Report about Non-Attachment & Health, Paper presented at National Seminar on Mental Health & Stress, Bhopal.

4. Paine, W.S. (1982), Job Stress & Burnout: Research, Theory & Intervention, Sage Publication, London.

Ms. Anviti Gupta
Faculty (HR)
Amity Business School
Amity University
Uttar Pradesh

Source: E-mail February 19, 2008


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