11 - Burnout Among Teachers as a Crisis in Psychological Contracts  pp. 202-210

Burnout Among Teachers as a Crisis in Psychological Contracts

By Michael P. Leiter

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Burnout was first investigated in the 1970s as a crisis of overextended and disillusioned human service workers. Cherniss (1980b) described burnout among human service workers as resulting from the collapse of the professional mystique, in that people entering public human service careers had developed unrealistic expectations about their professions on the basis of their training and general cultural background. They found that their professions did not provide the degree of autonomy and collegiality necessary for fulfilling a professional role. Further, they found much of the work to be tedious, providing routine services to reluctant and ungrateful recipients. The collapse of the professional mystique produced in many new professionals serious doubts about their effectiveness. At the core of the burnout syndrome are conflicts of caregivers' values for enhancing the lives of their recipients with limitations in the structure and process of human service organizations.

In the ensuing two decades, training programs have taken a more proactive approach to preparing students for the real demands and limitations of human service work, and cultural depictions of service providers have become more realistic as well. Service providers continue to experience burnout when resources are inadequate to meet the demands of their work. However, the nature of the syndrome changed as human service occupations evolved as professions.

Currently, the experience of burnout occurs within a decidedly different social context, with human service workers struggling for social credibility and fearing job insecurity.