A burnout is the exhaustion of your body and mind due to a long period (years) of high work pressure or stressful (work) conditions. Not only do environmental factors play a role in the development of a burnout, individual factors, such as personality traits, can also play an important role in the development of a burnout.
Personality traits and risk of burnout
Research has shown that many personality traits are related to the three dimensions of burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and decreased personal performance. Emotional exhaustion refers to energy loss. Depersonalization refers to the development of a negative, cynical attitude towards others. Decreased personal performance is the tendency to judge one’s own work negatively.
Five Factor Model of Personality
A lot of the recent research on personality is based on the Five-Factor Model. This model divides personality traits into five different factors, which you can relate to the risk of developing a burnout.
Factor 1: Emotional stability
Emotional stability refers to the extent to which a person can cope with negative emotions, such as anxiety, hostility, frustration, and guilt, effectively. Research shows that emotionally stable people are less likely to develop a burnout. People with emotional instability are more likely to experience negative and anxious emotions and are more likely to be affected by them. They therefore run a greater risk of becoming burned out.
Factor 2: Extraversion
Extraversion refers to the extent to which someone is cheerful, sociable and enthusiastic. Extroverted people generally experience their work environment as positive because they often elicit positive reactions from colleagues. People who are extroverted are therefore more likely to describe their work environment as positive than people who are less extroverted. As a result, there is a smaller chance that they will be negatively influenced by their work environment, thus reducing the risk of a burnout.
Factor 3: Conscientiousness
Conscientiousness refers to the extent to which a person is performance-oriented, goal-oriented, organized and responsible. This results in less emotional exhaustion, less depersonalization, and a greater sense of professional confidence and personal competence. Conscientious people can manipulate their work environment in such a way that stressors decrease or disappear. They often employ problem-solving coping strategies. In addition, people with high conscientiousness often trigger positive reactions from colleagues. Conscientious people are less likely to give up and may have high expectations of themselves, but in general, someone who is conscientious is less likely to getting a burnout than someone who is less or not conscientious.
Factor 4: Kindness or altruism
Kindness refers to the degree to which a person cooperates, cares, trusts and is sympathetic to others. Kindness is positively related to personal ability and achievement and negatively to emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation. Kind people are often treated well because they treat others well. They may be more likely to receive social support and to trust people for help with their problems and are more cooperative. This can reduce feelings of cynicism and promote feelings of personal competence. People who have a kind personality may, therefore, be less prone to developing burnout.
Factor 5: Openness
Openness refers to the degree to which a person values authenticity, change and variation. People with this trait are imaginative, creative thinkers and are open to new experiences and ideas. They often use humour to deal with stress and are less likely to see situations as threatening but view them as a challenge. Openness has a positive relationship with personal competence, but the relationship between openness and burnout has never been proven. So, for the time being, we can say that openness has little or no relation to burnout.
Personality traits as predictors of burnout
In addition to the factors mentioned above, there are a number of personality traits that can be predictors for the development of a burnout. Namely:
- Core Self-Evaluation
Core Self-Evaluation (CSE) is about the fundamental belief in one’s own abilities and one’s belief in self-worth. CSE consists of four features:
- General belief in one’s own abilities (self-efficacy)
- Emotional stability
- The belief that you are in control (internal locus of control)
People with a high CSE see a difficult assignment as an opportunity to succeed because of their high self-confidence. People with a low CSE are more likely to see a difficult work assignment as threatening and stressful. They prefer routine work, for example. A low CSE is expected to be associated with a greater risk of developing a burnout.
- Positive affect and negative affect
Positive affect is the tendency to experience positive emotions, such as happiness, excitement, and joy. Negative affect refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions such as sadness, fear, and hostility. People with a high positive affect are more likely to see their work as enjoyable, while employees with a high negative affect often experience their work environment as unpleasant and stressful. Negative affect increases the risk of developing a burnout, while positive affect can actually decrease the risk of developing a burnout.
Optimism is the tendency to believe that good things will happen in the future. Optimism would be negatively associated with burnout, as optimists most likely see their work stresses as temporary. Pessimists, on the other hand, would be more likely to view work stressors as permanent. Pessimistic people therefore have a greater chance of becoming burned out.
- Proactive personality
Proactive people look for opportunities, get into action, show initiative and persevere until change has taken place. A proactive personality can therefore lower the chance of getting burned out. He/she would be more likely to choose an environment that is open to making changes than someone with a reactive personality.
Resilience is the extent to which a person can handle stressors without experiencing psychological or physical strains. Resilient individuals believe they can control things that happen to them. That is why resilient workers see difficult work situations as challenges rather than threats. Resilient employees, therefore, probably have less of a chance of developing a burnout.
- Type A Personality
A type A personality describes the extent to which a person is hostile, aggressive and impatient. People with a type A personality often view the work environment as negative and tend to see small things as unfair. They are more likely to be stimulated and take things personally, to which they are more likely to give a negative response, such as complaining or getting angry. This often provokes a negative reaction from colleagues and can lead to the colleague in question being avoided. This can make someone feel negative about themselves and lead to them becoming even more negative as a result. In addition, people with a type A personality are more likely to choose a stressful job and are more likely to provoke stressors. Research has shown that people with a type A personality are, therefore, generally more prone to developing a burnout.
Risks for a Burnout
Alarcon, G., Eschleman, K. J., & Bowling, N. A. (2009). Relationships between personality variables and burnout: A meta-analysis. Work & stress, 23(3), 244-263.
Bateman, T. S., & Crant, J. M. (1993). The proactive component of organizational behavior: A measure and correlates. Journal of organizational behavior, 14(2), 103-118.
Bowling, N. A., Beehr, T. A., & Swader, W. M. (2005). Giving and receiving social support at work: The roles of personality and reciprocity. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 67(3), 476-489.
Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Normal personality assessment in clinical practice: The NEO Personality Inventory. Psychological assessment, 4(1), 5.
Kobasa, S. C., Maddi, S. R., & Kahn, S. (1982). Hardiness and health: a prospective study. Journal of personality and social psychology, 42(1), 168.
Lau, B., Hem, E., Berg, A. M., Ekeberg, Ø., & Torgersen, S. (2006). Personality types, coping, and stress in the Norwegian police service. Personality and individual Differences, 41(5), 971-982.
Magnano, P., Paolillo, A., & Barrano, C. (2015). Relationships between personality and burn-out: an empirical study with helping professions’ workers. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Research, 1, 10-19.
Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 397-422.
Piedmont, R. L. (1993). A longitudinal analysis of burnout in the health care setting: The role of personal dispositions. Journal of personality assessment, 61(3), 457-473.
Spector, P. E., & O’Connell, B. J. (1994). The contribution of personality traits, negative affectivity, locus of control and Type A to the subsequent reports of job stressors and job strains. Journal of Occupational and Organizational psychology, 67(1), 1-12.
Van Katwyk, P. T., Fox, S., Spector, P. E., & Kelloway, E. K. (2000). Using the Job-Related Affective Well-Being Scale (JAWS) to investigate affective responses to work stressors. Journal of occupational health psychology, 5(2), 219.