Factors important in predicting staff burnout in learning disability services identified


We have posted before about the factors which may impact on staff burnout in services supporting people with learning disabilities. Some of the studies we identified have suggested that personal and organisational supports increasing a sense of personal achievement  for staff can provide a buffer against emotional exhaustion and that interventions related to improving mindfulness might increase support staff resilience,

A review also suggested organisational climates with a better ‘person–environment’ fit could promote greater job satisfaction and reduced burnout.

This Australian study looked at the factors contributing to burnout, to try to come to a view about which factors contributed the most to the prediction of the three facets of burnout –

  • feeling exhausted and overextended by one’s work (emotional exhaustion)
  • detached and callous responses towards work (depersonalisation)
  • lack of achievement and productivity within role (personal accomplishment)

The researchers analysed four categories linked to theories of burnout development (individual, interpersonal, organisational and demographic).

They worked with 108 support workers, who were asked to complete a questionnaire with standardised measures of burnout and job stressors related to work supporting people with disabilities.

What they found was that there was a high importance of a range of factors in predicting one or more of the facets of burnout. For each of the categories, they identified the key factors as follows:


  • challenging behaviour


  • workload
  • supervisor support
  • work-home conflict
  • job feedback


  • role ambiguity
  • low job status
  • role conflict


  • gender
  • work hours

They conclude that their findings point to ways in which organisations supporting people with learning disabilities could remodel their staff-related organisational practices to prevent development of burnout in their support workers, for example, increasing supervision and support practices.

Investigating the importance of various individual, interpersonal, organisational and demographic variables when predicting job burnout in disability support workers, Vassos M & Nankervis, K in Research in Developmental Disabilities, 33, 6, 1780–1791


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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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