Irvin Sam Schonfeld (The City College and Graduate Center of CUNY); Renzo Bianchi (University of Neuchâtel)
The study’s purpose is to extend the literature on the link between burnout and depression by examining the relationship of two well-known burnout measures, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI; Maslach et al., 2016) and the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory (CBI; Kristensen et al., 2005), to a newly validated measure expressly developed to assess job-related depression, the Occupational Depression Inventory (ODI; Bianchi & Schonfeld, 2020). Meier and Kim (2021) recently suggested that the ODI “provides one avenue for addressing this gap in the literature” pertaining to burnout and depression.
1. In a sample of French schoolteachers (Sample 1) administered the MBI’s subscales, we hypothesized the ODI-Emotional Exhaustion (EE) correlation would exceed the EE-Depersonalization (DP) and EE-Personal Accomplishment (PA) correlations. We hypothesized that in a sample of New Zealand teachers (Sample 2), the correlation of the ODI and the CBI, which largely measures exhaustion, would be comparable to that of ODI-EE correlation.
2. At a more granular level, we applied Exploratory Structural Equation Modeling (ESEM) bifactor analysis of Sample 1 data. We hypothesized that the ODI items and the MBI’s EE items would align on the same general factor and less closely on their specific factors, i.e., bifactors. We hypothesized that the DP and PA items would align more strongly on their respective bifactors than on the general factor.
3. In an ESEM bifactor analysis on the Sample 2 data, we hypothesized that the ODI items and the CBI items would align on the same general factor.
4. We hypothesized that the provisional diagnoses of job-related depression an ODI-related algorithm generates is related to scores on all burnout scales, but to a greater extent to EE and the CBI.
In view of accumulated research linking depressive symptoms and disorders to adverse work experiences (Madsen et al., 2017; Nieuwenhuijsen et al., 2010; Schonfeld & Chang, 2017), we developed the ODI (Bianchi & Schonfeld, 2020), the only instrument of its kind. Its items reference the nine core DSM-5 symptoms of major depression. The ODI differs from standard depressive symptom scales, which are cause-neutral. The ODI assesses work-ascribed symptoms. Our research (Bianchi & Schonfeld, 2020) indicates that the ODI has solid psychometric/structural properties, demonstrates convergent and discriminant validity, and shows satisfactory criterion-related validity.
Burnout measures, long been employed to assess symptoms thought to result from work-related adversity, are problematic (Liu & Van Liew, 2003). Burnout is not a diagnosable entity. Moreover, a number of studies (Bianchi et al., 2021; Meier & Kim, 2021; Schonfeld et al., 2019) have indicated that burnout, particularly its exhaustion component, reflects a depressive condition (Schonfeld et al., 2019).
To conserve space, literature cited is available upon request.
Methods: Using Qualtrics Internet surveys, teachers were recruited in France (n = 1,450, MAGE = 43.69, SDAGE = 9.56; 84% female) and New Zealand (n = 492, MAGE = 47.09, SDAGE = 11.81; 80% female). French teachers completed the ODI and the MBI. New Zealand teachers completed the ODI and the CBI.
Analyses: We used Spearman and Pearson correlations, ESEM bifactor analyses with items treated as ordinal, and t-tests and Kruskal-Wallis H-tests.
The ODI was highly correlated with EE (rho = 0.81) and the CBI (rho = 0.82). The Pearson correlations were .01 lower. The disattenuated correlations were 0.88 in each sample. EE was less strongly related to DP (rho = 0.44) and PA (rho = -0.545), all ps < .001.
ESEM bifactor analyses showed that the ODI and EE items and the ODI and CBI items strongly loaded on the general factors, with the Explained Common Variance indices exceeding .85. The findings suggest that EE and ODI items and the CBI and ODI items reflect the same construct. The DP and PA items tended to load more on bifactors than on the general factor.
Provisional diagnoses of job-related depression were (a) very highly related EE and CBI scores (Cohen ds > 2.000) and (b) less strongly but still significantly related to DP and PA scores (0.622 and 0.799, respectively), all ps < .001.
The findings indicate that burnout/exhaustion overlaps work-related depression. The exhaustion core of burnout is an important facet of work-related depression although work-related depression entails more than fatigue (e.g., suicidal ideation). Individuals suffering from depression often mislabel depression as fatigue (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Study limitations include a cross-sectional design and the use of one occupational group.
Study strengths include built-in replications across two burnout measures, two countries, and two languages.
The ODI is a worthy replacement for burnout measures. The ODI is briefer than the MBI and covers more ground (e.g., anhedonia, suicidal thoughts). It can help occupational health specialists identify at-risk workers for treatment without burdening workers with lengthy questionnaires and interviews. We plan to conduct research in other languages and with other samples.