In a comparative social study, researchers from Groningen investigated more than 600 high school teachers. Burnout is a frequent phenomenon in this group. Furthermore, the staffroom provides the teacher with many opportunities to compare himself with colleagues.
The trial subjects completed questionnaires on paper and on the computer. With the questions on the computer, the researchers examined not just the content of the answers but also the response time. The researchers posed questions along the lines of: "How often do you compare yourself with others?", "Are you of the opinion that you perform well?", "How do you respond to a colleague who performs well?", "If the person in the story was your colleague, how would you feel?"
Burnt out teachers were still reasonably capable of maintaining a positive self-image. The feeling of not being as bad as others was particularly prominent. This is the difference between a burnout patient and a depressive person. People suffering from depression are less good at maintaining a favourable self-image.
People with burnout have mixed feelings upon seeing a colleague who performs well. On the one hand they are stimulated, although less than healthy persons. On the other hand they experience negative feelings. When people with burnout see colleagues who are performing badly, they mainly experience negative feelings.
The researchers recommend that therapists treating patients with burnout take advantage of the favourable effects of social comparison. Therefore, the feeling of Im not doing that badly should be built on in particular. Patients can also be taught to cope with comparative information forced upon them. In other words: the
Contact: Michel Philippens
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research