Nurses' Perceptions of Burnout: A comparison of self-reports and standardized measures


  • Deborah Pick
  • Michael P Leiter


Human service professionals have traditionally sought more from their careers than mere monetary rewards. They expect their jobs to increase feelings of self-worth, fulfill achievement needs and provide a sense of purpose. Nurses are no exception. In a survey of nearly 17,000 nurses, the opportunity for professional growth was rated as the most important job consideration (Godfrey, 1978). Nurses in another survey (Donovan, 1980) ranked a sense of achievement, knowing they helped others and intellectual stimulation as the most crucial aspects of their careers. A comparison of these ideals and the reality of their jobs, however, revealed a theme of frustration for most. While 92% rated a sense of achievement as very important, only 33% were satisfied with the degree to which they experienced it in their jobs. A comparison of the percentage of nurses who valued intellectual stimulation and those who felt it was available to them yielded a similar discrepancy. That there is a gap between nurses' expectations and the reality of the workplace is not surprising. In his study of new human service professionals, Cherniss (1980) identified four unexpected sources of stress that impeded healthy career development. The first and most critical was the crisis of competence. Despite years of formal training, the new workers often felt inadequate and uncertain about the quality of their performance. Secondly, although helping others was a primary goal for the novices, they soon became aware that their clients were not always motivated, cooperative in treatment or appreciative of the efforts made to assist them. Thirdly, they were unprepared for the frustrations of bureaucratic interference, which undermined their professional autonomy. Organizational demands also included more routine tasks than they had bargained for, and many soon became discouraged by the lack of challenge, variety and intellectual stimulation in their jobs. Finally, they were disheartened by the elusiveness of supportive, rewarding relationships with colleagues. Rather than being a source of support, interactions with peers were often a source of conflict.