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Causes of Burnout: Unfairness, Community Breakdown, and Mismatched Values

Written by: Alex Enders

Edited by: Braeden Waddell


A lot of research has gone into burnout’s impact in the workplace, but today I want to focus on how it can be just as devastating to students. I recently wrote about three common causes of student burnout, but there’s still some ground left to cover. Let’s take a look at three more common causes of burnout, see what they can look like from a student’s perspective, and talk about what steps a student can take to prevent or recover from burnout.


Cause #1 - Unfairness

Unfairness as defined in burnout research is measured through trust, openness and respect in the workplace. The absence of these elements directly fuels burnout, according to researchers Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter. That’s because unfair treatment can create more exhausting work conditions, and it often leads to people feeling demotivated (two of the main signs of burnout). For example; a student may have a disability that hinders their productivity in school, but they are not allowed formal accommodations due to an inability to get an official diagnosis. Students tend to have an easier time engaging with schoolwork when they feel trusted, heard, and respected.  Any student lacking some sort of safe space at school where they can be themselves, without fear of being belittled or dismissed, can be at risk of experiencing this kind of unfairness.


Cause #2 - Community Breakdown 

Community is a sense of social connectedness that leads to a feeling of belonging, increased personal motivation, and overall greater satisfaction in a given group or place. A student missing a strong sense of community is more likely to feel unsupported and have reduced personal motivation, which can contribute to all three signs of burnout (exhaustion, depersonalization, and ineffectiveness). For example; a bullied student may feel socially isolated, having little to no friends to lean on for support. Instead of feeling like a welcome part of a larger group, at school they may feel more like a prisoner. When schools don’t effectively foster and maintain a sense of community, students can feel pressured to focus more on academic achievement while lacking a key support system. 


Cause #3 - Mismatched Values

Mismatched values – when a person or group says one thing, but acts in a completely different way – can cause a lot of frustration whether you’re a student or an employee. For example; a school may say they want all of their students to succeed while not actually providing sufficient support to struggling students, or they may publicly denounce bullying without taking any steps to actually help targeted individuals. This kind of inconsistency creates a sense of faulty integrity, which sows distrust and resentment. In addition to potentially contributing to worse working conditions, this kind of culture can lead to people becoming more cynical at school. Students can understandably feel discouraged if they feel their relationship to school is more adversarial than cooperative, and mismatched values can contribute greatly to that sense of separation.


Burnout’s Complexity

Even when examining one piece at a time, there is a lot to unpack with burnout. The three causes described in this article can clearly all feed into one another, but this same idea extends to other causes of burnout as well. All of these causes also tend to be pretty wide-reaching, stemming from workplace cultures and conditions rather than the workers themselves. But if that’s the case, then what can individual students do about it? Well, trying to tackle and turn around the cultural conditions causing burnout obviously isn’t very feasible for one person. There are, however, steps a student can take to prevent or recover from burnout:


  • Inform yourself: Having a basic understanding of burnout and how it works will go a long way in avoiding becoming burnt out. My own blog articles on burnout have plenty of helpful info, but there are plenty of other readily available resources online as well.

  • Support: Having a strong and reliable support system is important for everyone, and this importance extends to burnout too. Friends, family, teachers, and coaches are just a handful of examples of folks that students may be able to look to for this sort of support.

  • Self-Leadership: Perhaps the most important, and often most challenging, step in navigating burnout is simply making decisions based on one’s own needs. Regardless of how you choose to change your educational direction, this kind of self-leadership requires introspection, self-awareness of one’s health, and the courage to make choices for oneself rather than the comfort or expectations of other people. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to beating burnout beyond listening to yourself.


Questions from the Coach

Here are a handful of related questions from me for you to consider. As always there are no right or wrong answers, and you don’t have to share your answers if you don’t want to.

  • What has reading my article(s) taught you about burnout? Was there anything that surprised you?

  • What does your support system look like?

  • Think of one time you had to make a decision for your own good. How did it feel? How does it feel looking back on that moment?


I’ve really enjoyed writing this recent series on burnout, and I would highly recommend checking out my other articles on it if you haven’t already! With the school year nearing its end, it will probably be a little while before my next article comes out; however, I am already planning some writing for next Fall.


I hope you found something valuable in this article, and I would love to hear from you if you did!


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