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THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND

BURNOUT AMONG POSTGRADUATE UNIVERSITY STUDENTS


by

MANDY WEINSTEIN
Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree

MASTER OF ARTS
IN PSYCHOLOGY

in the

FACULTY OF HUMANITIES
at the

UNIVERSITY OF JOHANNESBURG

SUPERVISOR: DR KARINA DE BRUIN


JUNE 2010

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to whole-heartedly thank the following people and organisations:
The Almighty, G-d, who gave me the ability, strength and determination to complete this
thesis and provided me with the essential support I needed.
My parents, for their encouragement, support, guidance and unconditional love always.
My Grandmother, for her encouragement and concern throughout this time.
My husband, for his love and support in every area of my life.
My sister and brother-in-law for their support, understanding and encouragement.
My mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law for their support.
My supervisor, Dr Karina De Bruin, whose patience, encouragement, support and
guidance was of the highest standard. I have truly learned so much from you.
The students who gave of their time and provided valuable data for this study.
All my friends and family, for their motivation and understanding.
STATKON for assisting me in capturing and analysing the data for this study.
The National Research Foundation (NRF), for assisting me with a bursary.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
ABSTRACT ................................................................................................................................ I
LIST OF TABLES ......................................................................................................................III
CHAPTER 1 .............................................................................................................................. 1
1. INTRODUCTION, PROBLEM STATEMENT AND FRAMEWORK OF THE STUDY ............. 1
1.1

INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................................. 1

1.2

RESEARCH PROBLEM, RATIONALE AND AIMS OF THE STUDY .............................................. 2

1.3

RESEARCH QUESTIONS .................................................................................................. 4

1.4

DEFINITION OF KEY TERMS ............................................................................................. 4

1.4.1 Burnout .................................................................................................................... 4


1.4.1.1 Emotional exhaustion ........................................................................................ 5
1.4.1.2 Cynicism ........................................................................................................... 5
1.4.1.3 Professional efficacy ......................................................................................... 6
1.4.2 Emotional intelligence............................................................................................... 6
1.4.3 Student ..................................................................................................................... 6
1.5

OVERVIEW OF THE RESEARCH ........................................................................................ 7

CHAPTER 2 .............................................................................................................................. 8
2. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE............................................................................................... 8
2.1

INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................................. 8

2.2

EMOTIONS..................................................................................................................... 9

2.3

GENERAL INTELLIGENCE ...............................................................................................10

2.4

TOWARD A THEORY OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE ..........................................................12

2.4.1 Adaptational processes as the basis for emotional intelligence ...............................12


2.5

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE PERSPECTIVES .....................................................................14

2.5.1 Ability emotional intelligence....................................................................................14


2.5.2 Trait/mixed emotional intelligence ...........................................................................17

2.5.2.1 Goleman ..........................................................................................................18


2.5.2.2 Bar-On .............................................................................................................21
2.5.2.3 Petrides and Furnham ......................................................................................22
2.6

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND PREVIOUS RESEARCH FINDINGS ......................................25

2.7

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND BURNOUT-RELATED RESEARCH .......................................27

2.7.1 Emotional intelligence and stress ............................................................................27


2.7.2 Emotional intelligence and depression ....................................................................28
2.8

CHAPTER SUMMARY......................................................................................................29

CHAPTER 3 .............................................................................................................................30
3. BURNOUT ............................................................................................................................30
3.1

INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................................30

3.2

DEFINITION OF BURNOUT ...............................................................................................30

3.2.1 Freudenberger.........................................................................................................31
3.2.2 Pines .......................................................................................................................31
3.2.3 Cherniss ..................................................................................................................32
3.2.4 Maslach ...................................................................................................................32
3.2.5 Schaufeli and Enzmann...........................................................................................35
3.3

MODELS OF BURNOUT ...................................................................................................36

3.3.1 Individual approaches..............................................................................................36


3.3.2 Interpersonal approaches ........................................................................................39
3.3.3 Organisational approaches ......................................................................................41
3.3.4 Societal approaches ................................................................................................43
3.4

INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTORS TO BURNOUT .......................................................................44

3.4.1 Personality ..............................................................................................................44


3.4.1.1 The big five personality traits ............................................................................44
3.4.1.2 Other personality characteristics ......................................................................47

3.4.2 Coping skills ............................................................................................................49


3.4.3 Self-efficacy.............................................................................................................49
3.4.4 Demographic variables ............................................................................................50
3.5

IMPACT AND SYMPTOMS OF BURNOUT ............................................................................51

3.5.1 Affective/psychological symptoms ...........................................................................51


3.5.2 Cognitive symptoms ................................................................................................51
3.5.3 Physical symptoms..................................................................................................52
3.5.4 Behavioural symptoms ............................................................................................52
3.6

BURNOUT IN THE WORK CONTEXT ..................................................................................53

3.7

BURNOUT AMONGST STUDENTS .....................................................................................55

3.8

BURNOUT AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE RELATED RESEARCH .......................................58

3.9

CHAPTER SUMMARY......................................................................................................61

CHAPTER 4 .............................................................................................................................62
4. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHOD ..................................................................................62
4.1

INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................................62

4.2

RESEARCH DESIGN .......................................................................................................62

4.3

RESEARCH OBJECTIVES ................................................................................................63

4.4

RESEARCH QUESTIONS .................................................................................................63

4.5

RESEARCH METHOD......................................................................................................63

4.5.1 Procedure................................................................................................................64
4.5.2 Ethical considerations..............................................................................................64
4.5.3 Participants .............................................................................................................64
4.6

INSTRUMENTS ..............................................................................................................67

4.6.1 Biographical Questionnaire .....................................................................................67


4.6.2 The Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-TEIQue-Short Form .......................67
4.6.3 Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey.............................................................69

4.7

DATA ANALYSES ...........................................................................................................70

4.8

CHAPTER SUMMARY......................................................................................................71

CHAPTER 5 .............................................................................................................................72
5. RESULTS .............................................................................................................................72
5.1

INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................................72

5.2

DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF THE SAMPLE ......................................................................72

5.3

DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS OF THE MBI-SS ......................................................................72

5.4

THE RELIABILITY COEFFICIENTS OF THE MBI-SS .............................................................74

5.5

DESCRIPTIVE STATISTICS FOR THE TEIQUE ....................................................................75

5.6

THE RELIABILITY COEFFICIENTS OF THE TEIQUE .............................................................76

5.7

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND BURNOUT ...........................76

5.8

SUMMARY OF THE RESULTS ...........................................................................................78

5.9

CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................79

CHAPTER 6 .............................................................................................................................80
6. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION ......................................................................................80
6.1

INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................................80

6.2

SUMMARY OF THE STUDY ..............................................................................................80

6.2.1 The aim of the study ................................................................................................80


6.2.2 Design, participants and procedure .........................................................................80
6.2.3 Research questions .................................................................................................81
6.2.4 Discussion of the results pertaining to the three dimensions of the Maslach Burnout
Inventory-Student Survey...................................................................................................81
6.3

EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE ACCORDING TO THE TRAIT EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE APPROACH


84

6.4
DISCUSSION OF THE RESULTS PERTAINING TO THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BURNOUT AND
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE .......................................................................................................85
6.5

LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY ...........................................................................................87

6.6

SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH..........................................................................88

6.7

IMPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY .........................................................................................89

6.8

CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................90

REFERENCES .........................................................................................................................92

ABSTRACT
Burnout has been researched extensively within the work context, however, burnout
amongst the student population yielded a dearth of information. Burnout amongst
students can be considered as a loss of motivation to engage in academic study
(Mostert, Pienaar, Gauche & Jackson, 2007) and could place students academic
futures in jeopardy (Struthers, Perry & Menec, 20030). More research in this field was
required.
The purpose of this study was to ascertain the level of burnout and emotional
intelligence in a postgraduate university population. The study also aimed to assess
whether any relationship existed between burnout and emotional intelligence. The
sample consisted of 225 postgraduate participants from a large metropolitan university.
Each participant completed a biographical questionnaire, the Maslach Burnout
Inventory-Student Survey and the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire- Short
Form.
The Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey yielded three results. Professional
efficacy yielded the highest mean score, emotional exhaustion the second highest mean
score and cynicism obtained the lowest mean score. The Trait Emotional Intelligence
Questionnaire- Short Form yielded a relatively high mean for emotional intelligence.
The relationships between the scores on the measures of emotional intelligence and
burnout were investigated by means of Pearsons product-moment correlation.
Significant correlations were found between the three dimensions of burnout and
emotional intelligence. There was a statistically significant negative correlation between
emotional intelligence and exhaustion (r = -0.257; p < 0.01). There was also a
statistically significant negative correlation between emotional intelligence and cynicism
(r = -0.366; p < 0.01). There was a significant positive correlation between professional
efficacy and emotional intelligence (r = 0.428; p < 0.01). It appears as if the higher the
level of emotional intelligence, the lower the levels of burnout specifically emotional
exhaustion and cynicism.
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This study has implications for students who may suffer from burnout during their
university studies. It allows individuals who are involved with students to recognise the
huge impact that burnout may have on a students life; psychologically, physically,
cognitively and behaviourally. This study also provides information on how levels of
emotional intelligence can affect levels of burnout. Furthermore, an important aspect of
emotional intelligence is that certain areas of emotional intelligence can be learned and
increased. If students are taught to increase their levels of emotional intelligence, they
may be able to manage stress more efficiently.

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LIST OF TABLES
Table 4.1 Gender and Racial Group Distribution of Participants ................................... 65
Table 4.2 Home Language of Participants .................................................................... 65
Table 4.3 Faculty Distribution of Participants ................................................................ 66
Table 4.4 Work Experience ........................................................................................... 66
Table 5.1 Mean Scores, Standard Deviations, Minimum and Maximum scores for the
MBI-SS .......................................................................................................................... 72
Table 5.2 Mean Score, Standard Deviation, Minimum and Maximum Scores for the
TEIQue .......................................................................................................................... 75
Table 5.3 Correlation Matrix of Emotional intelligence and three burnout component .. 77

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CHAPTER 1
1. INTRODUCTION, PROBLEM STATEMENT AND FRAMEWORK OF
THE STUDY
1.1

Introduction

The term burnout (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1988) was first coined by Freudenberger and
has been the subject of research since the 1970s. Freudenberger and Richelson (1980,
p.13) describe burnout as a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to
a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.
Research on burnout has focused almost exclusively on the role of work characteristics
(Langelaan, Bakker, van Doornen & Schaufeli, 2006). Burnout has also been studied in
a variety of human service professions (Chan, 2006). Historically it was believed that
burnout only occurred in the human service fields (Morgan, 2009). However, research
and practice has shown that burnout also exists outside the realm of the human
services (Breso, Salanova & Shaufeli, 2007).
Some individuals may be more prone to burnout than others. Although emotions are
common to all human beings, individuals differ greatly in the extent to which they attend
to, process and utilise affect laden information of an intrapersonal and interpersonal
nature. This ability or characteristic can be termed emotional intelligence (Mikolajczak,
Menil & Luminet, 2007). There are two types of emotional intelligence: ability emotional
intelligence and trait emotional intelligence. Ability emotional intelligence is seen as a
cognitive emotional ability or a form of information processing (Murphy, 2006). Trait
emotional intelligence refers to a constellation of behavioural dispositions and selfperceptions concerning ones ability to recognise, process and utilise emotion-laden
information (Petrides, Federickson & Furnham, 2004). This research focused on trait
emotional intelligence. This study assessed individual perceptions of emotional
intelligence and thus the trait emotional intelligence approach corresponded with this
aim. Trait emotional intelligence has been found to be associated with lower levels of
stress (Mikolajczak et al., 2007) and may also be associated with lower levels of
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burnout.
1.2

Research problem, rationale and aims of the study

The transition from undergraduate to postgraduate studies often brings about


challenges for young adults (Parker, Hogan, Eastabrook, Oke & Wood, 2006). These
challenges include increased workload and responsibilities and a lack of balance
between part-time work and studies. Furthermore, students need to form new
relationships, modify existing ones and function independently as adults (Parker et al.,
2006). These challenges often result in stress, which may contribute to burnout. Burnout
can be described as a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal
stressors on the job (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001, p. 397). According to Farber
(1983, p. 3), burnout is characterised by physical depletion, by feelings of helplessness
and hopelessness, by emotional drain and by the development of negative self-concept
and negative attitudes toward work, life and other people.
Although students are not employed and do not hold jobs, from a psychological
perspective their core activities can be considered work. Students are engaged in
structured, coercive activities (such as attending classes) that are directed towards a
specific goal (such as passing exams) (Breso et al., 2007). Yang (2004, p. 287)
describes student burnout as students in the learning process, because of course
stress, course load or other psychological factors, display a state of emotional
exhaustion, a tendency to depersonalisation, and a feeling of low personal
accomplishment.
Burnout has been researched extensively within the work context (cf. Hakanen, Bakker
& Schaufeli, 2006; Martinussen, Richardsen & Burke, 2007; Maslach, Schaufeli &
Leiter, 2001; Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998; Swider & Zimmerman, 2010). However, little
burnout research has focused extensively on the student population. Burnout amongst
students can manifest as a loss of motivation to engage in academic study (Mostert,
Pienaar, Gauche & Jackson, 2007) and can place students academic futures in
jeopardy (Struthers, Perry & Menec, 2000). The mental exhaustion experienced by such
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students may erode their sense of the value of university education. Furthermore,
student burnout may be an important predictor of professional burnout when students
enter the job market (Mostert et al., 2007). This is likely to cause losses to businesses
as well as a loss of self-confidence for the individual.
The negative consequences of student burnout extend beyond the negative experience
of the individual. Student burnout may also affect the general attractiveness of the
university for new students, with potential consequences for present and future
enrolment. Student burnout can also have a significant impact on the effectiveness of
the universities, which may in turn have distinct policy implications for higher education
institutions (Neumann, Finaly-Neumann & Reichel, 1990).
Studies have found that students exhibiting high stress reported significantly higher
consumption of alcohol, drugs and junk food, and exhibited lower self-esteem and
poorer sleeping habits than students who were not stressed (Weckwerth & Flynn,
2006). Other negative stress related behaviours in the student population include
suicidal ideation and smoking (Weckwerth & Flynn, 2006). When students become
burned out out these behaviours may increase and become fatal.
The dangers of burnout are well known and researchers have explored variables that
may contribute to an individuals vulnerability to burnout.

These variables include

personality (Bakker, Van der Zee, Lewig & Dollard, 2006; Morgan, 2009), temperament
(Langelaan et al., 2006), alexithymia (Mattila et al., 2007), self-efficacy (Brouwers &
Tomic, 2000), health (Montgomery, Mostert & Jackson, 2005) and depression
(Middeldorp, Cath & Boomsma, 2006). However, there is little research on the
relationship between emotional intelligence and burnout. According to Cipriano (2002),
burnout and emotional intelligence represent two ends of a continuum with emotional
intelligence at the high end of successful adaptation and burnout indicating a failure to
adapt to a harsh environment. It is possible that emotional intelligence represents a core
set of adaptive competencies that can protect the individual from the negative effects of
stressors and decrease the likelihood that an individual will suffer burnout.

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This study aimed to investigate the relationship between emotional intelligence and
burnout in postgraduate university students. This was accomplished through the use of
questionnaires assessing emotional intelligence and burnout. The Trait Emotional
Intelligence Questionnaire-Short Form (TEIQue; Petrides & Furnham, 2003) was used
to assess emotional intelligence and the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey
(MBI-SS; Schaufeli, Martinez, Pinto, Salanova & Bakker, 2002) was used to assess
burnout. Postgraduate students from a large metropolitan university participated in the
study.
1.3

Research questions

The research questions in this research were:


1.

What are the levels of emotional intelligence in a sample of postgraduate


university students?

2.

What are the levels of burnout in a sample of postgraduate university students?

3.

Is there is a statistically significant relationship between burnout and emotional


intelligence amongst postgraduate university students?

1.4

Definition of key terms

The following definitions are significant to this study.


1.4.1

Burnout

Burnout was first mentioned as a psychological phenomenon that occurred in the


helping professions by Bradley (1969 cited in Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998), who
proposed a new organisational structure in order to counteract staff burnout among
probation officers. However, Herbert Feudenberger, an American Psychoanalyst, is
generally considered to be the originator of the burnout syndrome and provided the first
definition of burnout (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1988). Freudenberger and Richelson (1980,
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p.13) describe burnout as a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to


a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward. Various
other definitions of burnout also exist. The definition most acceptable and appropriate to
this study is Maslach and Jacksons (1986 cited in Shaufeli & Enzmann, 1998, p. 31)
which states that burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation,
and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do
people work of some kind. Maslach and Goldberg (1998) state that the key
characteristics of burnout are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of frustration, anger
and cynicism and a sense of ineffectiveness and failure. Maslach (1993) further states
that burnout can occur in many occupational and non-occupational contexts.
Burnout amongst students can also be defined in various ways. Yang (2004, p. 287)
describes student burnout as students in the learning process, because of course
stress, course load or other psychological factors, display a state of emotional
exhaustion, a tendency to depersonalisation, and a feeling of low personal
accomplishment. Schaufeli et al. (2002) report that burnout among students manifests
as feeling exhausted because of study demands, having a cynical and detached attitude
toward ones study and feeling incompetent as a student.
1.4.1.1

Emotional exhaustion

Exhaustion is a central concept of burnout and the most obvious manifestation of this
complex syndrome (Maslach et al., 2001). Emotional exhaustion involves feelings of
being emotionally overextended and depleted of ones emotional resources (Maslach,
1998). The individual is incapable of performing (Montgomery et al., 2005) and cannot
give of the self at a psychological level (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). Specifically,
students feel exhausted because of study demands (Schaufeli et al., 2002).
1.4.1.2

Cynicism

Cynicism, also known as depersonalisation, refers to a negative, cynical or excessively


detached response to other people (Maslach & Goldberg, 1998). This response often

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includes a loss of idealism (Maslach, 1998). In the work setting depersonalisation is


marked by the display of negative and callous attitudes towards others. People are
often treated as objects rather than people (Furnell, 2007). Students are likely to
manifest a cynical and detached attitude towards their studies.
1.4.1.3

Professional efficacy

Lack of personal accomplishment or professional efficacy refers to a decline in ones


feelings of competence and successful achievement (Van der Merwe, 2003). Maslach
(1993) states that reduced personal accomplishment/professional efficacy refers to
feelings of incompetency and lack of success and productivity at work. This is echoed in
the findings of Maslach et al. (2001). As a student, feelings of incompetence may arise
(Schaufeli et al., 2002).
1.4.2

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is defined by two broad approaches: ability emotional intelligence


and trait emotional intelligence. This research focused on trait emotional intelligence.
Trait emotional intelligence can be described as trait emotional self-efficacy (Mavroveli,
Petrides, Rieffe & Bakker, 2007).

Petrides and Furnham (2003, p. 816) view trait

emotional intelligence as a constellation of emotion-related self-perceived abilities and


dispositions located at lower levels of personality hierarchies. The term trait is useful
in describing the construct as it emphasises the strong relationship to the basic
dimensions of personality and the non-cognitive nature of the construct (Petrides &
Furnham, 2001).
1.4.3

Student

The term student refers to an individual who is participating in studies, often at a higher
education institution (Thompson, 1998). These studies cover the range of academic
programmes offered by the institution (Schaufeli et al., 2002). In this study, the sample
consisted of postgraduate students. These students have completed an undergraduate
degree and were in the process of completing an honours or masters degree at the time
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of the research.
1.5

Overview of the research

Chapter two provides an in depth and recent review of the concept of emotional
intelligence. It also contains an evaluation of constructs related to burnout and
emotional intelligence. Chapter three consists of a comprehensive review of recent and
relevant information pertaining to burnout. Research related to emotional intelligence
and burnout is also examined. Chapter four discusses the research method and design.
It provides details of the participants, the research method and the instruments used for
data collection. Chapter five presents the results of the data analyses. Chapter six
provides a discussion of the results and recommendations for future research. The
limitations of the study are also discussed.

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CHAPTER 2
2. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
2.1

Introduction

Cognition and emotion are frequently viewed as distinct and unrelated entities.
However, the way we feel is often heavily dependent on the way we think (Meyerhoff,
2007). Our brains make sense of what is happening and decide what it is that we are
experiencing. Individuals have different responses to the same situation. Some
individuals react in more adaptive ways than others. The capacity to react to a situation
in a healthy manner is referred to as emotional intelligence (Meyerhoff, 2007).
The concept of emotional intelligence was popularised by the work of Daniel Goleman,
a pioneer and critical proponent of research concerning this construct (Woitaszewski &
Aalsma, 2004). At the time of Golemans research, a movement known as Positive
Psychology was gaining broad acceptance. The basis of Positive Psychology is the
belief that in order to treat an individual it is necessary and useful to start by looking for
a skill or competency and build from there. An area in which an individual is functioning
well can serve as a basis for meaningful change. Positive Psychology emphasises
strengths that can be used to improve other areas of functioning. The concept of
emotional intelligence supports Positive Psychology as it has a number of clearly
delineated skills and strengths that could, with practice, be improved and enhanced
(Stein & Book, 2006).
Goleman argues that general intelligence (as represented by the Intelligence Quotient)
predicts approximately 20% of the variance in success in various areas of life. The
remaining 80% of variance can be explained by other factors (Woitaszewski & Aalsma,
2004), which are related to the construct of emotional intelligence. Goleman states that
emotional intelligence may at times be more significant than the Intelligence Quotient
(IQ) and that it can contribute greatly to many important life outcomes, such as
improved learning and better decision-making (Woitaszewski & Aalsma, 2004).
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Goleman further states that when people with high IQs flounder and those with modest
IQs do surprisingly well, the difference often lies in the individuals emotional
intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes abilities related to self-control, persistence
and the ability to motivate the self (Goleman, 1996).
In order to understand emotional intelligence, it is important that both emotion and
intelligence are understood. Intelligence refers to certain abilities, such as the capacity
to combine correlated ideas and separate unconnected ideas, to judge accurately, to
reason and to engage in abstract reasoning (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). The affective
(emotional) sphere of mental functioning includes the emotions themselves, moods,
evaluations and other feeling states, such as fatigue or energy (Mayer & Salovey,
1997). These two concepts are discussed in the sections below.
2.2

Emotions

Emotions are often regarded as primary motivating forces that arouse, direct and
sustain activity (Coetzee, Martins, Basson & Muller, 2006). Emotions can also be
defined as a relatively short-lived positive or negative evaluative state that has
neurological and cognitive elements (Lawler & Thye, 1999, p. 3). The biological basis
for emotions includes certain brain systems, such as the hippocampus and amygdala,
and neurotransmitters, such as catecholamines that are involved in most emotions
(Matthews, Zeidner & Roberts, 2004). In our emotional repertoire, each emotion plays a
unique role in accordance with its distinctive biological signature. For example, fear
causes blood to flow to the large skeletal muscles making it easier to flee. These
biological propensities to act are further influenced by our life experiences and our
culture (Goleman, 1996).
Ohman (2006) states that emotions are critical to humans and human cognition.
Emotions play an important role in the human rational thinking mechanism (MartinezMiranda & Aldea, 2005). The cognitive component of emotions includes affective
evaluations of the self and the situation (Matthews et al., 2004). Leget (2003) states that
emotions involve judgements about important things. For example, emotions influence
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how we act in social situations and contribute to optimal social functioning. Without the
ability to intelligently process and effectively manage emotional information, one cannot
effectively engage with others in meaningful relationships (Brackett, Rivers, Shiffman,
Lerner & Salovey, 2006).
In addition to affecting evaluations of the self and others, emotions also influence many
aspects of cognitive functioning, such as memory and attention (Brackett et al., 2006).
Emotion also alters thinking in various ways. For example, research indicates that
moods generally bias peoples thoughts (Mayer & Salovey, 1997).
The discussion above shows that emotions influence various areas of human life. A
human being is essentially emotional and therefore emotions influence everyday
behaviour (Martinez-Miranda & Aldea, 2005). When the amygdala (the area in the brain
where emotions are located) is damaged in any way an individual loses the ability to
perform essential human activities. An example of such an activity is the cognitive task
of decision-making. Individuals with damaged amygdalas cannot assign values to
different alternatives to prioritise them and thus cannot select the most appropriate
alternative (Martinez-Miranda & Aldea, 2005). Thus, emotions play an important role in
rational cognitive aspects of life. This link is important in order to understand the
foundation for the concept of emotional intelligence.
2.3

General intelligence

The concept of intelligence has been theorised for many, many years. W.L. Stern
(1912) postulated that the term intelligence represents a global and constant entity
from a developmental point of view. His theory is based on the concept of mental age,
which refers to the typical intellectual developmental level of a person at any specific
age. In this theory a constant relationship exists between a persons mental age and
chronological age. This ratio is multiplied by 100 and is known as an Intelligence
Quotient or IQ (Fancher, 1987).
Researchers have subsequently realised that there is more to intelligence than the
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cognitive abilities measured by traditional intelligence tests. Broader conceptualisations


and multiple components of intelligence have been proposed (Chan, 2007b). Gardner
(1993) suggested a theory of multiple intelligences in which he postulated that all
humans possess many types of intelligences, each located in a different part of the
brain. Included in this concept of multiple intelligences was the concept of a personal
intelligence, known as the interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. This personal
intelligence involves having an accurate insight into ones own psychological processes
as well as understanding the psychological processes of others (Kaufhold & Johnson,
2005).
Following this development, Sternberg (1985, 1994) proposed a triarchic theory of
intelligence. This includes componential intelligence, experimental intelligence and
contextual intelligence. Componential intelligence refers to the cognitive components
required to perform certain intellectual operations. Experimental intelligence refers to a
persons ability to deal effectively with novelty in new learning situations and to think in
terms of new concepts. Contextual intelligence relates to adapting to the sociocultural/physical environment and finding means of achieving goals (Sternberg &
Grigorenko, 2002).
The literature on intelligence describes many other theories of intelligence and cognitive
abilities, these theories include Spearmans two factor theory of intelligence (Spearman,
1923). However, the theories of Gardner and Sternberg are linked to the concept of
emotional intelligence and as such are relevant to the present research. Emotional
intelligence is defined as an individuals ability to monitor his or her own feelings as well
as the feelings and emotions of others, to discriminate among emotions and to use this
information to guide thinking and action (Chan, 2007b). This can be related to Gardners
concept of personal intelligence, which involves the ability to have knowledge of ones
own and others emotions and inner processes in order to be fully self-aware and to
develop meaningful relationships. Sternbergs concept of intelligence can be related to
emotional intelligence as defined by Bar-On (Stein & Book, 2006), which includes
components such as adaptation/flexibility (the ability to adjust to ones environment,

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also referred to as contextual intelligence) and problem solving (the ability to think in
terms of new concepts, also known as experimental intelligence).
The conceptualisations above demonstrate that emotional intelligence can be defined in
different ways. Firstly, emotional intelligence can be defined as an ability, consisting of a
persons actual ability to recognise, process and utilise emotional information (Petrides
et al., 2004). Secondly, as a trait/mixed approach involving a combination of behavioural
dispositions and self-perception about ones ability to recognise, process and utilise
emotional information (Petrides et al., 2004).
2.4

Toward a theory of emotional intelligence

This section provides a conceptualisation of emotional intelligence as a competence for


successful adaptation to emotional events. Three aspects that have been found to
moderate emotion-relevant information processing, clarity, attention and intensity, are
also discussed.
2.4.1

Adaptational processes as the basis for emotional intelligence

Matthews et al. (2004) state that adaptation is a central process within emotional
intelligence. Adaptation processes are those processes that support the persons
attempts to fulfil personal goals and minimise harm from external events within a
changing external environment. Emotional intelligence can be conceptualised as an
index of the persons overall aptitude for success in adapting to encounters that provoke
emotion. Adaptive processes are found at different levels of biopsychological
organisation and are conceptualised in biological or cognitive-psychological terms.
Some processes, like the startle response to an unexpected stimulus, are controlled by
neural circuitry. However, other responses, such as the appraisal processes that
support evaluation of the personal significance of events, may relate to discrete
information-processing routines or to high-level cognitive processes. Individuals who are
high and low in emotional intelligence may differ in the way their major brain systems
respond to motivational stimuli, or in the way in which they interpret events (Matthews et

- 12 -

al., 2004).
Gohm (2003) identifies three individual aspects that moderate emotion-relevant
information processing. These aspects are labelled clarity, attention and intensity.
Emotional clarity is the ability to identify and describe specific emotions and identify and
describe ones own emotions and mood (Augusto Landa, Lopez-Zafra, Berrios Martos &
del Carmen Aguilar-Luzon, 2008). The ability to identify the emotions of the self and
others is essential to the construct of emotional intelligence (Mayer & Salovey, 1997).
Low clarity is associated with neuroticism, vulnerability to distress and unpredictability in
emotional situations (Gohm, 2003). Individuals with high scores on emotional clarity
have a greater ability to rebound from induced negative mood than their low clarity
counterparts. These individuals also show greater decline in ruminative thoughts
following a stressor (Extremera & Fernandez-Berrocal, 2005).
Attention to emotion is the tendency to observe, think about and value emotions
(Augusto Landa et al., 2008). Without some degree of attention to emotions, emotionally
intelligent functioning is not possible. Attention to emotions is positively associated with
public and private self-consciousness and empathy and negatively associated with
neuroticism. Individuals scoring high on attention show mood consistency on
judgements of risk (Gohm, 2003). People who do not pay attention to emotions and see
emotions as irrelevant are unlikely to engage in mood regulation. However, a person
who pays a lot of attention to his or her emotions and who sees emotions as very
valuable might also be unlikely to engage in mood management. Such an individual
appears to see emotions as relevant to everything. Individuals who report a moderate
level of attention to emotion are most likely to engage in mood regulation (Gohm, 2003).
In this regard Augusto Landa et al. (2008) refer to emotional repair, which they define as
an individuals tendency to regulate his or her own feelings. Emotional repair is likely to
be important in adapting to emotional events; individuals who cannot adjust their
emotions may be unable to adjust to situations and are thus not able to achieve their
goals.
Finally, emotional intensity concerns the magnitude with which one typically
- 13 -

experiences emotions. It is associated with measures of arousability/reactivity and


measures of somatic and neurotic symptoms (Larsen & Diener, 1987). Emotionally
intense individuals would seem to be the most likely to be aware of the influences of
emotions (Gohm, 2003). However, Lynch, Robins, Morse and Krause (2001) found that
affect intensity was not associated with stress but instead was often used by intense
individuals as an avoidance strategy. Intense individuals coped with stress by
attempting to suppress, inhibit or avoid relevant cognitive and emotional experiences.
These individuals would thus not be able to appropriately adapt to emotional situations.
The sections above explored the differences that people may have in experiencing
emotions. Two different emotional intelligence approaches are explored in the sections
below.
2.5

Emotional intelligence perspectives

Emotional intelligence can be viewed from two different perspectives. The first
perspective looks at emotional intelligence as an ability. This orientation states that
emotional intelligence should be seen as a cognitive emotional ability. The second
perspective, trait/mixed emotional intelligence, states that emotional intelligence can be
described as trait emotional self-efficacy (Mavroveli et al., 2007). Self-efficacy can be
described as being grounded in the theoretical framework of social cognitive theory
emphasising the evolvement and exercise of human agency; that people can exercise
some influence over what they can do (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2010). These two
perspectives differ significantly and are discussed separately in the sections below.
2.5.1

Ability emotional intelligence

Ability emotional intelligence is viewed as a cognitive-emotional ability or a form of


information processing. It is related to traditional intelligence and measures optimal
behaviour using tests of ability (Murphy, 2006). This method for identifying intelligent
responses is based on the assumption that emotional knowledge is embedded in the
social context of interaction and communication and that the most common response is

- 14 -

the correct response (Mayer, Salovey, Caruso & Sitarenios, 2001). With performancebased emotional intelligence, the solution is not as definitive as with intelligence tests,
where there is generally assumed to be one correct answer for each question. Instead,
test takers are awarded points based on the percentage of respondents who endorse a
similar response (Van Rooy et al., 2005). Thus, according to this model of emotional
intelligence, it is possible to measure individual differences in emotional intelligence
skills. However, this measurement requires objectively normed tests of emotional
responding (Shulman & Hemenover, 2006).
Mayer and Salovey (1997) are the most prominent proponents of ability emotional
intelligence. They define emotional intelligence as the ability to perceive emotions, to
access and generate emotions to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional
knowledge and to regulate emotions reflectively to promote emotional and intellectual
growth (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). This definition connects intelligence and emotion by
combining the ideas that emotion makes thinking more intelligent and that one thinks
intelligently about emotions. A person with these abilities is considered well-adjusted
and emotionally skilled. Deficiencies in these abilities render a person socially and
emotionally disabled (Tapia, 2001).
In order for ability emotional intelligence to be termed an intelligence, it must reflect
mental performance rather than simply preferred ways of behaving, or a persons selfefficacy, or non-intellectual attainment. Mental performance needs to measure emotionrelated abilities (Mayer et al., 2000). With ability emotional intelligence a productive
union of the cognitive and emotional systems exists. The cognitive system carries out
abstract reasoning about emotions, while the emotional system enhances cognitive
capacity. Individuals high in emotional intelligence perform four processes efficiently.
These processes are the ability to perceive emotions, the ability to understand
emotions, the ability to manage emotions and the ability to allow emotions to facilitate
thought (Mayer, Perkins, Caruso & Salovey, 2001). These four abilities are arranged so
that the more basic psychological processes, such as perceiving emotions, are at the
foundation and the more advanced processes are at the top of the model and are

- 15 -

dependent on the lower level abilities. With each dimension, there is a developmental
progression of skills from basic to sophisticated (Brackett et al., 2006).
The first ability, emotional perception/identification, involves perceiving and encoding
information from the emotional system (Matthews et al., 2004). It involves accurately
noticing emotions in the self and the environment and expressing these emotions
appropriately in social settings. This facet may be important in adapting to stressors
because it directs attention toward stress-related cues in the environment (Lyons &
Schneider, 2005). The second ability, emotional facilitation of thought, involves further
processing emotion to improve cognitive processes with a view to complex problem
solving (Matthews et al., 2004). It is measured by assessing peoples ability to describe
emotional sensations and measuring an individuals ability to incorporate mood into
thought processes (Brackett, Mayer & Warner, 2004). The third ability, emotional
understanding, involves cognitive processing of emotion (Matthews et al., 2004). It
involves emotions combining to form other emotions and the way in which emotional
reactions change over time (Lyons & Schneider, 2005). The final ability, emotion
management, concerns control and regulation of emotions in the self and others
(Matthews et al., 2004).
To summarise, Mayer and Salovey (1997) define emotional intelligence as the ability to
perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions to assist thought, to understand
emotions and emotional knowledge and to regulate emotions reflectively to promote
emotional and intellectual growth. According to this definition, people who are
emotionally intelligent are better able to identify their own and others emotions. These
individuals accurately express emotions, so others are not confused about the feelings
they are projecting. Emotionally intelligent individuals can use their emotions to aid their
thinking. They can also control their emotions in a way that promotes intellectual and
emotional growth (Epstein, 1998).
Petrides, Pita and Kokkinaki (2007) and Petrides, Niven and Mouskounti (2006) have
criticised the ability approach to emotional intelligence. They state that the
operationalisation of ability emotional intelligence is problematic because the
- 16 -

subjectivity of emotional experiences undermines the development of maximum


performance tests. Petrides et al. (2006) add that the heart of the problem concerns the
inability to create items or tasks that can be scored according to truly objective criteria
and that can cover the domain of ability emotional intelligence comprehensively.
Other critiques concern the scoring methods used to assess ability emotional
intelligence. Two techniques are generally used, namely consensus (target) and expert
scoring. The emotional intelligence of a response is assessed according to either the
group (target) consensus or the correct response as identified by experts (Matthews et
al., 2004). Both target and expert scoring suffer from theoretical problems. In expert
scoring, evidence suggests that scores are higher for test-takers similar to the experts
(MacCann, Roberts, Matthews & Zeidener, 2004). Van Rooy, Viswesvaran and Pluta
(2005) state that another problem related to expert scoring concerns selecting the
experts there are currently no criteria for establishing expertise in emotional
intelligence. Target scoring is problematic because the targets themselves may not be
able to express their emotions accurately, or they may report only pleasant emotions
when they are in fact feeling something else (MacCann et al., 2004).
In contrast to the criticism mentioned above, Daus and Ashkanasy (2005) argue that the
ability approach to emotional intelligence has clearly demonstrated solid psychometric
properties and can be used confidently in different arenas.
Those that criticise the ability emotional intelligence model are likely to subscribe to the
trait or mixed emotional intelligence models. The following subsection discusses
trait/mixed emotional intelligence.
2.5.2

Trait/mixed emotional intelligence

Petrides et al. (2007) describe the operationalisation of trait/mixed emotional


intelligence as straightforward. The construct consists of self-perceptions and
dispositions, which do not contradict the subjective nature of emotions. Trait emotional
intelligence consists of personality facets that are related to affect. Consequently, trait
- 17 -

emotional intelligence can also be conceptualised as a broad construct of general


emotionality (Petrides et al., 2006).
Trait/mixed emotional intelligence is measured through self-report questionnaires. This
contrasts with ability emotional intelligence, which is measured through maximumperformance tests that have correct and incorrect answers (Mavroveli et al., 2007).
Thus, the primary basis for discriminating between trait emotional intelligence and ability
emotional intelligence is the type of measurement approach used. However, the two
perspectives on emotional intelligence are not necessarily particularly different in terms
of their theoretical basis (Murphy, 2006).
Self-report emotional intelligence questionnaires measure broader concepts of
emotional intelligence than ability emotional intelligence tests. Concepts measured by
these self-report questionnaires include motivation, non-ability dispositions and traits
and global personal and social functioning (Tapia, 2001). Trait/mixed emotional
intelligence and self-report measures are also easy to use. It is also possible that the
perception of emotional intelligence may be as important as actual emotional
intelligence in predicting certain outcomes (Shulman & Hemenover, 2006).
Goleman (1995), Bar-On (Stein & Book, 2006) and Petrides and Furnham (2001) are all
proponents of the trait/mixed model of emotional intelligence. Their views on emotional
intelligence are discussed in the sections below.
2.5.2.1

Goleman

Daniel Goleman has been influential in bringing the concept of emotional intelligence to
the fore (Matthews et al., 2004). Goleman (1996) states that emotional intelligence
involves self-control, zeal, persistence and the ability to motivate oneself. His definition
includes the ability to regulate ones moods and keep distress from preventing ones
ability to think and to hope (Newsome, Day & Catano, 2000). Based on this definition,
Goleman proposed an emotional intelligence model that consists of five critical
competencies: (1) self-awareness, (2) self-regulation, (3) self-motivation, (4) social
- 18 -

awareness (empathy) and (5) social skills (Brand, 2007).


Golemans conceptualisation of emotional intelligence is ultimately based on aspects
such as cognition, personality, motivation, emotions, neurobiology and intelligence.
Many researchers refer to this model as a mixed model of emotional intelligence
because it captures diverse psychological phenomena that embody both cognitive and
non-cognitive processes (Matthews et al., 2004). In support of the mixed model theory
Douglas, Frink and Ferris (2004) state that emotional intelligence is a hybrid construct
touching the domains of personality and social skills. Personality traits are defined as
enduring dispositions, while social skills can be learnt. Thus, emotional intelligence
contains elements that are stable as well as elements that can be learnt.
Goleman (1998) further suggests that emotional intelligence focuses on two sets of
personal qualities. The first set involves dispositional qualities, such as initiative and
empathy, and the second set involves trainable qualities, such as adaptability and
persuasiveness. Individuals are thus able to build and develop portions of emotional
intelligence. Goleman also believes that the balance and management of emotions
determine how intelligently individuals act and ultimate whether individuals succeed in
life (Pfeiffer, 2001).
Goleman suggests that the competencies associated with emotional intelligence relate
to four domains. These domains are defined by whether competence relates to self or
other, or recognition or regulation. The two aspects of self-competence are selfawareness and self-management (Matthews et al., 2004). These aspects involve
knowing ones emotions, managing emotions and motivating the self (Woitaszewski &
Aalsma, 2004). Competence with others can be broken down into social awareness and
relationship management (Matthews et al., 2004). These competencies involve
recognising emotions in others and handling relationships effectively (Woitaszewski &
Aalsma, 2004). Recognising emotions in others is also known as empathy. People who
are empathic are more attuned to the subtle social signals that indicate the needs and
wants of others (Goleman, 1995). The ability to regulate emotion in the self can be
viewed as adaptive or maladaptive. An example of an adaptive strategy is social
- 19 -

support seeking. Maladaptive strategies include avoidance and substance abuse.


Emotion regulation in others refers to the ability to manage the emotions of others and
not be overwhelmed (Nelis, Quoidbach, Mikolajczak & Hansenne, 2009).
Goleman (1995) reports that a wide array of specific qualities, such as impulse control,
persistence, empathy, good moods, hope and optimism, are subsumed within these
broader components and are characteristic of emotionally intelligent individuals.
Emotional intelligence can thus be understood as a master aptitude, a capacity that
profoundly affects all other abilities, either facilitating or interfering with them (Goleman,
1995, p. 80). This statement reflects Golemans belief that emotional intelligence is
extremely powerful and impacts on peoples success.
Golemans theory has been criticised for being over inclusive and incorporating many
well-established personality constructs, such as empathy, motivation, warmth and social
skills (Murphy, 2006). The definition and the categories have been criticised for not
being related to each other (Murphy, 2006). Epstein (1998) states that although
Goleman's views appeal to people because of his emphasis on the importance of
abilities other than cognitive intelligence, they are not very useful for identifying a viable
construct of emotional intelligence.
Golemans theory draws attention to the limitations of cognitive intelligence in explaining
success in living. The theory emphasises the importance of several other abilities and
attributes, including emotional adjustment, social competence and ego strength. Ego
strength is seen as including the ability to tolerate frustration and regulate impulses. It is
unfortunate that the theory includes all of these aspects under the rubric of an undefined
concept labelled emotional intelligence. Goleman's theory is also limited in that it
ignores the concept of practical intelligence, which refers to solving problems in the real
world and which is different from both intellectual and emotional intelligence but equally
important for success in living (Epstein, 1998).

- 20 -

2.5.2.2

Bar-On

Although Golemans name is rightfully associated with the popularisation of emotional


intelligence, Reuven Bar-Ons work has been equally influential (Woitaszewski &
Aalsma, 2004). Bar-Ons conceptualisation of emotional intelligence involves clusters of
established personality traits (Matthews et al., 2004). This conceptualisation correlates
highly with personality variables but not with cognitive ability (OConnor & Little, 2003).
Bar-On characterises emotional intelligence as an array of non-cognitive capabilities,
competencies and skills that influence ones ability to succeed in coping with
environmental demands and pressures (Bar-On, 1997, p.14). According to Bar-On,
these abilities should be conceptualised as a type of emotional competence rather than
an inherent intelligence (Brand, 2007).
Working from the mixed-model approach, Bar-On developed the Emotional Quotient
Inventory (EQ-i). The inventory is designed to measure awareness, understanding and
control over expressive emotions (Douglas et al., 2004). The EQ-i is a measure of the
non-cognitive abilities that seem to be the most critical for positive adjustment
(Cherniss, 2002). This model essentially focuses on an individuals psychological wellbeing and capacity to adapt to new situations (Ellis & Conboy, 2005).
The EQ-i assesses five broad types of emotional intelligence. Each of these higherorder components is measured by various subcomponents defined by pools of items.
The subcomponents are subsequently summed to create each higher-order construct
(Matthews et al., 2004). The first type of emotional intelligence is measured by the
intrapersonal scale. This scale measures the extent to which respondents are in touch
with their own emotions, their self-confidence and their degree of self-satisfaction
(Newsome et al., 2000). People who score high in this area are able to express their
feelings and are independent, strong and confident in conveying their ideas and beliefs
(Bar-On, 1997). The interpersonal scale assesses the second type of emotional
intelligence, which involves how the respondent interacts with and understands other
people (Newsome et al., 2000). The third type of emotional intelligence is measured by
the adaptability scale, which measures how the respondent successfully solves
- 21 -

problems and copes with demands (Newsome et al., 2000). This dimension assesses
how individuals adjust their emotions and behaviours to changing situations and
conditions (Parker, Summerfeldt, Hogan & Majeski, 2004). High scores on this
composite scale identify people who are generally flexible, realistic, effective in
understanding problematic situations and competent at arriving at adequate solutions
(Bar-On, 1997). The fourth dimension, the stress management scale, measures the
extent to which the individual can withstand stress (Newsome et al., 2000). People that
score high on this component can handle tasks that are stressful or anxiety provoking
efficiently (Bar-On, 1997). The fifth domain, the general mood scale, assesses a
respondents levels of stress and optimism (Newsome et al., 2000).
The EQ-i correlates with a wide range of existing personality constructs, as well as with
other theoretically relevant constructs, such as coping (Matthews et al., 2004). There is
also evidence that the EQ-i predicts other variables, such academic success in
university students (Parker, Hogan, Eastabrook, Oke & Wood, 2006), the presence of
clinical disorders and response to alcoholism treatment (Matthews et al., 2004).
Bar-Ons construct of emotional intelligence has been critiqued for being too broad and
containing too many aspects of personality. It has also been criticised for lacking
internal consistency and being difficult to evaluate (Murphy, 2006). Furthermore, BarOns model fails to include any cognitive abilities. The validity of such an approach is
questionable, since it reduces the concept of emotional intelligence to a metaphor.
Intelligence is understood as a cognitive feature associated with information processing.
If emotional intelligence is interpreted as a feature of personality alone, then the term
intelligence is no longer appropriate (Lyusin, 2006).
2.5.2.3

Petrides and Furnham

Petrides and Furnham (2003) view trait emotional intelligence as a constellation of


emotion-related self-perceived abilities and dispositions located at lower levels of
personality hierarchies (p. 816). Following the Eysenckian view (Eysenck, 1960; 1991),
Petrides and Furnham (2001, 2003) regard traits as dispositions and distinguish them
- 22 -

from abilities. The term trait is useful in describing the construct as it emphasises the
strong relationship to the basic dimensions of personality as well as the fact that this is
not a cognitive ability (Petrides & Furnham, 2001).
Petrides and Furnham (2001) state that trait emotional intelligence includes various
dispositions from the personality domain, such as empathy and assertiveness, as well
as elements of social intelligence, personal intelligence (Gardner, 1993) and ability
emotional intelligence (Mayer & Salovey, 1997). Social and personal intelligence and
ability emotional intelligence are included in the form of self-perceived abilities (Petrides
& Furnham, 2001).
Self-report emotional intelligence measures are more closely related to personality than
ability emotional intelligence measures (Bastian, Burns & Nettelback, 2005). Studies
have found low to moderate correlations between several of the Big Five personality
traits and emotional intelligence. Openness to Experience, Extroversion and
Conscientiousness have been positively correlated with emotional intelligence.
Neuroticism has been negatively correlated with emotional intelligence (Davies, Stankov
& Roberts, 1998; Warwick & Nettelback, 2004). Individuals measuring high on
Extroversion appear to have more knowledge about their emotional experiences, are
more accurate in their emotional perceptions and are more optimistic regarding their
abilities to repair their negative mood states. Individuals who measure high on
Neuroticism seem to focus more on their moods, yet do not understand their moods and
feel that they cannot regulate these moods (Shulman & Hemenover, 2006).
Individual differences in trait emotional intelligence appear to influence how people
respond to affectladen emotional stimuli. A study using the Trait Emotional Intelligence
Questionnaire (TEIQue) found that high trait emotional intelligence participants showed
greater mood deterioration than their low trait emotional intelligence peers following
exposure to distressing stimuli (Sevdalis, Petrides & Harvey, 2007). These findings are
relevant to trait emotional intelligence theory and support the view that high trait
emotional intelligence is not always adaptive. The adaptive value of high trait emotional
intelligence will differ depending on the context. The findings of Sevdalis et al.s (2007)
- 23 -

research illustrate a basic tenet of trait emotional intelligence theory, in that trait
emotional intelligence is not viewed as a cognitive ability, competency or skill (Sevdalis
et al., 2007).
Although high trait emotional intelligence individuals show mood deterioration after
exposure to upsetting stimuli, these individuals are likely to be able to reduce their
negative moods more effectively than low trait emotional intelligence individuals. These
individuals have higher mood regulation and thus report more positive affect because
they are likely to be able to sustain their positive moods (Spence, Oades & Caputi,
2004).
In accordance with the idea that trait emotional intelligence is related to personality,
Petrides and Furnham (2001) conducted a study on the theoretical foundation of
emotional intelligence. Participants completed the Bar-On EQ-i and the Eysenckian
Personality Profiler. The Eysenckian Personality Profiler contains three factors, namely
Psychoticism, Extraversion and Neuroticism. The study found that the 15 EQ-i scales
did not disintegrate in the presence of the three Eysenckian factors. This provides
strong empirical evidence for the existence of a coherent and distinguishable trait
emotional intelligence factor. Therefore, the position of trait emotional intelligence in the
Eysenckian model of personality is theoretically meaningful (Petrides & Furnham,
2001).
Critics of trait emotional intelligence argue that the construct is strongly related to the
basic personality dimensions and often fails to account for criterion variance over and
above

these

dimensions.

However,

Petrides

and

Furnhams

(2001,

2003)

conceptualisation of trait emotional intelligence as a lower order personality trait renders


this criticism irrelevant (Petrides & Furnham, 2006). Shulman and Hemenover (2006)
state that dispositional emotional intelligence is not synonymous with personality but
instead predicts important outcomes above and beyond more generalised features of
personality. Thus, perceived emotional intelligence is a useful construct and predicts
meaningful outcomes independent of personality influences.

- 24 -

This research made use of the trait approach to emotional intelligence. This concept
encompasses a broad range of dimensions, such as dispositions from the personality
domain as well as self-perceived abilities. The Trait Emotional Intelligence
Questionnaire-Short Form (TEIQue) was administered to gain an understanding of the
participants levels of emotional intelligence.
2.6

Emotional intelligence and previous research findings

Emotional intelligence has been associated with a range of outcomes. In a broad sense
these outcomes can all be regarded as relating to quality of life (Austin, Saklofske &
Egan, 2004). Research has found emotional intelligence to be positively associated with
life satisfaction. To be more specific, trait emotional intelligence is conceptually and
empirically related to happiness and well-being (Furnham & Petrides, 2003). Trait
emotional intelligence also seems to be a stronger predictor of happiness than the Big
Five personality factors (Chamorro-Premuzic, Bennett & Furnham, 2007). Furnham and
Petrides (2003) report that a large amount of variance in happiness is determined by
peoples

emotion-related

self-perceptions

and

dispositions,

including

emotion

regulation, relationship skills and social competence.


Trait emotional intelligence has been negatively associated with psychological distress
(Austin et al., 2004) and depression (Dawda & Hart, 2000). Furthermore, correlations
have been found between trait emotional intelligence and borderline personality
disorder. Borderline personality disorder is characterised by impulsive behaviour,
unstable self-image, unstable interpersonal relationships and extreme difficulty in
emotion and mood management. Borderline personality disorder is negatively
associated with multiple aspects of trait emotional intelligence, including self-reported
emotion management (Gardner & Qualter, 2009).
Psychopathy and

trait

emotional intelligence

are

also

related.

Theoretically,

psychopathy is regarded as a heterogeneous concept consisting of primary


psychopathy, which is characterised by features such as cruelty and lack of affect and
secondary psychopathy, which is characterised by features such as impulsivity,
- 25 -

neuroticism and aggression (Ali, Amorim & Chamorro-Premuzic, 2009). Psychopathic


people are infamous for their chronic and diverse failures of social adjustment despite
their adequate intellectual abilities (Malterer, Glass & Newman, 2008). These individuals
display a wide range of maladaptive antisocial behaviours that result in negative
consequences. These maladaptive behaviours may be attributed to deficient emotion
processing (Malterer et al., 2008). These individuals display lower levels of trait
emotional intelligence than controls (Ali et al., 2009). Individuals with primary
psychopathy are less likely to attend to emotion cues and less able to revise their mood
states once emotions are experienced (Malterer et al., 2008).
In terms of relationships, trait emotional intelligence has been found to be positively
associated with quality of interpersonal relationships (Palmer, Donaldson & Stough,
2002). According to Brackett, Warner and Bosco (2005), couples low in trait emotional
intelligence tend to have fewer positive relationship outcomes than couples in which at
least one partner shows high levels of trait emotional intelligence. Negative associations
have been found between trait emotional intelligence and loneliness (Saklofske, Austin
& Minski, 2003). Subjects who can manage others emotions seem to respond less
intensively to stressful situations and exhibit less suicidal ideation, less depression and
less hopelessness. These subjects also express more empathy and have better social
support that protects them from negative feelings (Hansenne & Bianchi, 2009).
High trait emotional intelligence individuals should also be more successful at meeting
the demands of stressful situations because they are better able to perceive, appraise
and regulate their emotions. More particularly, components of trait emotional
intelligence are related to a number of coping processes, such as rumination, social
support networks and the disclosure of trauma. This suggests that higher trait emotional
intelligence should be associated with better coping and the use of more effective
coping strategies (Bastian et al., 2005). Trait emotional intelligence is also positively
associated with task-focused coping and negatively associated with emotion-focused
coping (Saklofske, Austin, Galloway & Davidson, 2007). Individuals unable to perceive
and appraise their own feelings, thus measuring low on trait emotional intelligence, have

- 26 -

difficulty directing their attention toward adaptive coping and thus employ more passive
coping strategies when faced with stressful life events. High trait emotional intelligence
individuals use adaptive-rational and detached coping strategies (Rogers, Qualter,
Phelps & Gardner, 2006).
High trait emotionally intelligent individuals have more adaptive coping strategies and
are likely to handle stress more effectively. Thus, high trait emotional intelligence is
related to academic success (Di Fabio & Palazzeschi, 2009; Lyons & Schneider, 2005).
A study found that students who obtained high marks in university scored significantly
higher on trait emotional intelligence measures (Austin, Evans, Goldwater & Potter,
2005). Research findings also show that trait emotional intelligence is positively
associated with success in occupations that involve considerable reasoning using
emotional information (Palmer et al., 2002). In general, performance is enhanced with
high trait emotional intelligence. This includes performance in interviewing and
management as well as performance on academic and cognitive tasks (Lyons &
Schneider, 2005). Trait emotional intelligence is also likely to have an impact on
perceived job stress and the consequences of experienced stress and burnout (Brand,
2007).
This research focused on the relationship between emotional intelligence and burnout.
In the following section, research findings pertaining to emotional intelligence and
concepts closely related to burnout are presented.
2.7

Emotional intelligence and burnout-related research

Burnout consists of certain related concepts, such as stress, depression and fatigue.
Studies have shown that these concepts are also associated with emotional
intelligence. These associations are discussed below.
2.7.1

Emotional intelligence and stress

The link between emotional intelligence and stress relates to the idea that negative
emotions and stress are the result of some dysfunctional relationship between aspects
- 27 -

of the self and the environment. The ability (emotional intelligence) to read and
manage emotions in the self and others is a moderator in this process. In essence,
emotional intelligence accounts for individual differences in the capacity to process
information of an emotional nature and to be able to relate this information to wider
cognitions. Emotional intelligence is not about emotions as such but is more about the
way in which individuals effectively integrate emotions with thoughts and behaviour and
act to reduce aversive emotional experiences (Slaski & Cartwright, 2003). According to
Shih et al. (2009), if individuals could cope with difficulties through self-regulation their
problems could gradually be solved.
Ramesar, Koortzen and Oosthuizen (2009) view stress management as a component of
emotional intelligence. Certain forms of emotional intelligence may protect people from
stress and lead to better adaptation. Individuals with emotion management skills seem
to be able to better maintain a positive mood (Ciarrochi, Deane & Anderson, 2002).
Emotional intelligence has been found to be useful in reducing stress and improving
health and well-being (Slaski & Cartwright, 2003). Mikolajczak and Luminet (2008) state
that trait emotional intelligence is a significant predictor of both subjective and
neuroendocrine responses to stress. Students with high trait emotional intelligence
scores displayed less increase in psychological symptoms and somatic complaints
during exams than their lower trait emotional intelligence counterparts (Mikolajczak,
Roy, Luminet, Fillee & de Timary, 2007). Therefore, trait emotional intelligence appears
to moderate psychological and somatic resistance to chronic stressors or stressful
occupations (Mikolajczak et al., 2007). Augusto Landa et al. (2008) found that nurses
who score high on clarity and emotional repair report less stress, whereas those with
high scores in attention to emotions experience high levels of stress. Emotional
intelligence appears to be a protective factor against stress and its many
consequences.
2.7.2

Emotional intelligence and depression

According to Petrides, Perez-Gonzalez and Furnham (2007) and Dawda and Hart
(2000), trait emotional intelligence is negatively related to depression. Hansenne and
- 28 -

Bianchi (2009) state that there are positive correlations between emotional intelligence
and subjective happiness and life satisfaction among undergraduate students. Subjects
that can manage others' emotions seem to respond less intensively to stressful
situations and exhibit less suicidal ideation, less depression, and less hopelessness.
These subjects also express more empathy and they have better social support to
protect them from negative feelings. In contrast, subjects that scored high on emotional
perception reported greater depression, hopelessness and suicidal ideation (Hansenne
& Bianchi, 2009). The study thus found that self-reported emotional intelligence is
related to emotional adjustment. In a different study, adolescents reporting higher ability
to discriminate clearly among feelings and to regulate emotional states showed less
anxiety and depression (Fernandez-Berrocal, Alcaide, Extremera & Pizzaro, 2006). The
tendency to not think about thoughts and feelings is associated with lower anxiety,
depression and paranoia and with higher self-esteem (Ciarrochi et al., 2002).
Emotional intelligence has also been negatively associated with fatigue. The
psychosocial variables of depression, anxiety, optimism, internal locus of control and
amount of social support each partially mediate between emotional intelligence and
fatigue (Brown & Schutte, 2006).
The research relating to emotional intelligence and burnout related constructs suggests
that a relationship does exist between burnout and emotional intelligence.
2.8

Chapter summary

This chapter discussed the concept of emotional intelligence. The two concepts that
make up emotional intelligence (emotions and intelligence) were discussed first. Next,
theories of emotional intelligence were discussed and ability and trait/mixed emotional
intelligence were defined. The different types of emotional intelligence were then
discussed. Finally, research findings concerning emotional intelligence and the
relationship between emotional intelligence and burnout were presented. In the
following chapter the discussion turns to the construct of burnout and traces the origins,
measurement and theoretical development of this construct.
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CHAPTER 3
3. BURNOUT
3.1

Introduction

Schaufeli and Enzmann (1988) describe burnout as a state of exhaustion similar to the
smothering of a fire or the extinguishing of a candle. Darkness replaces the vital spark.
This metaphor aptly describes the emotional state of being burned out. Burnout was first
understood to be a psychological phenomenon that occurred in the helping professions.
However, the concept has been extended to all professions as well as to the student
population.
In this chapter the concept of burnout is discussed. Many different definitions of burnout
are provided. Different theoretical models of burnout are explored. These models
include individual models, interpersonal models, organisational models and societal
models. The factors that contribute to burnout are discussed, with special reference to
personality factors, coping skills, self-efficacy and demographic variables. Symptoms of
burnout are also discussed in four different domains. The chapter then focuses on
burnout in the work context and burnout among students. Lastly, research related to
burnout and emotional intelligence is reviewed.
3.2

Definition of burnout

Burnout can be described as the state of utter depletion experienced by people in the
service and helping professions who work long hours and have an excessive and
intense workload (Yu, 2005). Various other definitions of burnout exist. However, there
is a general consensus among researchers that the symptoms of burnout have
attitudinal, emotional and physical components (Farber, 1983). These definitions refer to
symptoms such as mental or emotional exhaustion, fatigue and depression. The
emphasis is on mental and behavioural symptoms. These symptoms manifest in normal
persons who have not previously suffered from any psychopathology (Schaufeli,
Maslach & Marek, 1993).
- 30 -

3.2.1

Freudenberger

Burnout can be considered to be a mental disorder that results from personal


characteristics such as intra-personal conflicts, dysfunctional personality traits and
ineffective coping mechanisms (Brand, 2007). Freudenberger and Richelson (1980, p.
13) describe burnout as a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a
cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.
Furthermore, Freudenberger states that burnout cannot be understood through the
medical model. The medical model states that ill-health is biologically based pathologies
originating in the malfunctioning of genes, organs and cells in the individual body
(Clarke & Everest, 2006). A comprehensive understanding of burnout requires a
framework within which antecedent variables, of both a personal and social nature, are
explored in terms of how they impact on a person and in turn change the individuals
view of the future. Therefore, it is important to understand the psychosocial context in
which burnout occurs (Freudenberger & Richelson, 1980).
3.2.2

Pines

Pines and Aronson (1988) report that burnout is a state of physical, emotional and
mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in situations that are emotionally
demanding. It is characterised by physical depletion, feelings of helplessness and
hopelessness, emotional drain and the development of a negative self-concept and
negative attitudes towards work, life and people.
Burnout tends to affect those individuals who were previously idealistic and enthusiastic.
Individuals entering a given profession with a cynical attitude are unlikely to burn out.
Individuals entering the profession with a strong desire to give of themselves to others
and feelings of helpfulness and idealism during their early years on the job are more
susceptible to severe burnout. In order to burn out, a person needs to have been very
passionate and motivated at one time. Thus, one of the great costs of burnout is the
diminution of the effective service of the very best people in a given profession (Pines,
Aronson & Kafry, 1981).
- 31 -

Pines (2002) believes that the root cause of burnout lies in peoples need to believe that
their lives are meaningful and that the things they do, and consequently they
themselves, are important and significant.
3.2.3

Cherniss

Cherniss (1980) was one of the first to define burnout as a process in which
professionals attitudes and behaviour change in negative ways in response to job
strain. This process is more accurately explained as consisting of three stages. The first
stage involves an imbalance between resources and demands (stress). The second
stage involves the immediate, short-term emotional tension, fatigue and exhaustion.
The third stage consists of a number of changes in attitude and behaviour (Cherniss,
1980; Van der Merwe, 2003).
Cherniss (1980) introduces an important new element into the third stage. This element
involves the individuals way of coping with stress. Although excessive job demands are
the root cause of burnout, a defensive coping strategy characterised by avoidance and
withdrawal fosters the development of burnout (Storm, 2001). The changes in attitude
and behaviour associated with burnout provide a psychological escape and ensure that
further stress will not be added to the strain already being experienced (Cherniss,
1980).
3.2.4

Maslach

Maslach and Jackson (1986, cited in Shaufeli & Enzmann, 1998, p.31) state that
burnout is a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced
personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do people-work of
some kind. Maslach and Goldberg (1998) state that the key characteristics of burnout
are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of frustration, anger, cynicism and a sense of
ineffectiveness and failure. However, the third edition of the Maslach Burnout Inventory
test manual broadens the concept of burnout and defines it as a crisis in ones
relationship with work in general and not necessarily as a crisis in ones relationship

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with people at work (Van der Merwe, 2003). The burnout concept has been extended to
various occupations as well as to non-occupational areas of life (Maslach, 1993).
Exhaustion is a central component of burnout and is the most obvious manifestation of
this complex syndrome (Maslach et al., 2001). Emotional exhaustion involves feelings of
being emotionally overextended (Maslach, 1988), emotional depletion and overinvolvement, as well as feelings of being overwhelmed by others and emotional
demands (Jordaan, 2005). The individual is incapable of performing (Montgomery et al.,
2005) and cannot give of the self at a psychological level (Schaufeli & Enzmann,
1998). This exhaustion can also manifest in physical experiences such as waking up as
tired as when one went to bed or lacking the required energy to take on another task
(Van der Merwe, 2003).
Depersonalisation, also referred to as cynicism, refers to a negative, cynical or
excessively detached response to other people (Maslach & Goldberg, 1998). This
dimension often includes a loss of idealism (Maslach, 1998). In the work setting
depersonalisation is marked by the display of negative and callous attitudes towards
people and treating people as objects rather than people. Visible symptoms of
depersonalisation include derogatory language when referring to clients and withdrawal
from the job by taking longer breaks (Furnell, 2007). Depersonalisation is a type of
mental distancing that indicates that the employee is no longer willing to perform
(Montgomery et al., 2005). According to Cordes and Dougherty (1993), cynicism is
viewed as a type of coping, which is an acceptable and professional response to the
stressful situation. However, when this coping strategy becomes a habitual pattern the
person becomes dysfunctional because it disrupts adequate task performance
(Montgomery et al., 2005).
The dimensions of emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation are considered to be
the core dimensions of burnout (Pienaar & Sieberhagen, 2005). Distancing or
depersonalisation is such an immediate reaction to exhaustion that a burnout research
has consistently found a strong relationship between exhaustion and cynicism (Maslach
et al., 2001). In a study by Lee and Ashforth (1990) exhaustion and depersonalisation
- 33 -

were found to be more strongly associated with psychological and physiological strain
than was the personal accomplishment dimension. The study found that helplessness
was also more strongly related to emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation than the
personal accomplishment dimension (Lee & Ashforth, 1990).
The third dimension of burnout is labelled lack of personal accomplishment and refers to
a decline in ones feelings of competence and successful achievement (Van der Merwe,
2003). Maslach states that reduced personal accomplishment/ professional efficacy
involve feelings of incompetence and lack of success and productivity at work (Maslach,
1993; Maslach et al., 2001). Individuals experiencing a lack of personal accomplishment
view themselves negatively in terms of their ability to perform the job and their ability to
have personal interactions (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993). These individuals trivialise the
things at which they are successful and no longer feel they are able to make a
difference through their work or personal interaction. These feelings of inadequacy
directly affect an individuals self-efficacy (Van der Merwe, 2003). This component of
burnout reflects the self-evaluation dimension of burnout (Maslach, 1998).
A lowered sense of self-efficacy has been linked to depression, stress and an inability to
cope with the demands of a job (Maslach, 1998). Depression and stress are linked to
burnout but the terms are not synonymous. Burnout involves physical or psychological
tension derived from demands that exceed available resources (Garland, 2002). Stress
is a temporary adaptation process that is accompanied by mental and physical
symptoms and caused by an imbalance between job demands and the response
capability of the worker. In contrast, burnout can be considered to be the final stage in a
breakdown in adaptation that results from the long-term imbalance of demands and
resources. Burnout is also accompanied by chronic malfunctioning at work. It is thus
possible to define burnout as a particular kind of prolonged job stress or the
consequence of chronic, ongoing stress (Storm & Rothmann, 2003b).
The concepts of burnout and depression are related but are differentiated in a number
of ways (Brenninkmeyer, VanYperen & Buunk, 2001). According to Schaufeli and
Enzmann (1998), burnout tends to be job related and situation specific rather than
- 34 -

pervasive. In contrast, depression is generalised across situations and different life


areas. Depression is most often accompanied by guilt, whereas burnout generally
occurs in a context of anger. However, emotional exhaustion and depression overlap to
a certain extent (Storm & Rothmann, 2003b). Both concepts imply negative perceptions
regarding the environment, the self and future (Jordaan, 2005).
3.2.5

Schaufeli and Enzmann

Schaufeli and Enzmann (1998) propose an overarching definition of burnout that


includes the process characteristics of burnout. These authors define burnout as a
persistent, negative, work-related state of mind in normal individuals that is primarily
characterised by exhaustion, which is accompanied by distress, a sense of reduced
effectiveness, decreased motivation, and the development of dysfunctional attitudes
and behaviours at work (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998, p. 36). Schaufeli and Buunk
(2003) state that this condition develops gradually and may go unnoticed for a long
time. Burnout is the result of a misfit between intentions and reality at the job. Burnout
can often be self-perpetuating because of the inadequate coping strategies that are
associated with the syndrome. Schaufeli and Enzmanns (1998) definition of burnout
specifies its general symptomatology, its preconditions as well as the domain in which it
occurs. More specifically, the definition highlights one core indicator (exhaustion) and
four accompanying general symptoms: distress (affective, cognitive, physical and
behavioural symptoms), a sense of reduced effectiveness, decreased motivation and
dysfunctional attitudes and behaviours at work. Frustrated intentions and inadequate
coping strategies also play a role as preconditions in the development of burnout. The
burnout process is also considered to be self-perpetuating and may not be recognised
immediately. Schaufeli and Enzmanns (1998) definition also specifies that the
symptoms must be work-related and that burnout occurs in normal individuals who do
not suffer from psychopathology.
In conclusion, most definitions of burnout state that burnout starts with stress.
Individuals then feel that they do not have the emotional resources to cope with the
situation. They feel emotionally and mentally strained and their attitudes begin to
- 35 -

change, eventually resulting in burnout. The way the individual deals with stress is
crucial to the development of burnout.
The current research made use of Maslachs three dimensional explanation of burnout.
This theory provides measurable factors (emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and
reduced personal accomplishment) with which to assess the concept of burnout. The
Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey, which consists of questions assessing
these three components, was utilised in the data collection process. Maslach (1993)
also recognises that burnout can occur in non-occupational settings. This research
investigated burnout in postgraduate university students.
3.3

Models of burnout

An increasing number of research initiatives have focused on the burnout construct,


however a comprehensive theoretical model is still lacking (Schaufeli & Enzmann,
1998, p. 101). Schaufeli and Enzmann (1998) distinguish four sets of theoretical
approaches to burnout: individual processes that emphasise the role of individual
processes within the person; interpersonal approaches focusing on demanding
relationships with others at work; organisational approaches that emphasise the
relevance of the organisational context; and societal approaches that focus on the
broader social and cultural dimensions of burnout.
3.3.1

Individual approaches

Individual approaches attempt to analyse burnout from a general psychological


perspective. One of these approaches, which views burnout as a failure to retain ones
idealised self-image (Freudenberger & Richelson, 1980) states that burnout develops
when individuals believe in idealised images of themselves as super-competent and
inexhaustible. As a result of these idealised images they lose touch with their more
fallible or real selves (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). These individuals are very hard on
themselves for not doing and achieving more. They have a difficult time accepting
themselves and fear that others will also not accept them. They strive beyond the limits

- 36 -

of their own health, constantly driving themselves and are never satisfied (Gold & Roth,
1993). According to this approach burnout results from unmet needs and unfulfilled
expectations (Lemyre, Hall & Roberts, 2008). In trying to live up to their idealised selfimages, burnout candidates typically use the wrong strategies, further depleting their
emotional resources (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
Another individual approach to burnout is based on a cognitive-behavioural approach
and grounded in social learning theory. This approach states that burnout results from
incorrect expectations regarding reinforcement, outcomes and efficacy (Schaufeli &
Buunk, 2003). Dysfunctional thinking habits are present (Blonk, Brenninkmeijer,
Lagerveld & Houtman, 2006). More specifically, this approach predicts that incorrect
outcome expectations may trigger learned helplessness (a condition akin to burnout),
whereas incorrect efficacy expectations may affect the individuals sense of
accomplishment (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
The Conservation of Resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 1988, p. 25) states that people
have an innate as well as learned desire to conserve the quality and quantity of their
resources and to limit any state that may jeopardise the security of their resources. The
theory suggests that people have a deeply rooted motivation to obtain, retain and
protect that which they value (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998; Taris, Schreur & Van IerselVan Silfhout, 2001). The COR theory identifies four categories of resources. The
categories are objects (e.g. houses), conditions (e.g. relationships, steady job), personal
characteristics (e.g. self-esteem) and forms of energy (e.g. money). It is argued that the
loss of resources threatens individuals and result in stress (Brand, 2007). Work stress
occurs when an individuals resources are threatened or lost or when an investment of
resources fails to produce an anticipated level of return in resources (Hobfoll & Freedy,
1993). Burnout develops when resources are lost or when resources are inadequate to
meet the burden the individual faces (Brand, 2007). This theory is akin to the
transactional model of stress proposed by Lazarus (Brand, 2007).
Lazarus (2006) states that psychological stress and an individuals ability to cope with
that stress impact on an individuals well-being. This theory examines how individuals
- 37 -

own perceptions of their circumstances play a major role in explaining their emotional
experiences (Van Dick & Wagner, 2001). Stress is seen as a product of the way an
individual appraises and constructs a relationship with the environment. In this
relationship environmental demands, cognitive appraisals, coping efforts and emotional
responses are interrelated in reciprocal ways so that each has an effect on the others.
The transactional model recognises that different people experience stress in different
ways (Muldary, 1983). Burnout is explained as the result of triggering environmental
variables and intra-personal traits that may facilitate or inhibit the manifestation of
burnout (Kokkinos, 2007). Persons with lower levels of burnout may perceive the event
as amenable to change or may perceive their coping resources to be adequate
(Ceslowitz, 2006).
Taris et al. (2001) highlight certain important differences and critiques in relation to the
two theories discussed above. Lazaruss (2006) model only accounts for the indirect
influence of resources, in that ones personal resources will affect the appraisal of a
particular event, whereas in the Hobfoll (1988) framework resources directly affect
outcomes and coping behaviours. Taris et al. (2001) further state that COR theory is
better suited to explaining the effects of occupational stress.
The psychoanalytic individual approach to burnout considers burnout to be a narcissistic
personality disorder (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998) or narcissistic trauma that manifests
as a significant change in functioning attributable to a marked lowering of the
individuals sense of self-esteem (Fischer, 1983). Individuals that have idealised their
jobs and suffered subsequent disillusionment can either reduce their ideals or leave the
situation. However, these options are not available to the burnout candidate. Instead
these individuals redouble their efforts in order to attain their unrealistic objectives. They
are motivated by the fear of having to give up their narcissistic illusion of grandiosity.
The burnout candidates sense of self-esteem is grounded in this narcissistic illusion
(Schaufeli & Buunk, 2003).
Pines proposes an individual approach to burnout that is in existential nature. In this
approach the root cause of burnout lies in the existential need to believe that our lives
- 38 -

are meaningful and that the things we do are useful and important (Pines & Aronson,
1988; Pines & Keinan, 2005). Burnout combines physical, emotional and mental
aspects and it is a state that is difficult to escape (Pines & Aronson, 1988). This
existential model of burnout is a motivational model. Its underlying assumption is that
only highly motivated individuals can burn out (Schaufeli et al., 1993).
3.3.2

Interpersonal approaches

Initial theories of burnout viewed emotional strains resulting from daily interactions with
demanding, difficult or troubled recipients as the root cause of burnout (Schaufeli &
Enzmann, 1998). Various interpersonal approaches to burnout have been proposed and
some of these approaches are discussed in this section.
The social competence approach assumes that burnout is a function of perceived social
or interpersonal competence (Harrison, 1983). This theory pays attention to the way
individuals perceive, interpret and construct the behaviours of others at work (Buunk &
Schaufeli, 1993). Attention is also paid to individuals relationships with others, the way
in which individuals compare their own responses and feelings with those of others at
work and the way in which they are influenced by burnout symptoms in their colleagues
(Schaufeli & Buunk, 2003). Such comparisons may have consequences for the
development and persistence of burnout symptoms (Buunk & Schaufeli, 1993).
A second interpersonal approach conceptualises burnout as emotional overload
(Schaufeli et al., 1993). Maslach defines burnout as a psychological syndrome of
emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment
(Schaufeli et al., 1993). Maslach assumes that burnout is a sequential process that
starts with emotional exhaustion as a result of the emotional demands of dealing with
other people. Depersonalisation develops as part of the attempt to cope with this
exhaustion. Depersonalisation is a dysfunctional coping strategy that further damages
the relationship with individuals and as a result more and more failures are experienced
so that a sense of diminished personal accomplishment gradually develops (Schaufeli &
Enzmann, 1998).
- 39 -

This three factor sequential model is slightly superior to models that assume an
alternative sequence (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). This model views burnout as a
continuous variable and individuals are considered as positioned on a burnout
continuum (Ozan, 2009).
Maslachs burnout inventory is used to assess the three dimensions discussed above.
However, the inventory has been criticised for having categories that are not mutually
exclusive (Isaksson, Gude, Tyssen & Aasland, 2010). There is also ongoing debate
concerning lack of efficacy as the third dimension of burnout (Breso, et al., 2007).
Schaufeli et al. (2002) have shown that professional efficacy does not load on burnout
but instead loads on the positive concept of work engagement together with vigour,
dedication and absorption. This finding leaves exhaustion and cynicism as core burnout
dimensions.
A third interpersonal approach regards burnout as a lack of reciprocity (Buunk &
Shaufeli, 1993). In addition to working too long, too hard and with too difficult
individuals, this approach assumes that the balance between investments and
outcomes is crucial for the development of burnout (Schaufeli & Buunk, 2003).
Individuals experience insufficient rewards, involving a lack of appropriate rewards for
the work done, including both external (such as salary) and internal rewards (such as
pride) (Rothmann, 2003). High investment with low return can lead to burnout.
A fourth interpersonal approach refers to burnout as an emotional contagion (Rountree,
1984 cited in Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). Colleagues may act as models whose
symptoms are imitated through a process of emotional contagion (Schaufeli & Buunk,
2003). Rothmann (2004) states that managers suffering from burnout may spread their
symptoms to their subordinates and this could harm the organisation as a whole. This
perspective focuses on the way in which interpersonal relationships with colleagues
may contribute to burnout (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
The final interpersonal approach to be discussed defines burnout as emotional labour
(Hochschild, 1983 cited in Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). Emotional labour is defined as
- 40 -

the act of displaying appropriate emotion. It can be defined as the performance of


various kinds of emotion work in the context of paid employment (Kim, 2008). According
to Brotheridge and Grandey (2002), burnout and emotional labour have occupational
differences. In emotional labour the focus is on customer service where interactions are
less spontaneously emotional, yet emotional control is needed to maintain positive
relations with customers across time and situations. Burnout is likely to develop as a
result of surface acting, which involves simulating emotions that are not actually felt and
thus identification with those emotions is low. Surface acting involves deliberate
emotional displays that are intended to deceive others (Gardner, Fischer & Hunt, 2009).
Surface acting leads to an increase in emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation and
a decrease in personal accomplishment (Kim, 2008). In contrast to surface acting, deep
acting involves an attempt to feel the emotions that are displayed. Deep acting can also
cause burnout through over-identification with emotions (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
However, deep acting produces more favourable outcomes than surface acting. For
example, deep acting has been positively correlated with a sense of personal
accomplishment (Kim, 2008).
3.3.3

Organisational approaches

Organisational approaches to burnout interpret the syndrome in terms of undesired


organisational behaviour that affects the individual and the organisation. Golembiewski
and Munzenrider (1988 as cited in Schaufeli & Buunk, 2003) consider burnout to be a
virulent or dynamic process in which the professionals attitudes and behaviours change
in negative ways in response to job strain. Burnout has negative consequences for the
individual and the organisation (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). It is viewed as a process
that develops progressively through eight stages (Schaufeli & Buunk, 2003). The
process begins when functional detachment, which is necessary in certain professions,
gives way to dysfunctional depersonalisation. Dysfunctional depersonalisation then
interferes with job-related performance, thus affecting the individuals evaluation of
personal accomplishment. Finally, depersonalisation results in diminished personal
accomplishment, which ultimately culminates in emotional exhaustion in chronic cases
(Lewin & Sager, 2007). Golembiewski and Munzenriders (Golembiewski, 2000) model
- 41 -

is similar to Maslachs burnout model, but different priorities are assigned to the three
subscales of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. This model views depersonalisation as the
least important contributor to burnout, and emotional exhaustion as the most important
contributor (Golembiewski, 2000). This phase model implies that burnout becomes
more evident as the individual moves through depersonalisation to a reduced sense of
personal accomplishment to emotional exhaustion. Hence, individuals in the more
advanced phases experience more severe symptoms and consequences than those in
the earlier phases (Brand, 2007).
A second organisational model of burnout views burnout as a mismatch between the
person and his or her job. In this model burnout results from a chronic imbalance in
which the job demands more than the employee can give and provides less than what
he or she needs (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). The greater the gap or mismatch
between the person and the job, the greater the likelihood of burnout (Rothmann, 2003).
The Job Demands-Resources Model (JD-R; Demerouti, Nachreiner, Bakker &
Schaufeli, 2001) is a prominent organisational model of burnout. This model proposes
that employee well-being is related to a wide range of workplace variables that can be
conceptualised as either job demands or job resources (Lewig, Xanthopoulou, Bakker,
Dollard & Metzer, 2007). Specifically, job demands refer to the physical, social or
organisational aspects of a job that require sustained physical or mental effort and are
therefore associated with certain physiological or psychological costs, such as
exhaustion (Demerouti et al., 2001). Job demands also include situational factors such
as role ambiguity, role conflict, stressful events, heavy workload, work pressure,
pressure to make decisions, being assigned additional responsibility and having to meet
deadlines (Rothmann & Joubert, 2007). Job resources refer to those aspects of a job
that reduce job demands, facilitate achievement of work goals and stimulate personal
growth and development (Lewig et al., 2007). Job resources include social support
(supervisory and collegial), job enhancement opportunities in the form of increased
control and autonomy, participation in decision making, reinforcement contingencies as
well as opportunities for advancement and rewards (Rothmann & Joubert, 2007).

- 42 -

In a study of police officers, job demands and job resources were related to all three
burnout dimensions identified by the JD-R model (Martinussen et al., 2007). The JD-R
model predicts that job demands are primarily and positively related to exhaustion, while
job resources are primarily and negatively related to disengagement from work
(Demerouti et al., 2001). The exhaustion component of burnout is predicted by
overload, job insecurity and a lack of resources (Rothmann & Joubert, 2007). Work
engagement is predicted by job resources, specifically organisational support (including
managerial support, communication, role clarity and the extent of work autonomy).
Organisation support also has a strong influence on both the vigour and dedication
components of work engagement (Rothmann & Joubert, 2007). Therefore, according to
the JD-R model, burnout is a result of excessive job demands and diminished job
resources (Rothmann & Joubert, 2007).
The JD-R model neatly synthesises the concepts of job demands and job resources and
the literature concerning the relationship between these variables and work-related wellbeing and withdrawal behaviours into one overarching model. The model is flexible in its
specification of demands and resources and can thus be applied across all occupational
groups (Lewig et al., 2007).
3.3.4

Societal approaches

Strategies to cope with stress differ across social contexts (Meyerson, 1994). According
to Handy (1988 cited in Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1988), burnout can be described as a
discrepancy between surface and latent functions of organisations. Thus, burnout may
be caused by the discrepancies between these manifest and latent functions and the
surface and deep structures of organisations that profoundly influence the actions and
understandings of individual employees (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
Burnout can also be seen as a cultural product. Meyerson (1994) states that the symbol
of stress captures a culturally central duality of the individual as product and agent of
his or her social condition. Meyerson (1994) also highlights the relevance of the
institutional and cultural context, suggesting that each side of this duality may become
- 43 -

more or less salient in specific cultural conditions. In some cultural contexts people
interpret burnout, and by implication stress, as an individual problem while in other
cultural context it is interpreted as a social phenomenon.
The interpersonal approach to burnout was used in this research. This approach
focuses on demanding relationships with people at work (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
In this study the theory was applied to the university context. The Maslach Burnout
Inventory that was used as a data collection instrument is based on the interpersonal
theory of burnout.
3.4

Individual contributors to burnout

Many personal factors have been linked to burnout. Individual characteristics have been
postulated as important in the development of burnout. According to Kokkinos (2007),
burnout is the product of both organisationalenvironmental factors as well as personal
qualities of the individual. Personality has been explored quite extensively in the context
of burnout. This section examines the big five personality factors, hardy personality,
type-A behaviour, dependent personalities, locus of control, optimism and sense of
coherence. Other factors such as coping skills, self-efficacy and demographic factors
are also discussed.
3.4.1

Personality

The existence of a correlation between a personality trait and burnout does not mean
that the trait directly causes burnout. Individuals are likely to put themselves in
situations that match their personality and such situations may foster burnout (Garden,
1989). Furthermore, personality characteristics can moderate the relationship between
stressful situations and burnout in such a way that certain traits may buffer or,
conversely, enhance negative outcomes (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
3.4.1.1

The big five personality traits

Relationships between the big five personality traits and burnout have been reported in
- 44 -

various studies. Storm and Rothmann (2003b) found a negative relationship between
Extroversion and burnout. Extroversion is also negatively associated with emotional
exhaustion

and

depersonalisation

and

positively

associated

with

personal

accomplishment (Bakker et al., 2006; Jonker, 2004). Extroversion reflects individual


traits such as being sociable, gregarious, assertive, talkative and active (Kim, Shin &
Umbreit, 2007). People measuring high on this trait show positive emotions, have higher
frequency and intensity of personal interactions, have a tendency to be optimistic and
reappraise problems positively (Bakker et al., 2006). Zellers, Perrewe and Hochwarter
(2000) argue that the optimism, positive affect, energy and increased interpersonal
communication experienced by individuals scoring high on this factor may result in
reduced experiences of emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation.
Agreeableness generally shows a negative relationship with emotional exhaustion and
depersonalisation (Bakker et al., 2006; Kim et al., 2007) and a positive relationship with
personal accomplishment (Bakker et al., 2006). Agreeableness reflects individual
differences in warmth, friendliness, kindness and empathy in social interactions (Kim et
al., 2007). Low scores in Agreeableness are indicative of a distrustful attitude. This
attitude can easily become the dehumanised handling that is indicative of
depersonalisation (Cano-Garcia, Padilla-Munoz & Carrasco-Ortiz, 2005). Individuals
high on Agreeableness report less confrontational coping and more support seeking
(DeLongis & Holtzman, 2005). This factor, which encompasses sympathy, trust,
cooperation and altruism (McCrae & Costa, 1989), may allow an individual to manage
the frustration of dealing with people. This may result in reduced feelings of
depersonalisation and emotional exhaustion and augmented experiences of personal
accomplishment (Zellars et al., 2000).
Conscientiousness has been associated with problem-solving coping, self-discipline,
achievement striving and competence (Bakker et al., 2006). Individuals high on
Conscientiousness engage in more empathic responding. They report less avoidance
and self-blame strategies and more planned problem-solving (DeLongis & Holtzman,
2005). Conscientiousness shows a strong relationship with low emotional exhaustion

- 45 -

and depersonalisation (Jonker, 2004). It is also associated with increased feelings of


personal accomplishment (Kokkinos, 2007). The trait has also been linked to
involvement, persistence, fulfilment and efficacy, which pave the way for goal fulfilment
(Cano-Garcia et al., 2005).
A consistent relationship has been reported between burnout and Neuroticism (Morgan,
2009). Numerous studies have found that Neuroticism is related to all three burnout
factors (Bakker et al., 2006). Neuroticism includes trait anxiety, hostility, depression,
self-consciousness and vulnerability (Maslach et al., 2001). High scores on Neuroticism
tend to indicate increased emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation. Individuals
measuring high on this trait tend to express more negative emotions, be more emotional
unstable and have more extreme stress reactions than their lower scoring counterparts.
These individuals are therefore vulnerable to burnout (Kokkinos, 2007). Neuroticism has
been found to be related to the use of coping strategies that are related to poorer
outcomes. These coping strategies include avoidance, interpersonal withdrawal and
self-blame (Lee-Baggley, Preecen & DeLongis, 2005).
Individuals high in Neuroticism expect the worst from a situation and underestimate their
own ability to cope (Zellers et al., 2000). Zellars et al. (2000) argue that the effect of
anxiety and negative affect combined with increased vulnerability to situations could
lead these individuals to blame others for their feelings of anxiety. This would be likely
to increase the experience of depersonalisation. In addition, the tendency to anticipate
the worst may result in reduced professional efficacy. Morgan (2009) further states that
because Neuroticism is related to negativity in thinking, mood and coping, it is likely to
be related to emotional exhaustion.
Openness to Experience is positively related to personal accomplishment (Bakker et al.,
2006). Deary et al. (1996) found that there is evidence that individuals scoring higher on
Openness to Experience have a decreased probability of experiencing emotional
exhaustion. Zellers et al. (2006) found that this personality trait is negatively related to
depersonalisation. Openness to Experience involves adaptive and flexible coping and
the ability to engage with others and the world. It is also related to lower levels of
- 46 -

distancing in coping with stress (DeLongis & Holtzman, 2005). These individuals have a
good awareness of their surroundings and are thus likely to be attentive to stressors in
their environment. These individuals are also more likely to attempt new experiences
(Zellars et al., 2000). It is possible that these individuals may view stressful situations as
challenges,

leading

to

an

experience

of

an

increased

sense

of

personal

accomplishment and diminished emotional exhaustion (Zellars et al., 2000).


3.4.1.2

Other personality characteristics

As discussed in the previous section many studies have reported relationships between
the big five personality traits and burnout. However, similar relationships have been
found between other personality characteristics and burnout. Research has suggested a
negative relationship between hardiness and burnout. A hardy personality is
characterised by involvement in daily activities, a sense of control over events,
openness to change (Garrosa, Moreno-Jimenez, Liang & Gonzalez, 2008) and the
capacity to commit to an undertaking (Kobasa, Maddi & Kahn, 1982). Having a hardy
personality appears to decrease burnout (Garrosa et al., 2008). It is also consistently
related to all three dimensions of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Hardier individuals
appear to be less emotionally exhausted, less depersonalised and have stronger
feelings of personal accomplishment (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998; Toscano &
Ponterdolph, 1998).
The relationship between Type-A behaviour and burnout had also been investigated.
Storm (2001) reports a positive relationship between these two variables, especially in
relation to emotional exhaustion. Type-A individuals tend to be competitive, prefer a
time-pressured lifestyle and show an excessive need for control (Maslach et al., 2001).
Individuals with dependent personalities are likely to experience more symptoms of
burnout than less dependent people. Dependent individuals tend to experience
considerable stress that may have a cumulative effect over time. These individuals have
learned to assume submission under others and are inherently unable to perform tasks
with the same efficacy that others demonstrate (Muldary, 1983).
- 47 -

Another personality related construct, locus of control, concerns the degree to which
individuals believe that they control events in their lives (internal locus of control) or that
the environment or fate controls events (external locus of control) (Judge, Locke,
Durham & Kluger, 1998). People who feel in control respond to stress in a different way
than people who feel that they have no control (Muldary, 1983). Individuals with an
internal locus of control have more effective coping strategies that lead to better
psychological adjustment. These characteristics reduce the negative effects associated
with stress (Graffeo & Silvestri, 2006). Individuals with an internal locus of control
experience less anxiety and handle pressure better than those with an external locus of
control (Van der Merwe, 2003). Individuals with an external locus of control are more
vulnerable to stress and burnout (Schmitz, Neumann & Oppermann, 2000). Individuals
with an external locus of control appear to be more emotionally exhausted,
depersonalised and experience reduced feelings of personal accomplishment (Schaufeli
& Enzmann, 1998).
The personality characteristic of optimism can be defined as a generalised expectancy
that the future will be good (Rothmann & Essenko, 2007). Optimism and pessimism
influence peoples subjective experiences when confronting problems. They also
influence the actions people engage in to try and deal with these problems (Rothmann
& Essenko, 2007). Individuals with optimistic dispositions rely on coping strategies that
could help to control or modify aspects of stressors. They also seek information and are
involved in planning and positive reframing (Rothmann, 2003). Optimism is negatively
related to depression, anxiety and job burnout (Strassle, 1999) and has also been found
to be negatively related to scores on the exhaustion and cynicism scales of the Maslach
Burnout Inventory (Chang, Rand & Strunk, 2000). According to Strassle, McKee and
Plant (1999), optimism shows a positive relationship with life satisfaction and mental
health. Therefore, optimism plays an important role in a persons physical and emotional
well-being (Strassle et al., 1999) and acts as a buffer to stress (Jacobs & Dodd, 2003).
Sense of coherence refers to the extent to which an individual has a pervasive and
enduring feeling of confidence that his or her internal and external environments are

- 48 -

predictable and believes that there is a high probability that things will work out as well
as can reasonably be expected (Rothmann, 2004). A strong sense of coherence
enables one to mobilise effective coping resources in the face of tension. Individuals
with a low sense of coherence may be predisposed to experiencing the negative
emotions associated with burnout regardless of the stressors. Individuals with a high
sense of coherence may be predisposed to experiencing health proneness as opposed
to burnout, regardless of the stressors (Levert, Lucas & Ortlepp, 2000).
3.4.2

Coping skills

Coping is defined as an individuals attempt to prevent, reduce or eliminate negative


experiences (Mostert & Joubert, 2005). Coping also refers to perceptual, cognitive or
behavioural responses that are used to manage, avoid or control situations that are
regarded as difficult (Storm & Rothmann, 2003b).
Certain coping strategies can serve as a buffer against burnout (Jordaan, Spangenberg,
Watson & Fouche, 2007). Poor coping skills appear to be a significant factor in
determining the intensity with which stress is experienced (Van der Merwe, 2003). High
levels of stress and burnout are associated with ineffective coping strategies such as
emotion-focused coping strategies (Wiese, Rothmann & Storm, 2003). Low levels of
burnout are associated with active coping strategies (Storm & Rothmann, 2003b; Van
der Merwe, 2003) such as confronting (Rothmann, 2004). The use of problem-focused
coping strategies, which can also be regarded as active strategies, may trigger feelings
of personal accomplishment (Rothmann, 2004), therefore reducing the likelihood of
burnout. The use of passive forms of coping, such as behavioural and mental
disconnection from the situation, has been linked to greater feelings of emotional
exhaustion (Mostert & Joubert, 2005; Wiese et al., 2003) and depersonalisation
(Jordaan et al., 2007).
3.4.3

Self-efficacy

Self-efficacy refers to beliefs in ones capabilities to organise and execute the course of

- 49 -

action required to produce the expected attainment. Self-efficacy is not concerned with
the skills an individual possesses but rather the individuals judgement of what he or she
can do with these skills (Perrewe et al., 2002). Self-efficacy can be viewed as reflecting
an individuals perceptions of his or her fundamental ability to cope with lifes exigencies
and as such it represents a core self-evaluation (Judge et al., 1998). People who
believe in their abilities and potential are less susceptible to stress and consequently
less likely to suffer from burnout (Rothmann, 2003). A significant positive relationship
was found between generalised self-efficacy and personal accomplishment (Chan,
2007a). A significant negative relationship was found between generalised self-efficacy
and cynicism (Chan, 2007a). Emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation are
negatively related to self-efficacy (Skaalvik & Skaalvik, 2009).
3.4.4

Demographic variables

The demographic variable age is most consistently related to burnout. Burnout is


observed most often in employees aged younger than 30 or 40 years old (Maslach et
al., 2001; Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). Burnout seems to occur at the beginning rather
than at the end of a persons career (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
In terms of gender, burnout appears to be related to typically female issues, such as
the desirability of attending to and expressing emotions. Males and females may well
differ in important ways relevant to the experience of stress and burnout (Lackritz,
2004). Women tend to score slightly higher on emotional exhaustion, whereas men
score significantly higher on depersonalisation (Grayson & Alvarez, 2008; Schaufeli &
Enzmann, 1998).
In terms of marital status, unmarried men and to a lesser extent unmarried women,
seem to be more prone to burnout than their married counterparts (Maslach et al.,
2001). This may be the result of social support. The efficient and creative use of a social
support system is among the most effective ways of coping with burnout (Pines et al.,
1981).

- 50 -

3.5

Impact and symptoms of burnout

Many symptoms have been associated with burnout. These symptoms come from a
range of different areas such as affective, cognitive, physical and behavioural domains.
These symptom areas are discussed below.
3.5.1

Affective/psychological symptoms

Burnout represents a form of psychological imbalance that results from the inefficiency
appraisal or circumstances or the unavailability of adequate coping resources or a
combination of these two factors (Muldary, 1983). The components of burnout have
been linked to a variety of mental health problems. Deterioration in mental health is
characterised by a decrease in self-esteem and an increase in depression, irritability,
helplessness or anxiety (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993). Burnout also seems to harm an
individuals well-being (Pienaar & Willemse, 2008). Individuals suffering from burnout
appear resigned and discouraged and experience anxiety about failure (Kraft, 2006).
Burnout can also lead to depression (Ahola & Hakanen, 2007). The individuals
emotional resources are exhausted and emotional control might be decreased, which
can lead to undefined fears, anxiety and nervous tension (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998).
There is also a link between burnout and feelings towards others. In a study conducted
by Holmqvist and Jeanneau (2006), burnout was connected with negative feelings of
psychiatric staff towards patients. The same study found that a low incidence of burnout
was correlated with positive feelings towards patients. Tedium, emotional exhaustion
and depersonalisation were associated with unhelpful and rejecting feelings, whereas
personal accomplishment was associated with accepting, helpful and close feelings
(Holmqvist & Jeanneau, 2006).
3.5.2

Cognitive symptoms

An individual suffering from burnout might experience impaired cognitive skills (Storm,
2001). Professionals who experience burnout feel helpless, hopeless and powerless
(Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). They find it difficult to concentrate, have fewer creative
- 51 -

ideas and experience memory problems. They also begin to make mistakes (Kraft,
2006). Thinking becomes more rigid, schematic and detached and decision-making
becomes increasingly difficult (Storm, 2001).
Burned out practitioners experience increasing difficulty in finding proper solutions to
problems. Instead of actively solving problems there is a tendency to avoid reality by
daydreaming and fantasising (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). When problem-solving
mechanisms are not functioning properly, appraisal and coping are impaired and stress
continues to exacerbate the burnout (Muldary, 1983).
3.5.3

Physical symptoms

Burnout has also been linked to a variety of physical health problems (Cordes &
Dougherty, 1993). Physical symptoms of burnout can be grouped into three categories.
The first category involves physical distress such as headaches, nausea, dizziness,
restlessness and muscle pains. The individual may experience anxiety and can be
afraid of losing control over his or her body. Sexual problems, sleep disturbances and
weight changes can also occur. Chronic fatigue, drowsiness and bodily weakness are
all common physical symptoms of burnout (Storm, 2001). The second category of
physical health problems related to burnout consists of psychosomatic disorders like
ulcers, gastric-intestinal disorders and coronary heart disease. Less serious symptoms
in this category include prolonged colds and flu that can be considered a consequence
of prolonged stress (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). The third category concerns
physiological reactions and includes increased heart rate and respiration rate as well as
hypertension (Storm, 2001). The presence of burnout also predicts increased risk for
diseases of the circulatory, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems (Ahola et al.,
2008).
3.5.4

Behavioural symptoms

Behavioural symptoms are the result of the individuals increased level of arousal
(Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998) and include hyperactivity, an inability to concentrate and

- 52 -

acting directly and impulsively (Storm, 2001). Individuals who experience burnout may
also engage in behaviours such as smoking and drug and alcohol use (Cordes &
Dougherty, 1993).
In conclusion, psychological, cognitive, behavioural and physical symptoms can occur
as a result of burnout. Burnout can affect many areas of human life and is therefore
regarded as a pervasive disorder.
3.6

Burnout in the work context

The large number of employees suffering from burnout indicates that this occupational
disorder is a major problem in modern organisations (Brummelhuis, van der Lippe,
Kluwer & Flap, 2008). The concept of burnout was originally confined to individuals who
work in the helping professions. However, researchers currently acknowledge that
employees in almost any job can develop burnout (Jonker, 2004).
Burnout is related to the work environment and job demands such as time pressure and
work overload. Role overload, which is an individuals perception that insufficient time
and resources are available to accomplish work-related tasks, is also related to burnout.
The employee may spend excessive energy in an attempt to maintain performance
standards, leading to feelings of emotional exhaustion (Lewin & Sager, 2007). Lack of
role clarity can also enhance the burnout risk (Isaksson et al., 2009). Burnout is also
linked to conflicting demands and lack of autonomy in the work place. Specific job
characteristics, such as shift work, may affect workers experience of burnout
(Martinussen et al., 2007).
When psychological outcomes such as state anxiety, moods, fear, depression,
psychological distress, fatigue, negative emotions and emotional job demands are
experienced over prolonged periods they represent risk factors for burnout (Awa,
Plaumann & Walter, 2010). Burnout may also occur when the pursuit for significance
and meaning in life and identity is unsuccessfully pursued through work (Gustaffson &
Strandberg, 2009). Furthermore, when work interferes with family life, levels of burnout
- 53 -

increase (Innstrand, Langballe, Espnes, Falkum & Aasland, 2008).


According to Halbesleben and Buckley (2006), individuals perceptions of how burned
out they are compared to others may also have an effect on actual burnout. Individuals
engage in comparisons with those who they believe are worse off (downward
comparison) or better off (upward comparison) than themselves. Comparisons with
those who are worse off can result in positive affect. If individuals feel that they are in a
better situation than their peers they may reassess their perceptions of work-related
stressors and coping abilities in a manner that would lead to reduced burnout in the
future. Upward comparison reflects a social comparison situation characterised by a
belief that others are less burned out. Upward comparison plays a role in burnout.
Burnout might be exacerbated by the perception that others are less burned out
(Halbesleben & Buckley, 2006). Perception also influences burnout in the sense that
burnout may be due to a perceived imbalance between a persons contribution to his or
her work and the organisations contribution to him or her (Salmela-Aro, Naatanen &
Nurmi, 2004).
Freudenberger and Richelson (1980) state that exhaustion plays a major role in
burnout. According to these authors burnout is often precipitated by the work situation.
Employees have been overworked and their resources depleted for a long time. These
employees become agitated and eventually they can no longer repress the agitation.
In the workplace burnout can lead to serious consequences for professionals, their
clients and the larger setting in which they interact. Burnout is related to decreased job
performance, withdrawal from clients, the job and the organisation (Lewin & Sager,
2007), high employee turnover, absenteeism and low employee morale. Burnout can
also lead to early retirement and may increase morbidity and mortality (Borritz et al.,
2006). It affects an employees job satisfaction, self-esteem, social life and morale (van
der Merwe, 2003). It also has a negative influence on personal functioning at home and
thus has an influence on others. People with high work pressure and emotional
demands have trouble combining work and family life (Demerouti, Bakker & Schaufeli,
2005).
- 54 -

Certain variables may protect against burnout. Empowerment is an important protective


factor. Psychological empowerment at the workplace is a four-dimensional concept
consisting of meaning (a fit between the requirements of the job tasks and the subjects
own values), competence (the subjects belief that he or she possesses the skills and
abilities necessary to perform a job or task well), self-determination (the subjects feeling
of having control over his or her own work) and impact (the belief that the subject has a
significant influence over strategic, administrative or operational outcomes at work). A
negative association exists between empowerment and burnout (Hochwalder, 2007).
Social support from co-workers and supervisors can also serve as a protective factor
against burnout (Awa et al., 2010).
The discussion in this section has made it clear that burnout in the work environment
has negative consequences for the individuals professional and personal worlds.
3.7

Burnout amongst students

Although it was previously believed that students cannot experience burnout, recent
research has found this belief to be invalid (Pienaar & Sieberhagen, 2005). Experts
have reported that the number of college students with severe psychological problems
is increasing (Bernhard, 2007). Burnout can certainly be included in these psychological
problems. Yang (2004, p. 287) defines student burnout as students in the learning
process, because of course stress, course load or other psychological factors, display a
state of emotional exhaustion, a tendency to depersonalisation, and a feeling of low
personal accomplishment.
The transitory nature of post-secondary school life, leaving home, family and friends for
the first time, and adjusting to a vastly different environment, leaves students
particularly prone to stress and its potentially negative effects. Students must adjust to a
new social climate, attempt to build new support systems and achieve a high academic
standing (Weckwerth & Flynn, 2006).
Social support is very important for students (Jacobs & Dodd, 2003) and may also
- 55 -

extend to romantic relationships. Willcock, Daly, Tennant and Allard (2004)


demonstrated that medical students who were not in a relationship were more likely to
experience emotional exhaustion. Greater social support is associated with less
emotional exhaustion, less depersonalisation and a greater sense of personal
accomplishment (Jacobs & Dodd, 2003).
Concerns about finances are also related to stress in student populations. Ross,
Cleland and Macleod (2006) report that students who worried about money had higher
debts and performed less well than their peers in degree examinations. Some students
in this group also had mental health problems.
Demographic factors also influence students levels of stress. Ried, Motycka, Mobley
and Meldrum (2006) established that students in their second year of study were more
prone to experiences of burnout. These students expressed more emotional exhaustion
than students in other years. However, this finding may be specific to their sample to
pharmacy students (Ried et al., 2006). For medical students the prevalence of burnout
was higher for students in more advanced years of training (Dyrbye et al., 2006).
A positive relationship exists between workload and burnout. Some studies have found
this relationship to only be true for emotional exhaustion (Male & May, 1997, 1998) but
other studies have found that workload is correlated to all three dimensions of burnout
(Greenglass, Burke & Fiksenbaum, 2001). In a study by Jacobs and Dodd (2003)
subjective experiences of being overworked predicted emotional exhaustion and
depersonalisation.
Gender differences are also related to burnout in students. Weckwerth and Flynn (2006)
found that female students demonstrated lower scores on personal accomplishment
than male students. However, male students scored higher on the depersonalisation
scale than their female counterparts. Similarly, Ried et al. (2006) found that female
students were more likely to express emotional exhaustion, while male students were
more likely to express symptoms of depersonalisation.

- 56 -

Research suggests that students confront many challenges in pursuit of their


educational goals. University students may experience burnout due to learning
conditions that demand excessively high levels of effort and do not provide supportive
mechanisms to facilitate effective coping (Neumann et al., 1990). When these
experiences are perceived as negative, they can have adverse effects on students
motivation and performance (Struthers, Perry & Menec, 2000). These individuals
quality of life is dependent upon their ability to adjust to and cope with various demands.
Failure to adjust and cope may result in the impairment of behaviour and health.
Individuals who do not cope effectively initially experience behavioural problems such
as rage, anger, withdrawal and depression. If the stressors continue and are not dealt
with serious health problems can develop. Prolonged stress can result in burnout (Van
der Merwe, 2003).
Weckworth and Flynn (2006) state that in a study documenting stress and poor health
habits in college students, it was found that students exhibiting the greatest stress levels
reported significantly higher consumption of alcohol, drugs and junk food. These
students also exhibited lower self-esteem and poorer sleeping habits than students who
were not stressed. Other negative behaviours that have been linked to the experience
of stress in the student population include suicidal ideation and smoking (Weckwerth &
Flynn, 2006). When students reach the burnout level these behaviours may increase
and become fatal.
Postgraduate students who are also employed have to cope with demands that arise
from fulfilling the roles of student and employee at the same time. Non-working
postgraduate students have to learn the rules of being an adult and adjust to the
changes of not being a child anymore. All these factors impact on coping ability (Van
der Merwe, 2003). Furthermore, Morgan (2009) states there may be a relationship
between fear of unemployment (which is similar to job insecurity) and burnout in student
populations. Thus, the perception of possible unemployment after the completion of
higher education studies could be an antecedent to burnout in the student population.
Prior research indicates that the burnout syndrome in students is similar to that of
- 57 -

service employees. Student burnout can lead to higher absenteeism, lower motivation
to complete required assignments and higher dropout rates (Yang, 2004). Burnout
among students manifests as feeling exhausted because of study demands, having a
cynical and detached attitude toward ones studies and feeling incompetent as a student
(Schaufeli et al., 2002). Burnout influences students academic performance and
accomplishments and can threaten their academic futures (Struthers et al., 2000).
Student burnout is also an important predictor of later professional burnout (Mostert et
al., 2007).
Student burnout has negative consequences for individuals as well as for society at
large. It impacts on the general allure of the university for new students, with potential
consequences for present and future enrolment. Student burnout can also have a
significant impact on the effectiveness of the universities, which may in turn have
distinct policy implications for higher education institutions (Neumann et al., 1990).
3.8

Burnout and emotional intelligence related research

As discussed previously emotional intelligence appears to be closely related to


personality. Stable personality characteristics predispose individuals to view adverse
events in specific ways that can either impair or facilitate the adaptation process and
thereby impact psychological and physical health outcomes (Kokkinos, 2007). In terms
of the big five personality factors negative relationships have been found between
Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and burnout. However, Neuroticism
has been positively linked to burnout (Bakker et al., 2006).
The most consistent findings regarding the relationship between personality and
burnout concern the relationship between Neuroticism and Extroversion and burnout
(Bhler & Land, 2003). Neuroticism is closely related to experiences of negative
affectivity. Individuals who score high on Neuroticism are predisposed to experience
negative emotions such as anxiety and depression and experience more distress in
general (Zellers et al., 2000). Numerous studies have found that Neuroticism is related
to all three burnout factors. In particular, Neuroticism has demonstrated a significant
- 58 -

positive relationship with emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation (Morgan, 2009).


Neuroticism has been found to be the most influential predictor of burnout (Kim, Shin &
Swanger, 2009; Watson, Deary, Thompson & Li, 2008). Individuals scoring low on
Neuroticism may be more calm and relaxed, enabling them to cope better with the
demands of university life and allowing the use of more effective coping strategies in
dealing with stress (Morgan, 2009).
People who score high on Extroversion are generally people-orientated. In addition,
they frequently experience optimism and enthusiasm and have high levels of energy.
Thus, Extroversion is related to the experience of positive affect (Watson & Clark,
1997). Students scoring high on Extroversion tend to engage in social activities more
frequently. This social support may act as a buffer to the negative effects of stress.
Extroverts tend to be optimistic concerning possible outcomes. This optimism could
result in lower levels of exhaustion (Zellers et al, 2000). Extroversion has a negative
relation with emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation, and a positive association
with personal accomplishment (Morgan, 2009). Extroversion is the best predictor of
personal accomplishment (Miner, 2007).
With regards to the personality dimension of Openness to experience, it is associated
with lower emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation (Storm & Rothmann, 2003b) and
higher personal accomplishment (Bakker et al., 2006).
Agreeableness has been linked to burnout. Agreeable individuals are trusting and
influenced more by their feelings than by reason. This dimension reflects tendencies to
care and nurture and may help individuals cope with people and difficult situations.
Therefore, individuals high in Agreeableness should report lower levels of emotional
exhaustion. In addition, these individuals tend to focus on the needs and well-being of
others and it is therefore less likely that they would see others as objects. This should
result in fewer reports of depersonalisation (Zellers et al., 2000). Agreeableness has a
positive relationship with personal accomplishment and is negatively related to
depersonalisation and emotional exhaustion. Demerouti et al. (2001) state that students
scoring high on Agreeableness also tend to be more receptive to social support. This
- 59 -

increased support may serve to increase feelings of personal accomplishment.


Conscientiousness

appears

to

be

related

to

greater

feelings

of

personal

accomplishment (Hochwalder, 2006). This factor is positively associated with personal


accomplishment. Kokkinos (2007) established is the existence of a negative relationship
between Conscientiousness and depersonalisation. Students scoring high on
Conscientiousness may be more organised and thus experience less stress at exam
time (Zellers et al, 2000). This in turn may result in increased experiences of personal
accomplishment and reduced feelings of depersonalisation and emotional exhaustion
(Morgan, 2009)
The construct of Alexithymia is also closely related to emotional intelligence.
Alexithymia is characterised by impoverished fantasy, poor capacity for symbolic
thought and difficulties in experiencing and verbalising emotions. Alexithymia is
associated with impaired coping with stress and poor academic performance in first
year university students. Alexithymia may be a predisposing factor for burnout due to
inadequate coping with stress (Mattila et al., 2007).
Optimism, which is a component of trait emotional intelligence, is associated with all
three dimensions of burnout (Chang et al., 2000). Dispositional optimism can be
described as the generalised expectancy that good things will happen in the future and
bad things will be minimal (Hayes & Weathington, 2007). Optimism has been negatively
correlated with scores on the Exhaustion and Cynicism scales of the Maslach Burnout
Inventory among working college students. Greater optimism is associated with less risk
to job burnout (Chang et al., 2000).
Self-efficacy refers to the beliefs in ones ability to organise and execute the course of
action required to produce given attainments (Perrewe et al., 2002). Self-efficacy is
closely related to self-esteem, which is a facet of trait emotional intelligence. Many
researchers have used self-efficacy theory in burnout research. Burnout has even been
described as a crisis in self-efficacy (Brouwers & Tomic, 2000, p. 242). Teachers who
scored low in self-efficacy reported a higher degree of burnout than their high scoring
- 60 -

counterparts (Brouwers & Tomic, 2000).


The constructs of personality, alexithymia, optimism and self-efficacy are closely related
to the construct of emotional intelligence. Their relationship with burnout leads to the
hypothesis that a relationship exists between burnout and emotional intelligence.
3.9

Chapter summary

This chapter focused on the concept of burnout. First, a few relevant definitions of
burnout were provided. Different models of burnout were presented on individual,
interpersonal, organisational and societal levels. Individual causes of burnout were then
discussed.
Burnout in the workplace and amongst students was investigated. The symptoms of
burnout were considered in accordance with the different areas of human functioning,
namely affective, cognitive, physical and behavioural functioning. Lastly, research
related to burnout and emotional intelligence was presented. In the next chapter the
research design and method are discussed.

- 61 -

CHAPTER 4
4. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHOD
4.1

Introduction

This chapter focuses on the research design and method of research. Firstly, the
quantitative research paradigm, descriptive statistics, correlational design and survey
research are discussed. The research objectives and questions are then presented. The
research method is also presented. This includes ethical considerations, an description
of the participants used and the instruments employed. Lastly, data analyses
procedures are discussed.
4.2

Research design

The research design constitutes the planning stage of the study. Important decisions
include the development of research questions, the operationalisation of constructs, the
choice of sampling method and the use of appropriate statistical tests (Black, 1999).
Hardy (2006) states that a research design has two purposes: first, to promote wellplanned research and; second, to enable future researchers to replicate the research if
necessary.
This research made use of a quantitative research paradigm. With quantitative
research, the data are collected and presented in the form of numbers (Goodwin, 2008).
The quantitative paradigm is concerned with the generalisations of results from a
sample group to the population as a whole (Morgan, 2009). Quantitative data can be
analysed by means of descriptive or inferential statistics (Dyer, 1995).
A cross-sectional survey design was used in this study. A survey involves asking people
for information, usually using a completely structured questionnaire with mostly fixedchoice questions (Coolican, 1996). In this research, the aim of the questionnaires was
to determine whether a relationship exists between emotional intelligence and burnout.
Correlational research was used to achieve this objective.
- 62 -

A correlation exists when two variables are associated or related to each other in some
fashion (Goodwin, 2008). The correlational design allowed for an investigation of a
relationship between emotional intelligence and burnout (Goodwin, 2008). Pearson
product-moment correlation coefficients were determined. This procedure provides a
measure of the extent of co-variation between any two variables based on sets of
interval or ratio scale data (Dyer, 1995).
4.3

Research objectives

This researchs main objective was to obtain information concerning postgraduate


university students levels of emotional intelligence and burnout and to determine
whether a relationship exists between these two variables. Burnout was assessed on
three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, cynicism and depersonalisation. Emotional
intelligence was assessed as a global trait. The burnout dimensions were correlated
with the global emotional intelligence scores.
4.4

Research questions

The research questions for this study were:


1.

What are the levels of emotional intelligence in a sample of postgraduate


university students?

2.

What are the levels of burnout in a sample of postgraduate university students?

3.

Is there is a statistically significant relationship between burnout and emotional


intelligence amongst postgraduate university students?

4.5

Research method

In this section the research procedure, ethical considerations and the participants
biographical details are discussed.

- 63 -

4.5.1

Procedure

Individual postgraduate lecturers were approached to obtain permission to administer


the questionnaires to their students. The research proposal was sent via email to all the
lecturers who were contacted. Once the lecturers had approved the proposal, times
were organised to administer the questionnaires. The questionnaires were administered
at the end of lecture times with prior permission from the lecturer. The researcher, who
is a registered independent practice psychometrist, administered the questionnaires.
The research was explained to the participants. Participants were allowed to refuse
participation. Anonymity was ensured as the participants did not provide their names or
signatures. The ethical considerations are discussed below.
4.5.2

Ethical considerations

The proposal for the research was submitted to the Faculty of Humanities Higher
Degrees Committee at the University of Johannesburg. The proposal was given ethical
approval. Participants were informed of the nature of the study. Anonymity was ensured
as no names or signatures were provided. Participants were allowed to refuse
participation and the refusal to participate involved no negative consequences.
Participants who wanted to speak about the research were able to contract the
researcher via email.

Participants were informed that the results would be made

available through the University of Johannesburg library and they were encouraged to
view these results.
4.5.3

Participants

Participants were selected through purposive sampling. Lecturers involved in


postgraduate lecturing were approached to obtain permission for data collection. A total
of 225 postgraduate students enrolled at a large metropolitan university participated in
this study. Most of the participants were aged between 21 and 25. The minimum age
was 21 and the maximum age 62. This student population was older than the normal
student population because the participants were all registered for postgraduate
- 64 -

studies. Those students who were 21 years of age were thought to have finished grade
12 (matric) at age 17 and continued with their postgraduate studies immediately after
their undergraduate studies. Those students who were significantly older than the mean
age probably worked for a number of years and then returned to postgraduate studies
on a full time or part time basis. The tables below provide further information regarding
the participants.
Table 4.1 Gender and Racial Group Distribution of Participants
N

Gender
Female Male

225

172

45

Race
Missing

Black

Coloured

White

86

112

Asian Missing
12

One hundred and seventy two participants were female (76.4 %) and 45 male (20.0%).
The study used a cross-racial sample and four racial groups were identified. Eighty six
(38.2%) participants were black, 112 (49.8%) participants were white, 12 (5.3%)
participants were Asian and 8 (3.6%) participants were coloured.
Table 4.2 Home Language of Participants
Language

N = 225

English

84

Afrikaans

49

African Language

66

Other

18

Missing

The largest percentage of students (37.3%) were English speaking. Forty nine (21.8%)
students were Afrikaans speaking. In terms of African languages 19 (8.4%) students
spoke IsiZulu, 2 (0.9%) students spoke IsiXhosa, 18 (8.0%) students spoke Setswana,
16 (7.1%) students spoke Northern Sotho and 11 (4.9%) students spoke Southern
Sotho. Eighteen (8.0%) participants indicated that they spoke another language not
- 65 -

indicated on the biographical questionnaire. These languages included African


languages such as Siswati and Xitsonga as well as languages not indigenous to South
Africa.
Table 4.3 Faculty Distribution of Participants
Faculty

N = 225

Art, Design and Architecture

Science

45

Education

Health Sciences

86

Law

Humanities

50

Management

30

Missing value

Students were selected from a variety of faculties in order to prevent sample bias. The
majority of participants (38.2%) were students in the Faculty of Health. Fifty (22.2%)
participants were students in the Humanities Faculty, 45 (20.0%) participants were
students in the Science Faculty and 30 (13.3%) participants were students in the
Management Faculty. There were very few participants (3.1%) from the Faculties of
Education, Art, Design and Architecture and Law.
Table 4.4 Work Experience
Work experience

N = 225

Yes

104

No

109

Missing

12

An almost equal number of participants had part-time work (46.2%) and did not have
part-time work (48.4%).
- 66 -

4.6

Instruments

The study used two psychometric instruments, the Trait Emotional Intelligence
Questionnaire (TEIQue; Petrides & Furnham, 2003) and the Maslach Burnout Inventory
- Student Survey (MBI-SS; Schaufeli et al., 2002). A biographical questionnaire was
also included in order to obtain the necessary biographical data for the study. These
three questionnaires are discussed in this section.
4.6.1

Biographical Questionnaire

Students were given a biographical questionnaire to complete. The information on the


questionnaire included age, gender, faculty, ethnic group, home language, year of study
and part-time experience. This information allowed the researcher to describe the
group. It also allowed the researcher to ascertain whether the sample was biased
towards any particular group of students.
4.6.2

The Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-TEIQue-Short Form

Trait emotional intelligence is assessed through self-report. It is regarded as an emotion


related dispositional trait that is a lower level component of personality (Austin, 2009).
Trait emotional intelligence is distinguished from ability emotional intelligence, which
concerns actual abilities measured with maximal performance tests (De Raad, 2005). In
lay terms, trait emotional intelligence is peoples own perceptions of their emotional
abilities (Petrides & Sevdalis, 2009).
The Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-Short Form (TEIQue-SF) is a self-report
30-item questionnaire designed to measure global trait emotional intelligence (Petrides
& Furnham, 2006). It is based on the long form of the TEIQue (Petrides & Furnham,
2003), which consists of 153 items, rated on a 7-point Likert scale, and 13 facets,
organised under the 4 factors of well-being, self-control, emotionality and sociability
(Freudenthaler, Neubauer, Gabler, Scherl & Rindermann, 2008; Mikolajczak, Luminet,
Leroy & Roy, 2007). Two items from each of the 15 subscales of the original TEIQue
were selected for inclusion. These items were selected based primarily on their
- 67 -

correlations with the corresponding total subscale scores. This procedure was followed
in order to ensure adequate internal consistencies and broad coverage of the sampling
domain of the construct. Items were responded to on a 7-point Likert scale. The TEIQue
was constructed with the aim of providing comprehensive coverage of the trait
emotional intelligence domain (Petrides & Furnham, 2001).
In order to validate trait emotional intelligence Petrides and colleagues (Petrides &
Furnham, 2001; Petrides et al., 2007) have demonstrated the isolation of an oblique trait
emotional intelligence factor in both Eysenckian and Big Five factor space.
Consequently, trait emotional intelligence has provided evidence of its discriminant
validity in terms of well-established personality dimensions. In addition, there is
accumulating evidence regarding the incremental validity of trait emotional intelligence
measures in predicting a wide range of variables such as life satisfaction coping styles,
depression and loneliness. These findings apply specifically to the TEIQue
(Freudenthaler et al. 2007).
A study conducted by Freudenthaler et al. (2007) found that the internal consistencies
of the German TEIQues twenty variables (15 facets, four factors and global score) were
generally excellent and similar to those reported for the original TEIQue and its various
translations. Importantly, this study also replicated the four factor structure of the
TEIQue (Freudenthaler et al., 2007). Freudenthaler et al. (2007) provide conclusive
evidence that the TEIQue is a valid and reliable inventory for the comprehensive
measurement of trait emotional intelligence.
According to Mikolajczak et al. (2007) 10 of the 15 TEIQue subscales had Cronbachs
alphas indicative of acceptable to excellent reliability (varying from 0.71 to 0.91) for both
men and women. Two subscales, Self-Motivation and Empathy, had acceptable
reliability among men but lower reliability among women. Finally, three subscales,
Impulsiveness, Relationship Skills and Adaptability, had Cronbachs alphas below 0.70
for both men and women. Internal consistencies at the factor level were excellent for
both men and women, and this was also the case for the global score (Mikolajczak et
al., 2007). Significant gender differences exist with women scoring higher on
- 68 -

emotionality and men scoring higher on self-control, sociability and the global score
(Mikolajczak et al., 2007).
The TEIQue-SF has demonstrated high internal consistency (Sevdalis et al., 2007) for
both males and females (Petrides & Furham, 2006). Cronbach alpha coefficients for the
TEIQue-SF have been indicated as 0.84 for males and 0.89 for females (Petrides &
Furnham, 2006).

Petrides and Furham (2006) state that, in terms of incremental

predictive validity, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that trait emotional intelligence
can account for variance over and above the giant three or the big five personality
factors. The same authors found a mean of 158.1 for males (SD 17.5) and 156.9 for
females (SD 19.8) in their sample of 167 participants. 87 of these participants were
female and education levels ranged from high school diplomas to postgraduate
qualifications (Petrides & Furnham, 2006).
A study conducted by Hardy (2006) investigated the association between sense of
coherence, emotional intelligence and health behaviour. Participants in the study were
staff members from the University of Johannesburg, who were over the age of 22.
Hardy (2006) found that the mean for the total score of the TEIQue was 155.96 and the
standard deviation was 28.41. Scores were also calculated separately for male and
female participants. The mean score for men was 161.52 and standard deviation was
23.23. The mean score for women was 158.05 and standard deviation was 23.87.
4.6.3

Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey

The Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey (MBI-SS) is an adapted version of the


Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey (MBI-GS). It has been adapted for use
among students (Schaufeli et al., 2002). For instance, the item I feel emotionally
drained from my work [italics added] was changed to I feel emotionally drained from
my study [italics added]. (Schaufeli et al., 2002, p. 467) The MBI-SS consists of 15
items that constitute three scales: exhaustion, cynicism and professional efficacy. Five
items measure exhaustion, four items measure cynicism and six items measure
professional efficacy. All items are scored on a 7-point frequency rating scale ranging
- 69 -

from 0 (never) to 6 (always). As with other versions of the MBI, there no norms are
available for the MBI-SS. However, high scores on exhaustion and cynicism and low
scores on professional efficacy are indicative of burnout (Schaufeli et al., 2002).
The MBI-SS has been researched in South Africa (Mostert et al., 2007; Pienaar &
Sieberhagen, 2005). Mostert et al. (2007) administered the assessment to 353 students
from a recently merged university in South Africa. This sample included Afrikaans and
Setswana speaking students from different year groups enrolled in various courses in
the Economic and Management Sciences Faculty at the two campuses of the relevant
university. The study found Cronbach alpha coefficients of 0.74 for exhaustion and 0.68
for cynicism. The study did not investigate professional efficacy. Although these
reliabilities are not considered high, Mostert et al. (2007) did provide evidence for the
construct validity and reliability of the MBI-SS for South African university students. One
item from the cynicism scale (I have become more cynical about the potential
usefulness of my studies) was found to be statistically insignificant (Mostert et al.,
2007).
A study by Pienaar and Sieberhagen (2005) made use of the MBI-SS in the assessment
of 154 student leaders. Most of the student leaders had satisfactory academic records.
Most of the student leaders were white and Afrikaans speaking. The study found
Cronbach alpha coefficients of 0.79 for exhaustion, 0.73 for cynicism and 0.76 for
professional efficacy. Morgan (2009) found Cronbach alphas for the MBI-SS of 0.87 for
emotional exhaustion, 0.88 for personal accomplishment and 0.78 for professional
efficacy. These reliability alphas are considered satisfactory.
4.7

Data analyses

Based on the research problem, the general purpose of this study was to ascertain
whether a relationship exists between emotional intelligence and burnout. The data
analysis in the study was performed by using the Statistical Package for Social
Sciences (SPSS, version 18). Descriptive statistics were used to analyse the data.
Frequencies, mean scores and standard deviations were used to describe the samples
- 70 -

scores. The reliabilities of the subscales and total scores were estimated by means of
Cronbach alpha coefficients.
The relationships between the scores on the measures of emotional intelligence and
burnout were investigated by means of Pearsons product-moment correlations
(Kerlinger & Lee, 2000). The levels of significance of the correlations were considered
at p 0.01 and p 0.05. Correlation coefficients of less than 0.10 are considered
insignificant (Kerlinger & Lee, 2000). Correlations of 0.30 are seen as moderate and
correlations of 0.50 and higher are considered to be large.
4.8

Chapter summary

This chapter discussed the research design and method employed in the study. The
research instruments were also discussed. The following chapter includes the results of
the study.

- 71 -

CHAPTER 5
5. RESULTS
5.1

Introduction

This study aimed to investigate the relationship between emotional intelligence and
burnout among postgraduate university students. In this chapter results of the study are
presented. All statistical procedures were performed using SPSS (version 18).
5.2

Descriptive statistics of the sample

The sample consisted of 225 postgraduate students aged between 21 and 62 years.
There were more women (N= 172) in the sample than men (N= 45). The largest portion
of the sample consisted of white participants (N=112). There were 86 black participants,
12 Asian participants and 8 coloured participants. Almost 60% of the participants were
English and Afrikaans speaking. Half the sample reported having part-time work.
5.3

Descriptive statistics of the MBI-SS

The means, standard deviations and minimum and maximum scores were ascertained
for each of the three dimensions of the MBI-SS. The table below provides this
information.
Table 5.1 Mean Scores, Standard Deviations, Minimum and Maximum scores for
the MBI-SS
Min

Max

Mean

Std Dev

Emotional exhaustion

30

15.56

7.07

3.11

Cynicism

24

6.65

5.64

1.66

Professional efficacy

36

25.94

5.90

4.32

MBI-SS scale

Standardised mean

The burnout scales have different ranges. Emotional exhaustion has a possible
minimum score of 0 and a possible maximum score of 30. Cynicism has a possible
- 72 -

minimum score of 0 and a possible maximum score of 24. Professional efficacy has a
possible range of 0 to 36. Due to the differences in range a decision was taken to
standardise the mean scores obtained for these three subscales. The standardised
maximum score for each scale is 6 and the minimum score remains 0. The
standardised mean scores allowed the participants scores on the subscales to be
compared.
Schaufeli et al. (2002) state that burnout amongst students manifests as feeling
exhausted because of study demands, having a cynical and detached attitude toward
ones study, and feeling incompetent as a student. Therefore, high scores on the
emotional exhaustion and cynicism scales and low scores on professional efficacy are
indicative of burnout.
In this study professional efficacy had the highest standardised mean score (M = 4.32).
Professional efficacy refers to being effective at ones job and feeling able to contribute
in a meaningful way (Pienaar & Sieberhagen, 2005). These participants appear to feel
relatively competent as students (Schaufeli et al., 2002). They are likely to feel that they
are good students and are able to make an effective contribution to the classes they
attend (Schaufeli et al., 2002). In reference to the professional efficacy component of
Schaufeli et al.s (2002) definition of burnout these students do not appear to be
suffering from burnout.
The second highest score was emotional exhaustion (M = 3.11). This score is average
in relation to the standardised maximum score of 6. This indicates that some students
may have average levels of emotional exhaustion. These individuals may sometimes
feel emotionally depleted (Jordaan, 2005), incapable of performing (Montgomery et al.,
2005) or unable to give of themselves at a psychological level (Schaufeli & Enzmann,
1998). Some students in this research may show no signs of emotional exhaustion.
Lastly, cynicism yielded a low standardised mean (M = 1.66). Cynicism refers to having
a cynical or detached attitude towards studies (Schaufeli et al., 2002). These students
do not seem to have a sceptical or distrustful attitude towards studies, lecturers and
- 73 -

other students.
The scores discussed above indicate that the students in the sample do not generally
appear to be suffering from burnout. Instead, they tend to feel competent as students,
have average levels of emotional exhaustion and do not have cynical attitudes towards
their studies and the individuals involved in their studies.
Mean scores were used to compare this study to that of Pienaar and Sieberhagens
(2005). The mean obtained for emotional exhaustion (M = 15.56) in this study was
higher than the mean (M = 12.97) obtained by Pienaar and Sieberhagen (2005).
However, the mean obtained in this study for cynicism (M = 6.65) was lower than the
mean (M = 9.94) obtained in Pienaar and Sieberhagens (2005) study. This study
reported a mean of 25.94 for professional efficacy, which is significantly higher than the
mean (M = 18.62) obtained in Pienaar and Sieberhagens (2005) study. The students in
Pienaar and Sieberhagens (2005) study were student leaders and it is possible that
these students reported less emotional exhaustion as a result of their ability to manage
multiple roles effectively. The students in this study possibly have a higher sense of
professional efficacy because they are postgraduate university students. These
postgraduate students may have learned to effectively solve problems that arise in their
studies and to feel confident that they are effective in completing tasks (Schaufeli et al.,
2002).
The study conducted by Morgan (2009) found a significantly lower mean for emotional
exhaustion (M = 14.22) than the emotional exhaustion mean found in this study (M =
15.56). Morgans (2009) mean of 6.15 for cynicism is comparable with the cynicism
mean obtained in this study (M = 6.65). Lastly, the mean of 26.10 for professional
efficacy in Morgans (2009) study compares well to the mean of 25.94 obtained in this
study.
5.4

The reliability coefficients of the MBI-SS

The reliability coefficients of the MBI-SS were determined through the use of Cronbach
- 74 -

alpha coefficients. The Cronbach alpha coefficient provides an actual estimate of


reliability (Nunnaly & Bernstein, 1994). The Cronbach alpha coefficients for this study
were 0.85 for emotional exhaustion, 0.79 for cynicism and 0.76 for professional efficacy.
These reliability coefficients are considered satisfactory (Cohen, 1988; Nunnaly &
Bernstein, 1994).
A study by Morgan (2009) also assessed the reliability and validity of the MBI-SS in the
South African university context. The study found the instrument to be valid and reliable
for use in the South African context. The reliability coefficients were satisfactory with all
alpha coefficients exceeding 0.70 (emotional exhaustion = 0.87; cynicism = 0.88;
professional efficacy = 0.78). The reliability coefficients calculated in the current study
compare favourably with the ones reported by Morgan (2009).
5.5

Descriptive statistics for the TEIQue

Table 5.2 Mean Score, Standard Deviation, Minimum and Maximum Scores for the
TEIQue
Minimum
TEIQue

76

Maximum Mean
208

153.48

Standard Deviation
21.99

In this study the mean for the TEIQue total score was 153.48 and the standard deviation
was 21.99. The maximum score for this scale is 208. Thus, the mean score indicates
that the students in the sample appear to have relatively high levels of emotional
intelligence. This could be due to the fact that the students in the sample were all
postgraduate students. These students have already completed an undergraduate
degree and have possibly learned to regulate their emotions, use support in an effective
manner and have an adequate belief in their own abilities.
A study by Hardy (2006) obtained a mean of 155.96 for the TEIQue. This mean
compares favourably to the mean obtained in this study (M = 153.48). A study
conducted by Petrides and Furnham (2006) assessed 167 participants, of whom 87
- 75 -

were female. The TEIQue was used to measure levels of emotional intelligence in
females and males. The study found a TEIQue mean for males of 158.1 and a mean of
156.9 for females. These means compare relatively well to the mean obtained in this
study (M = 153.48).
Furnham and Petrides (2003) completed a study with a sample of 88 individuals whose
mean age was 19 years. The mean obtained for the TEIQue was 143.93, which is lower
than the mean (M = 153.48) obtained in this study. The mean age of the participants in
this study was 29.34. According to Kafetsios (2004), older individuals score higher on
most of the emotional intelligence components. This is indicative of a developmental
criterion for emotional abilities.
5.6

The reliability coefficients of the TEIQue

The TEIQue measures four factors: emotionality, well-being, self-control and sociability.
Reliability coefficients were obtained for the TEIQue by means of Cronbach alpha
coefficients. The Cronbach alpha coefficient for the well-being scale in this study was
0.71, which can be regarded as acceptable (Nunnaly & Bernstein, 1994). However, the
reliability coefficients obtained for the other three factors are not considered acceptable
(self control scale = 0.60; emotionality scale = 0.65; sociability scale = 0.63). The
reliability coefficient for the global emotional intelligence scale was 0.87, which can be
viewed as acceptable. Based on these results a decision was taken to use only the
global score in the interpretation of data. This decision was in line with suggestions
provided by Petrides (2006). The TEIQue-SF was primarily designed to yield global trait
emotional intelligence scores and is an efficient measure of global trait emotional
intelligence (Petrides, 2006). It is recommended that researchers interested in factor or
subscale scores should use the original longer version of the TEIQue (Petrides, 2006).
5.7

The relationship between emotional intelligence and burnout

The relationships between the three dimensions of burnout and emotional intelligence
were

investigated

through

determining

Pearson

product-moment

correlation

- 76 -

coefficients. According to Tabachnick and Fidell (2001), coefficients greater than 0.30
may be regarded as practically meaningful. The significance of the correlations was
considered at the p 0.05 and p 0.01 levels. Analysis of the data in this study
revealed several statistically significant correlations at the 0.01 level of significance.
Table 5.3 presents the correlation matrix.
Table 5.3 Correlation Matrix of Emotional intelligence and three burnout
component
Exhaustion

Cynicism

Professional
Efficacy
Exhaustion
Cynicism
Professional efficacy
TEIQue

1
0.540**

0.65

0.300**

-0.257**

-0.366**

0.428**

** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).


The table indicates significant correlations between the three dimensions of burnout and
emotional intelligence. A statistically significant negative correlation was found between
emotional intelligence and exhaustion (r = -0.257; p < 0.01). This can be regarded as
small to medium correlation (Kerlinger & Lee, 2000). There was also a statistically
significant negative correlation between emotional intelligence and cynicism (r = -0.366;
p < 0.01). In accordance with Tabachnick and Fidells (2001) recommendation that
coefficients > 0.30 may be regarded as meaningful, this correlation was regarded as
practically meaningful. There was a significant positive correlation between professional
efficacy and emotional intelligence (r = 0.428; p < 0.01). This relationship can also be
regarded as practically meaningful (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2001).
Mikolajczak et al. (2007) conducted a study investigating the protective effect of trait
emotional intelligence in relation to occupational stress amongst nurses. The Trait
- 77 -

Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-SF (TEIQue) was used to assess emotional


intelligence and the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) was used to assess levels of
burnout. Mikolaiczak et al. (2007) reported a statistically significant negative correlation
(r = -0.49; p < 0.001) between emotional exhaustion and trait emotional intelligence.
There was also a statistically significant negative correlation (r = -0.30; p < 0.001)
between depersonalisation and trait emotional intelligence. Finally, a statistically
significant negative correlation (r = -0.45; p < 0.001) was found between diminished
accomplishment and trait emotional intelligence. These findings support the results of
the current study.
5.8

Summary of the results

The three scales of the MBI-SS showed acceptable Cronbach alpha reliability
coefficients. The reliability coefficient of the global emotional intelligence can also be
regarded as acceptable (Nunnaly & Bernstein, 1994).
The relationships between the three components of burnout and emotional intelligence
were also determined. There was a small negative correlation between emotional
intelligence and exhaustion. This indicates that the higher the levels of emotional
intelligence, the lower the levels of exhaustion. In contrast, lower levels of emotional
intelligence are associated with higher the levels of exhaustion. There was also a
significant negative correlation between emotional intelligence and cynicism. This
indicates that the higher the levels of emotional intelligence, the less cynical and
detached the individual will be. However, the lower the levels of emotional intelligence,
the more cynical and detached an individual will be. Finally, there was a significant
positive correlation between professional efficacy and emotional intelligence. This
suggests that the higher the levels of emotional intelligence, the more individuals feel
that they are competent and successful. In contrast, the lower the levels of emotional
intelligence, the less individuals feel that they are competent and successful at what
they are doing.

- 78 -

5.9

Conclusion

In this chapter, the results of the research were discussed in terms of descriptive
statistics and correlations. In the following chapter the discussion of the results
continues.

The

implications

of

the

study,

limitations

and

further

research

recommendations are also discussed.

- 79 -

CHAPTER 6
6. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
6.1

Introduction

This chapter presents a discussion of the results of the study. Recommendations for
future research are made and the limitations of the study are highlighted.
6.2
6.2.1

Summary of the study


The aim of the study

This study aimed to evaluate the levels of emotional intelligence and burnout amongst
postgraduate university students. In addition, the study aimed to explore whether a
relationship exists between emotional intelligence and burnout amongst these students.
Emotional intelligence was understood in terms of trait emotional intelligence. Trait
emotional intelligence refers to the extent to which an individual is able to deal with
emotion-laden information (Petrides, Furnham & Frederickson, 2004). Individuals with
higher trait emotional intelligence are able to perceive, process and apply emotion-laden
information better and are considered psychologically more stable (Hardy, 2006). The
study made use of Maslach and Jacksons (1986 cited in Shaufeli & Enzmann, 1998, p.
31) definition of burnout which states that Burnout is a syndrome of emotional
exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur
among individuals who do people work of some kind. This definition has previously
been used in various work contexts and non-occupational settings (Maslach, 1993).
6.2.2

Design, participants and procedure

This study implemented a survey design. The sample consisted of 225 postgraduate
students from a large South African metropolitan university. The participants
represented different faculties as well as different racial and language groups.
Postgraduate lecturers were contacted and permission was obtained to administer the
questionnaires at the end of lectures. The research was explained to the participants.
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Students were allowed to refuse participation and anonymity was ensured. Participants
completed the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey (MBI-SS; Schaufeli et al.,
2002) and the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire-Short Form (TEIQue; Petrides
& Furnham, 2006).
6.2.3

Research questions

The research questions were:


1.

What are the levels of emotional intelligence in a sample of postgraduate


university students?

2.

What are the levels of burnout in a sample of postgraduate university students?

3.

Is there is a statistically significant relationship between burnout and emotional


intelligence amongst a sample of postgraduate university students?

6.2.4

Discussion of the results pertaining to the three dimensions of the


Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey

The results pertaining to the three dimensions of burnout (emotional exhaustion,


cynicism and professional efficacy). Due to the differences in the ranges of the burnout
scales it was decided to standardise the mean scores for these three scales in order to
compare the scores. However, the original mean scores are used when the results of
this study are compared to previous research.
Emotional exhaustion is a central component of burnout and the most obvious
manifestation of this complex syndrome (Maslach et al., 2001). The maximum score for
emotional exhaustion on the MBI-SS is 30. In this study the mean score for emotional
exhaustion was 15.56. This mean is higher than desired but still falls in the average
range. It appears that this group of students has standard levels of exhaustion. Certain
individuals may feel emotionally depleted (Jordaan, 2005), incapable of performing
(Montgomery et al., 2005) or unable to give themselves at a psychological level
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(Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998). However, most students are likely to feel normal levels of
exhaustion and emotional fatigue appropriate to their position as postgraduate students.
According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory-Student Survey (MBI-SS; Schaufeli et al.,
2002), many of these students do not generally feel emotionally drained by their studies
and they do not feel used up at the end of a university day. They are unlikely to
become disinterested and unenthusiastic about their studies or to feel that attending
class is a drain (Schaufeli et al., 2002). The higher than desired level of emotional
exhaustion may be due to the postgraduate nature of the studies and the stringent
academic requirements of the courses. Furthermore, half the sample reported working
part-time or full-time in addition to studying. This dual role can increase levels of
emotional exhaustion. In addition, the sample in this study consisted of more women
than men. Women tend to score slightly higher on emotional exhaustion (Grayson &
Alvarez, 2008; Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998) and thus the high score may in part be
attributed to this gender distribution.
This studys mean for emotional exhaustion compares well to the mean (M = 14.22) for
emotional exhaustion achieved by Morgan (2009). Morgans (2009) study included
participants completing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the same
metropolitan university as the present study. Pienaar and Sieberhagens (2005) study
included all members of the Students Representative Council and members of the
House Committees of all residences of a university. The mean (M = 12.97) for emotional
exhaustion in Pienaar and Sieberhagens (2005) study is slightly lower than the mean
reported in this study.
Cynicism, which is similar to depersonalisation, had a mean score of 6.65 in the present
study. This mean seems to be low in relation to the maximum score of 24. Thus, the
students in this study did not generally present with a cynical and detached attitude
towards their studies (Schaufeli et al., 2002). Cordes and Dougherty (1993) view
cynicism as a type of coping, which is an acceptable and professional response to the
stressful situation. However, when this coping strategy becomes a habitual pattern the
person becomes dysfunctional and the coping strategy disrupts adequate task

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performance (Montgomery et al., 2005). It is possible that the individuals in the present
study do not use cynicism as a coping strategy. This would indicate that the participants
are usually able to perform tasks effectively. The students who participated in the study
are likely to have a positive attitude towards study as they have decided to pursue
further academic studies. It is possible that they value academia and believe in the
significance of studying.
Morgans (2009) study found a mean score of 6.15 for cynicism, which compares well
with the mean (M = 6.65) in this study. Pienaar and Sieberhagen (2005) obtained a
slightly higher mean (M = 9.94) than the mean obtained in this study. According to
Pieanaar and Sieberhagen (2005) the high levels of cynicism in their study might be due
to the fact that their participants were student leaders who constantly have to deal with
high job demands, in the form of dealing with students problems and working under
pressure. These job demands may have resulted in their sample becoming more
cynical.
A mean score of 25.94 was presented for professional efficacy. This mean score seems
to be high in relation to the maximum possible score of 36. These students do not
appear to have a reduced sense of competency (Maslach, 1998). According to Pienaar
and Sieberhagen (2005) individuals can be professionally efficacious if they have
adequate resources at their disposal. Resources include availability of support,
adequate pay and opportunities for training. It is likely that the students in the present
study had financial (and perhaps emotional) support as they were able to continue on to
postgraduate study.
Morgans (2009) study reported a mean score of 26.10 for professional efficacy, which
compares well with the mean in this study. Pienaar and Sieberhagen (2005) obtained a
mean score of 18.62 for professional efficacy, which is slightly lower than the mean
reported in this study. Pienaar and Sieberhagen (2005) state that the dependent
variable of professional efficacy was best described by the independent variable of
resources. This could be due to the fact that if one has adequate resources it is possible
to be effective at ones job. It is possible that the student leaders in Pienaar and
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Sieberhagens (2005) study did not have ample resources and therefore could not do
their jobs effectively.
Professional efficacy has the highest standardised mean score (M = 4.32) of the three
burnout components. Emotional exhaustion (M = 3.11) had the second highest
standardised mean score. Cynicism had a standardised mean score of 1.66. These
results indicate that the postgraduate students feel professionally efficient in their
abilities as academic individuals and experience a normal sense of emotional
exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion arises from feelings of tension and frustration
resulting from an individuals fears that they will be unable to provide previous levels of
work performance (Swider & Zimmerman, 2010). The students in this sample were not
emotionally exhausted but average levels of tension and stress were present. This is
possibly related to the fact that these students are postgraduate students and therefore
experience significant amounts of pressure.
6.3

Emotional intelligence according to the trait emotional intelligence


approach

In this study, the mean score for the TEIQue was 153.48. The range of this scale is from
30 to 210. Hardy (2006) obtained a total mean score of 155.96, which is similar to the
mean score obtained in this study. The mean score for the TEIQue in this study was
relatively high. This indicates that the participants have relatively high levels of
emotional intelligence.
Trait emotional intelligence has many different facets. The construct includes individual
dispositions related to the perception, processing, regulation and utilisation of emotional
information (Mikolajczak, Nelis, Hansenne & Quoidbach, 2008). Petrides and Furnham
(2001) state that trait emotional intelligence includes various constructs from the
personality domain such as empathy and assertiveness as well as elements of social
intelligence, personal intelligence (Gardner, 1993) and ability emotional intelligence
(Mayer & Salovey, 1997). The facets of trait emotional intelligence are: adaptability;
assertiveness; the perception, expression, management and regulation of emotions;
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self-esteem; low impulsiveness; relationship skills; self-motivation; stress management;


social competence; trait empathy; trait happiness; and trait optimism (Petrides &
Furnham, 2001; Smith, Heaven & Ciarrochi, 2008).
Research has found trait emotional intelligence scores to be strong predictors of the
impact of stressful life events (Mikolajczak & Luminet, 2008). Trait emotional intelligence
might influence the choice of coping strategies, which are the behavioural and
psychological approaches that people use to deal with negative events (Mikolajczak &
Luminet, 2008). A high level of trait emotional intelligence predisposes individuals to
think and act in ways that encourage positive emotional experiences while discouraging
negative emotional experiences. Trait emotional intelligence is negatively associated
with burnout (Mikolajczak et al., 2007).
The participants high levels of emotional intelligence could be due to the acquisition of
facets of trait emotional intelligence during their years of study. In order to successfully
reach a postgraduate level of study students need resources and traits that will assist
them in being effective. These traits and resources include assertiveness, self-esteem,
self-motivation and stress management. These are all qualities of trait emotional
intelligence.
These postgraduate students are also likely to utilise effective coping strategies in order
to manage stressful periods such as examinations. Effective and productive coping
strategies could have developed during undergraduate studies or during part or full-time
employment. The participants may employ these techniques in their postgraduate
studies, leading to high levels of emotional intelligence.
6.4

Discussion of the results pertaining to the relationship between burnout


and emotional intelligence

The relationship between emotional exhaustion and emotional intelligence yielded a


small to moderate negative relationship (r = -0.257, p < 0.01). This means that those
individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence were less likely to be emotionally

- 85 -

exhausted. Those individuals with lower levels of emotional intelligence were more likely
to be emotionally exhausted. Previous research has shown that individuals with high
levels of emotional intelligence are able to reduce negative moods more effectively than
low emotional intelligence individuals. These individuals have higher mood regulation
and thus report more positive affect because they are likely to be able to sustain their
positive moods (Spence et al., 2004). Emotional exhaustion involves a feeling that
emotional resources have been depleted (Maslach, 1998). This indicates that when
individuals with high emotional intelligence experience exhaustion they are likely to be
able to reduce these feelings effectively. Negative associations have been found
between psychological distress (Austin et al., 2004) and high emotional intelligence
levels. High trait emotional intelligence individuals are more successful at meeting the
demands of stressful situations because they are better able to perceive, appraise and
regulate their emotions (Bastian et al., 2005). Therefore, individuals with high levels of
emotional intelligence are less likely to become emotionally exhausted than their low
emotional intelligence counterparts.
Cynicism and emotional intelligence had a moderate negative relationship (r = -0.366, p
< 0.01). This correlation is stronger than the correlation between emotional exhaustion
and emotional intelligence. Individuals with lower levels of emotional intelligence are
likely to feel more cynical and detached towards their studies. However, individuals who
are better able to regulate and utilise emotional information are unlikely to use this
coping strategy.
The components of emotional intelligence are related to a number of coping techniques,
including rumination, social support networks and the disclosure of trauma. This
indicates that higher emotional intelligence should be associated with better coping and
the use of more effective coping strategies (Bastian et al., 2005). Cynicism is a negative
coping strategy and therefore individuals who use this strategy are more prone to
burnout.
Professional efficacy and emotional intelligence had a significant positive relationship (r
= 0.428, p < 0.01). This indicates that individuals with a higher level of emotional
- 86 -

intelligence are more likely to feel a sense of personal accomplishment and believe in
their ability to perform. Students who have lower levels of emotional intelligence are
likely to view themselves negatively in many areas and suffer from feelings of
inadequacy.
Professional efficacy relates to feelings of competence and belief in ones own ability to
complete tasks (Schaufeli et al., 2002). Individuals experiencing a lack of professional
efficacy view themselves and their abilities negatively (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993). Selfefficacy, which is closely related to the self-esteem facet of trait emotional intelligence,
refers to belief in ones ability to organise and execute the required course of action
(Perrewe et al., 2002). Self-efficacy is related to professional efficacy and higher
degrees of burnout (Brouwers & Tomic, 2000).
6.5

Limitations of the study

All studies have certain limitations. One of the limitations of this research is that
students from only one of the campuses at one metropolitan university were included in
the sample. Therefore the results are not generalisable to the university population of
South Africa. Some universities may place more responsibility and pressure on their
students to achieve. Higher and more stringent standards of accomplishment may also
be in place. The students in this study also had a limited language distribution. Students
of all languages were included in the research, but most of the students who
participated were English and Afrikaans speaking. This means that the results of this
study cannot be generalised cross-culturally.
All the measures used in this study were self-report measures. Social desirability bias is
therefore a possible threat to the validity of these measures and may impact on the
accuracy of the measurement of the constructs (Hardy, 2006). The social desirability
effect is a reflection of research participants desire to be seen to conform to general
social norms. Participants may be unwilling to report negative feelings or they may
falsify any information or behaviour that might be interpreted in a negative or
unfavourable manner (Dyer, 1995). It is possible that participants answered the
- 87 -

questions in a manner that would seem favourable to the researcher rather than in an
honest and truthful way. The participants answered the burnout questionnaire to
indicate that they feel confident and effective as students. However, they also stated
that they feel emotionally exhausted and burned out from their studies. It is possible that
the students experienced anxiety concerning admitting to feelings of incompetence and
instead provided answers to the questionnaire that indicate that they feel competent.
Survival bias constitutes another limitation of the present research. Survival bias refers
to the fact that individuals who generally have reduced experiences of burnout remain at
work, while those individuals experiencing high levels of burnout tend to leave work
(Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1988). In the context of this research it is possible that students
who experienced burnout at the undergraduate level did not register for a postgraduate
degree. These students are also likely to have dropped out of their programmes if
burnout was severe.
A further limitation relates to the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue).
This instrument has not been standardised for the South African population. This may
have impacted on the validity of the TEIQue for measuring emotional intelligence in the
South African population. However, this instrument was used because the researcher
chose to assess trait emotional intelligence rather than ability emotional intelligence.
The TEIQue has demonstrated high internal consistency (Sevdalis et al., 2007) for both
males and females (Petrides & Furham, 2006) in international studies.
6.6

Suggestions for future research

Future research should include students from various South African universities in order
to obtain a more standardised result that can be generalised to all postgraduate
students in South Africa. Students from various language groups should also be
included. There should be a relatively equal balance of English, Afrikaans and African
language students.
Furthermore, studies should explore burnout in different demographic and cultural
- 88 -

groups within South Africa in order to reflect the multi-racial and multi-cultural nature of
the country. Thus, students from various provinces should participate in future research,
allowing individuals from different ethnic and language groups to be involved.
Research into factors influencing student burnout is currently limited. The large body of
research on burnout within the work context cannot be generalised to the student
population. Studies focusing specifically on student burnout may lead to prevention
strategies being instituted at universities and thereby limit the amount of student
burnout.
Management and interventions programmes for student burnout should also be
explored. Burnout amongst students is a real problem and action needs to be taken in
order to assist students that are experiencing symptoms. Support groups should be
established for sufferers of burnout. Greater social support is associated with less
emotional exhaustion, less depersonalisation and a greater sense of personal
accomplishment (Jacobs & Dodd, 2003).
A further recommendation for future research involves the standardisation of the Trait
Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue) for the South African population in order
to ensure its reliability and validity for the South African context. This will allow for more
accurate results when assessing trait emotional intelligence in the South African
population.
A qualitative study exploring the experience of individuals with high levels of emotional
intelligence may allow a more in depth understanding of these individuals. This
understanding could assist in developing programmes to increase aspects of emotional
intelligence such as use of effective coping strategies. This may assist in curtailing
levels of student burnout.
6.7

Implications of the study

This study informs lecturers, parents and peers of the existence of burnout in the
- 89 -

student population. It also allows individuals who are involved with students to
recognise the huge impact that burnout may have on a students life. Burnout can affect
a student psychologically, physically, cognitively and behaviourally (Schaufeli &
Enzmann, 1998). If burnout is undetected it can lead to dangerous consequences such
as drug addiction and suicidal ideation (Weckwerth & Flynn, 2006).
Relatively few studies have looked at burnout amongst students and none of these
studies has investigated the relationship between burnout and emotional intelligence.
This study provides information on how levels of emotional intelligence can affect levels
of burnout.
It is important that a valid and reliable measure is used to measure burnout. Morgan
(2009) has reported that the MBI-SS has been shown to be valid and reliable for South
African students. This is important in terms of the ethical requirements set out by the
Health Professions Council of South Africa and is also in line with best test practice and
use in South Africa.
An important aspect of emotional intelligence is that certain areas of emotional
intelligence can be learned and increased. Some emotional abilities and habits can be
improved effectively, even through relatively short training (Nelis et al., 2009). A study
conducted by Clarke (2010) found that the emotional intelligence ability understanding
emotions can be increased if a specific training programme is utilised. If we teach
individuals to be more emotionally intelligent, they can learn to adapt to and deal with
stress more effectively.
6.8

Conclusion

This study investigated the relationship between burnout and emotional intelligence in
postgraduate students. It was previously believed that only those in the human service
professions could burn out (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1988). However, this concept has
been extended to all professions as well as to the student population.

- 90 -

Students experience many changes when entering university and this leaves them
particularly prone to stress and its negative effects (Weckwerth & Flynn, 2006). Student
burnout can have negative consequences in future areas of the students lives. Student
burnout is an important predictor of professional burnout when students become
professionals after graduation (Mostert et al., 2007). Thus student burnout has a
harmful effect on the student and on the economy and well-being of South Africa as a
whole (Morgan, 2009).
Due to these deleterious consequences variables that may impact on burnout need to
be examined and interventions should be implemented. This study explored the
correlation between emotional intelligence and burnout. There were significant
correlations between emotional intelligence and all three components of burnout.
More research is required concerning the role emotional intelligence plays in burnout.
Furthermore, research into how to increase emotional intelligence in the student
population is essential. Universities focus on increasing the intellectual capacity of
students but the emotional element is often ignored. Training programmes need to be
established at universities to assist students in improving their levels of emotional
intelligence.

- 91 -

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