The role of groupwork in tackling organisational burnout


  • Jerome Carson
  • Paul Dennison



<i>burnout</i>, <i>occupational stress</i>, <i>positive psychology</i>, <i>self-esteem workshops</i>, <i>staff support groups</i>, <i>psychodynamic approaches</i>, <i>attachment theory</i>


The issue of occupational burnout is a concern to managers as it impacts on the quality of client care. Burnout is said to comprise three elements. These are a high level of emotional exhaustion, a low sense of personal accomplishment and the development of an unfeeling, so-called depersonalised approach towards service users. In this paper, we describe two contrasting approaches that used groupwork to tackle the problem of staff stress and burnout in mental health workers. The first used three-day self-esteem workshops. The second used staff support groups that were run fortnightly over a five-year period. Both approaches have their merits. While the concept of burnout is essentially a negative one, there may be a role for developing alternative approaches based on positive psychology and attachment theory.


Ackerly, G., Burnell, J., Holder, D. and Kurdek, L. (1988) Burnout among licensed psychologists. <i>Professional Psychology: Research and Practice</i>, 19, 624–31\nAinsworth, M. (1991) Attachments and other affectional bonds across the life cycle. in C.M. Parkes, J. Stevenson-Hinde and P. Marris (Eds.), <i>Attachment Across the Life Cycle.</i> London: Routledge\nAlexander, D.A. and Klein, S. (2001) Ambulance personnel and critical incidents: Impact of Accident and Emergency work on mental health and emotional well-being. <i>The British Journal of Psychiatry</i>, 178, 76–81\nAveline, M. (1995) Occupational stress and performance in mental health workers. <i>Current Opinion in Psychiatry</i>, 8, 73–75\nCarson, J. (2005) <i>The Stress Process in Mental Health Workers: Assessment and intervention studies.</i> Unpublished doctoral dissertation. London: University of London, Kings College\nCarson, J. (2006) <i>Be Your Own Self-Esteem Coach</i>. London: Whiting & Birch\nCarson, J. and Kuipers, E. (1998) Stress management interventions. in S. Hardy, J. Carson and B. Thomas (Eds.), <i>Occupational Stress: Personal and professional approaches.</i> Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes\nCarson, J., Maal, S., Roche, S., Fagin, L., DeVilliers, N., OMalley, P., Brown, D., Leary, J., and Holloway, F. (1999) Burnout in mental health nurses: much ado about nothing. <i>Stress Medicine</i>, 15, 127–34\nCarson, J., Kimonis, E., Harman, K., and Kuipers, E. (2001) What about the workers? <i>Mental Health Care</i>, 4, 10, 344–47\nCilliers, F. (2003) A systems psycho-dynamic perspective on burnout. <i>South African Journal of Industrial Psychology</i>, 29, 4, 26–33\nDuxbury, M.L., Armstrong, G.D., Drew, D.J. and Henly, S.J. (1984) Head Nurse leadership style with staff nurse burnout in Neo-Natal Intensive Care Units. <i>Nursing Research</i>, 33, 2, 97–101\nEdwards, D., Burnard, P., Hannigan, B., Cooper, L., Adams, J., and Juggessur, T. (2006) Clinical supervision and burnout: The influence of clinical supervision for community mental health nurses. <i>Journal of Clinical Nursing</i>, 15, 8, 1007–15\nEvans, S., Huxley, P., Gately, C., Webber, M., Mears, A., Pajak, S., Medina, J., Kendall, T., and Katona, C. (2006) Mental health, burnout and job satisfaction among mental health social workers in England and Wales. <i>British Journal of Psychiatry</i>, 188, 75–80\nFreudenberger, H. (1974) The staff burnout syndrome in alternative institutions. <i>Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice</i>, 12, 1, 73–82\nHannigan, B., Edwards, D., Coyle, D., Fothergill, A. and Burnard, P. (2000) Burnout in community mental health nurses: Findings from the All-Wales Stress Study. <i>Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing</i>, 7, 2, 127–34\nKilfedder, C., Power, K. and Wells, T. (2001) Burnout in psychiatric nursing. <i>Journal of Advanced Nursing</i>, 34, 3, 383–96\nLeiter, M. and Harvie, P. (1996) Burnout among mental health workers: a review and research agenda. <i>The International Journal of Social Psychiatry</i>, 42, 2, 90–101\nLloyd, C., McKenna, K. and King, R. (2004) Is discrepancy between actual and preferred worker activities a factor in work related stress for mental health occupational therapists and social workers? <i>British Journal of Occupational Therapy</i>, 67, 8, 353–60\nMa, K. (2006) Attachment theory in adult psychiatry. Part 1: Conceptualisations, measurement and clinical research findings. <i>Advances in Psychiatric Treatment</i>, 12, 440–49\nMa, K. (2007) Attachment theory in adult psychiatry. Part 2: Importance to the therapeutic relationship. <i>Advances in Psychiatric Treatment</i>, 13, 10–16\nMalan, D. (1979) <i>Individual Psychotherapy and the Science of Psychodynamics.</i> London: Butterworth\nMaslach, C. (1976) Burned Out. <i>Human Behaviour</i>, September, 16-22\nMaslach, C. and Jackson, S.E. (1986) <i>The Maslach Burn-Out Inventory Manual.</i> (2nd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press\nMears, A., Pajak, S., Kendall, T., Katona, C., Medina, J., Huxley, P., Evans, S., and Gately, C, (2004) Consultant psychiatrists working patterns: Is a progressive approach the key to staff retention? <i>Psychiatric Bulletin</i>, 28, 251–53\nMelchior, M., Bours, G., Schmitz, P. and Wittick, Y. (1997) Burnout in psychiatric nursing: a meta analysis of related variables. <i>Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing</i>, 4, 193–201\nOnyett, S., Pillinger, T. and Muijen, M. (1997) Job satisfaction and burnout among members of community mental health teams. <i>Journal of Mental Health</i>, 6, 1, 55–66\nPines, A.M. (2004) Adult attachment styles and their relationship to burnout: A preliminary cross-cultural investigation. <i>Work and Stress</i>, 18, 1, 66–80\nPines, A. and Aronson, E. (1988) <i>Career Burnout: Causes and cures.</i> New York: The Free Press\nPines, A. and Aronson, E. (1988) <i>Career Burnout: Causes and cures.</i> New York: The Free Press\nRoberts, G.A. (1997) Prevention of burnout. <i>Advances in Psychiatric Treatment</i>, 3, 282–89\nSchaufeli, W. and Enzmann, D. (1998) <i>The Burnout Companion to Study and Practice: A critical analysis</i>. London: Taylor & Francis\nSeager, M. (2007) <i>National Advisory Group on Mental Health, Safety and Well-Being. Towards Proactive Policy: Five Universal Psychological Principles.</i> London National Advisory Group. (Copies of report available electronically on request to the first author of this paper).\nSeligman, M. (2002) <i>Authentic Happiness.</i> London: Nicholas Brealey\nSnibbe, J.R., Radcliffe, T., Weisberger, C., Richards, M., and Kelly, J. (1989) Burnout among primary care physicians and mental health professionals in a managed health care setting. <i>Psychological Reports</i>, 65, 775–80\nThorndycraft, B. and McCabe, J. (2008) The challenge of working with staff groups in the caring professions: The importance of the team development and reflective practice group. <i>British Journal of Psychotherapy</i>, 24, 2, 167–83\nTillett, R. (2003) The patient within – psychopathology in the helping professions. <i>Advances in Psychiatric Treatment</i>, 9, 272–79\nWhealin, J.M., Batzer, W.B., Morgan, C.A. III. and Detwiler, H.F. Jr (2007) Cohesion, burnout and past trauma in tri-service medical and support personnel. <i>Military Medicine</i>, March\n



How to Cite

Carson, J., & Dennison, P. (2012). The role of groupwork in tackling organisational burnout. Groupwork, 18(2), 8-25.