Occupational burnout among specialists working with people who have limited opportunities presents an important topic that needs to be studied. Employee burnout in intellectual disability teachers living and working in different countries has been studied by many researchers. For instance, Bataineh and Alsagheer (2012) attempt to identify and study “the sources of social support” that can shed light upon possible measures reducing burnout. Even though there are significant intercultural differences between countries, it is known that high burnout levels are peculiar to intellectual disability teachers in countries with different levels of economic development such as Turkey (Küçüksüleymanoğlu, 2011), Greece (Platsidou, 2010), and the Sultanate of Oman (Mohamed, 2015). There are many reasons why it is important to study various dimensions of occupational burnout in different cultures.
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It is accepted that work-related stress is detrimental to the life satisfaction of special education teachers and that teaching is “a highly stressful profession” (Hamama, Ronen, Shachar, & Rosenbaum, 2013). Among the factors that are responsible for high levels of stress in intellectual disability teachers all over the world, there is a large number of students’ specific needs that these professionals are supposed to meet. Studying factors that are consistent with occupational burnout rates in special education teachers, it is possible to use the retrieved data to improve the existing programs and initiatives helping education specialists to manage stress. The review encompasses seventeen studies that have been chosen based on their applicability to the research on burnout in special education teachers in Saudi Arabia. Among the subtopics that the chosen studies cover, there is burnout in general and special education, burnout in support workers taking care of intellectually disabled individuals, the state of knowledge concerning burnout and demographic characteristics, and methods helping to measure work-related stress.
The problem of occupational burnout among specialists who provide services to people with disabilities is extremely important because it affects both specialists and their clients. In this connection, focused attention must be paid to the problems that special education teachers face daily. Even though it is known that general education teachers also have a range of work-related difficulties caused by the inappropriate behavior of their students, conflicts, and the lack of collaboration with students’ parents, the situation with burnout for the majority of special education teachers is much worse. Nowadays, all researchers acknowledge the fact that special education teachers belong to the number of individuals who are the most susceptible to work-related stress and occupational burnout.
Due to the levels of stress that are extremely high, almost half of teachers who work with children and adolescents with physical or intellectual disabilities are likely to leave the profession very soon after the start of their careers. Taking that into account, it is clear that turnover rates among special education professionals are enormous in different countries. The problem of employee burnout in Saudi Arabia has not been thoroughly studied yet whereas there are numerous materials related to burnout in special education in European countries and the United States. The failure to fill the given knowledge gap can have a range of negative consequences such as a lack of adult special education professionals in Saudi Arabia and a decreased number of students who would like to obtain degrees in special education. At the same time, the topic of burnout in Saudi Arabia requires further research because there is a lack of effective methods helping to reduce work-related stress in such specialists and, therefore, design effective employee retention strategies to motivate specialists working with people with physical and intellectual disabilities.
Employee Burnout in Peer-Reviewed Studies
Burnout in General Education and Related Processes
High burnout levels are peculiar to the majority of specialists whose primary task is to expand the knowledge that other people possess. Education professionals in the field of general education are not supposed to deal with children and adolescents with significant problems who may need assistive technology devices and other sources of support. Nevertheless, the findings of numerous researchers who study life satisfaction and burnout in general education teachers indicate that the latter face numerous challenges during the work. The study by Hakanen, Bakker, and Schaufeli (2006) identifies processes that are connected with levels of burnout and work engagement in general education teachers. According to the hypothesis that these researchers were testing, two processes are connected with the well-being of teachers working with different students (no particular category of teachers was chosen for the analysis). The first process that the author’s outline is defined as energetical.
As the authors indicate, it centers around job demand causing increased burnout levels in education professionals. Occupational burnout, in its turn, results in the impoverished health of teachers. The second process, which is believed to be parallel to the first one, is defined as motivational and it involves the impact of job resources on work engagement demonstrated by teachers. At the same time, the latter influences the organizational commitment of education professionals. The article presents the only study focused on general education that has been included in the review as it provides insight into the situation with a burnout in teachers working in Northern European countries. The study conducted by the group of researchers is credible and can be used in the proposed study because it studies a sample that is rather large (more than two hundred participants). Also, the research provides credible data and helps to understand the role of the level of experience in burnout. The participants with the mean teaching practice period of thirteen years were supposed to complete questionnaires.
The results reported by the researchers indicate that both processes outlined in the hypotheses exist and influence teachers. The findings can act as a good source as they have practical significance in connection with burnout-reducing practices. The researchers believe that the major factors causing high burnout levels in general education teachers include “disruptive pupil behaviors, work overload, and a poor physical work environment” (Hakanen et al., 2006, p. 497). Defining processes related to occupational burnout as motivational and energetical, the researchers use their terms that are not presented in studies by other authors. The results reported by the researchers indicate that high burnout rates in European general education teachers are inherent in education specialists’ perceptions of their working conditions and the outcomes of their work. Consequently, the decision to shift the attention of education professionals from negative aspects of their work to more positive ones such as a positive emotional response from students, the ability to influence younger generations, and the opportunity to improve their professional skills regularly.
Burnout in Support Workers and Special Education Professionals
General education does not present the only sphere that is closely related to burnout and the purpose of the proposed study. Numerous studies that have been included in the review focuses on the specific characteristics of burnout in support workers and special education professionals who provide services to people with intellectual disabilities in different countries. The majority of studies included in the review utilize the MBI scale developed by Maslach that is regarded as a valid tool even though a little is known about its applicability to specialists providing mental retardation services (Chao, McCallion, & Nickle, 2011).
The article fills the identified research gap and proves that the use of the MBI scale to measure burnout levels in professionals helping people with an intellectual disability allows researchers to come to reliable conclusions. Based on that, the tool can also be used to collect data for the proposed research on burnout in special education teachers. Different researchers make attempts to modify the MBI scale regarded as the most commonly used tool measuring burnout. The Spanish Burnout Inventory used by Gil-Monte and Figueiredo-Ferraz (2013) presents a modified version of the MBI tool that possesses factorial validity and reliability and includes more than twenty items. The ability to use modified tools that reflect culture-related tendencies and retrieve credible results is another factor proving the validity of the original tool and its proper structure.
The notion of prosocial motivation is believed to be inextricably connected with a burnout in specialists who provide direct support to individuals who have special needs due to their intellectual disabilities. The study conducted by Hickey (2014) presents the results of the study focused on the importance of prosocial motivation and the levels of occupational burnout in employees taking care of individuals with intellectual disabilities. The study proves that the willingness to support workers to perform the work that would be of benefit to other people has an impact on stress and occupational burnout. The study utilizes a sample of more than a thousand employees working in services for individuals with ID in Canada. The primary tool used for data collection is a survey touching upon motivation, personal details, and assumptions related to stress factors faced during the work. According to the results, prosocial motivation (or the readiness to engage in work) is associated with reduced levels of nervous exhaustion among employees working with people who have intellectual disabilities.
This type of motivation is, the researcher states, connected with another dimension of occupational burnout – depersonalization. Low levels of depersonalization among specialists in the field exist due to the presence of prosocial motivation. Not all researchers agree that people supporting individuals with intellectual disabilities tend to have high levels of burnout and stress. For instance, there is a study conducted by Mutkins, Brown, and Thorsteinsson (2011) who pay close attention to the connection between factors causing work-related stress, negative emotional reaction of the participants to these factors, occupational burnout, and various sources of support for staff members. According to their findings that are based on the results of an employee survey, the average level of occupational burnout in participants is very similar to the normal level for people in this profession.
The studies included in the review also pay close attention to the meaning of personal accomplishment and the way that it is interconnected with additional external factors in specialists who take care of children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Personal accomplishment is known as one of the dimensions of employee burnout that is manifested in a decreased efficacy of work. Having analyzed the cases of support workers providing people with intellectual disabilities with assistance, Mutkins et al. (2011) conclude that personal accomplishment presenting one of the key dimensions of occupational burnout is strictly interconnected with social support. The sample chosen for the study was not very large if compared to other sources included in the annotated bibliography – it included eighty specialists.
The results possess practical significance for the field and can be used to strengthen the proposed research and develop practical recommendations for special education teachers based on the connection between burnout and social support. The question concerning the great role of support and communication for specialists who take care of individuals with disabilities is also addressed in the study conducted by Mascha (2007). The researcher proves that social support has a strong influence on work-related stress and its ability to reduce companies’ business performance. The impact of social support on burnout levels has also been studied by Bataineh and Alsagheer (2012) who identify and analyze five sources of social support presented by “supervisors, colleagues, friends, spouse, and family” to identify the degree to which they help to manage occupational burnout (p. 7). As is clear from the results reported in the article, the personal accomplishment was associated with the support provided by family and colleagues most of all.
Another subtopic related to burnout in support workers that are covered by the authors of the chosen studies is the connection that exists between burnout, work environment, and various disorders such as depression. There is a great number of symptoms that can indicate the presence of depression such as decreased performance, persistent bad mood, negative attitude to common practices and activities, and decreased willingness to communicate. Some studies that have been reviewed were focusing on factors causing burnout in people supporting those with intellectual disabilities and the impact of employee burnout on their physical and mental condition. Thus, Mutkins et al. (2011) conclude that the symptoms of depressive disorders are often manifested in support workers with high levels of occupational burnout. These results possess practical significance for the field and can be used to strengthen the proposed research and develop practical recommendations for special education teachers based on the connection between burnout and depression.
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Work environment and staff morale are discussed in the study by Mascha (2007) who defines burnout levels of the participants, the levels of job satisfaction, and the most common strategies that employees may use to cope with work-related stress and occupational burnout. The research that utilizes a substantial sample and valid tools proves that staff morale is highly influenced by “staff support, role clarity, wishful thinking, and staff cooperation” (Mascha, 2007, p. 191). Therefore, an inappropriate work environment that includes low levels of employee collaboration, self-deception demonstrated by specialists who support those with intellectual disabilities, can be listed among the key factors causing burnout. Consequently, employees working in a hostile work environment are more likely to experience burnout. Also, as the study by Mutkins et al. (2011) confirms, such employees have an increased risk of depressive disorders. There are no important conflicts between findings reported in the mentioned articles; instead, numerous similarities between results assume the link between burnout, depression, and work environment more credible.
As is clear from the previous studies, numerous researchers studying the mental condition of professionals who provide services to individuals with special needs pay close attention to the set of factors that define employees’ perceptions of their work and its outcomes. Also, many of them acknowledge that the psychological climate in institutions providing services to intellectual disability people can be enhanced using introducing changes to policies for such centers. The psychological climate can also be negatively influenced by the misbehavior of intellectual disability students when it comes to special education (Mills & Rose, 2011). In addition to a psychological climate that is regarded as an important factor related to burnout in support workers, there is another factor that attracts the attention of modern researchers focusing on burnout and the ways to reduce it. The impact of personality features on the levels of burnout and the ability of specific traits of character to act as predictors of work-related stress can be regarded as one of the most contradictory questions related to burnout in support workers.
In their research devoted to supporting workers and their specific work-related problems, Chung and Harding (2009) focus on possible connections between burnout levels and personality traits of care staff. The researchers present the results of a cross-sectional study aimed at defining personality traits that can be called predictors of occupational burnout. According to the conclusions that the researchers have made, the way that participants perceive the invariable behavior of intellectual disability has a significant impact on their burnout levels. The researchers single out three traits that are regarded as the predictors of burnout: “extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness” (Chung & Harding, 2009, p. 549). As the results retrieved by the researchers indicate, there is no doubt that psychological constitution and personality traits can have an impact on the degree of burnout experienced by nursing specialists working with people with intellectual disabilities. Therefore, the researchers suggest that this information should be used by specialists who design training programs for care staff. Other factors that have been proved to reduce stress include increased self-control and social support (Hamama et al., 2013).
The primary conflict between findings reported in different studies that have been chosen refers to the link that exists between personality traits of specialists providing care to individuals with intellectual disabilities and burnout experienced by the former. The findings concerning the role of personality traits that are reported by Chung and Harding (2009) are partially supported by Lundström, Graneheim, Eisemann, Richter, and Åström (2007) who focus on work performance and stress levels of employees supporting people with intellectual disability that take place when employees are exposed to violence during the work. The sample that they use includes more than one hundred people providing direct services to individuals with intellectual disabilities.
As for the results reported by the group of researchers, there is no clear connection between personality traits and exposure to violence in the field of activity. At the same time, just like Chung and Harding (2009), Lundström et al. (2007) support the idea that personality traits are interconnected with burnout rates. The latter report that certain personality traits can increase the risks of occupational burnout in support workers who have or have not been exposed to violence during the work. Unlike Chung and Harding (2009), they report that the personality trait that can be listed among the most important predictors of burnout in support workers is self-directedness. It is stated in their article that “lower self-directedness scores are associated with higher burnout rates” (Lundström et al., 2007, p. 34). Based on that, the researchers suppose that personality traits should be taken into consideration to define the specific needs of employees taking care of people with intellectual disabilities.
At the same time, other researchers who have studied burnout in specialists providing direct services to people with intellectual disabilities do not support such conclusions. Some studies report no connection between the specific traits of character that specialists supporting those with disabilities demonstrate and burnout levels. In their research, Chou, Kröger, and Lee (2010) aim to define whether there are significant differences in job satisfaction levels in specialists working in different types of settings. The three residential models available for adult people with intellectual disabilities that are studied in the article include “small residential homes, group homes, and institutions” (Chou et al., 2010, p. 279). The researchers indicate that employees from small homes have the highest job satisfaction rates. The results of the statistical tests show that the degree to which specialists who support people with intellectual disabilities are satisfied with their everyday activities heavily depends upon working conditions in their organizations.
Nevertheless, contrary to the authors of the two previous studies, Chou et al. (2010) claim that the results of their research do not reveal clear links between personality traits of employees in institutions for people with disabilities, levels of job satisfaction, and work-related stress. The conclusions made by the researchers seem to be credible due to the use of a large sample (the sample that the authors were studying includes more than one thousand specialists) and a set of valid tools whose effectiveness is approved by previous researchers in the field. The suggestion on higher satisfaction rates of specialists in smaller companies can be applied to teaching practice and checked. All three studies that report researchers’ conclusions concerning the impact of personality traits on job satisfaction and burnout levels seem to be credible due to the use of the proper methodology. Nevertheless, the connection between individual traits and burnout still presents a significant knowledge gap that needs to be filled as there is no opinion that all researchers support (Mohamed, 2015).
Demographic Characteristics and Services for People with Intellectual Disabilities
The relationship between gender and burnout levels in special education teachers working in Saudi Arabia presents one of the key questions that the proposed research is willing to study. This topic can be regarded as one of the most controversial questions related to burnout studies because there is no clear opinion concerning the ability of gender to increase or reduce the risk of burnout in specialists who work with people with mental retardation. Considering that gender is often regarded as a social construct rather than a set of biologically predetermined differences, the cultural identity of research participants should always be taken into account.
The first concept capable of having an impact on the proposed research is the lack of male specialists in organizations providing services to people with mental retardation. Services for people with intellectual disabilities are believed to be a sphere that attracts more female than male specialists. Taking into consideration that there is a shortage of male specialists in the profession, it can be supposed that there are specific problems that male specialists face when taking care of individuals with intellectual disabilities. These problems, if they exist and their impact on the gender composition of teams providing care to people with intellectual disabilities is proved, may be regarded as potential factors increasing burnout levels in the male workforce.
Among the researchers who are interested in mental retardation services, it is possible to single out McConkey, McAuley, Simpson, and Collins (2007) whose study summarizes the information on male specialists’ perceptions of work and specific issues that they face. In particular, the researchers highlight that the lack of male specialists in this sphere can be seen as one of the problems involving far-reaching consequences. As it follows from the analysis of the demographic characteristics of the sample, male specialists present less than twenty percent of staff working with people who have intellectual disabilities. According to the authors, there are specific factors that can be regarded as predictors of gender imbalance in mental retardation services and patient care services in different countries. First, those male specialists who were surveyed within the frame of the research believe that there are numerous risks for men that are associated with taking care of individuals with intellectual disabilities. An important factor that helps to understand the reason why many of the factors discussed in the article were identified is the helplessness of such clients and their inability to recognize the negative intentions of other people.
The first and the most important factor causing stress in male specialists providing care to individuals with intellectual disabilities is the fear of “having their masculinity questioned and being unjustly labeled a pedophile or potential abuser” (McConkey et al., 2007, p. 190). In particular, the source of this fear is the necessity to take care of female clients who may mistake the way that male specialists perform their duties and communicate with clients for sexual harassment. As the researchers report, the lack of support from the management in case of false accusations is another reason causing stress in male specialists taking care of people with intellectual disabilities. The role of gender stereotypes that have a negative impact almost on every sphere of human activity is also obvious in this case. Thus, male specialists in Northern Ireland acknowledge that their friends laugh at them, saying that they perform the work for women and anyone can cope with such tasks.
This underestimation and the influence of stereotypes that are harmful to both men and women can be seen as important factors that can be reflected in higher burnout rates in male specialists working with people who have intellectual disabilities. Numerous participants of the research indicate that “this job can be very stressful as a male member of staff”; according to their responses, male support workers feel that a lack of men in the profession significantly increases the amount of work that each male specialist is required to do during his shift (McConkey et al., 2007, p. 190). Despite the presence of these factors, the researchers claim that the greater risk of burnout and work-related stress for men has not been proven; instead, their literature review shows that previous studies do not support the idea concerning unequal risks of stress. Nevertheless, the presence of different risks of stress for male and female specialists working with individuals with intellectual disabilities in Saudi Arabia has not been studied and presents an additional research gap.
The findings that do not support the presence of increased risks of burnout for male specialists working with people who have intellectual disabilities align with the conclusions of Greek researchers studying burnout in special education professionals. The article by Platsidou and Agaliotis (2008) focuses on a range of sources of stress that exist for Greek teachers working with children who have different types of disabilities. The results indicate that the average level of burnout among the participants was low in connection with all three dimensions taken into consideration. The researchers suppose that this situation is connected with the fact that teachers in Greece are not evaluated like ones in other country and it reduces insecurity related to their wage levels. Even though it has been found that special education teachers in Greece are less susceptible to employee burnout than their colleagues from other countries, it needs to be mentioned that situation with gender is similar to one described by the researchers from Ireland. Both gender and teaching experience (the variables that will be studied in the proposed research) are regarded as factors that do not reduce or increase the risk of occupational burnout in Greek special education professionals as distinct from emotional intelligence (Platsidou, 2010).
Unlike the previously mentioned studies, findings are indicating that more experienced male special education teachers are the most susceptible to burnout (Kucuksuleymanoglu, 2011). Despite these conclusions, there is a research gap considering the impact of gender and other factors on burnout in teachers from Saudi Arabia. In strong patriarchal cultures, the roles and appropriate behavior for each gender are clearly defined. Therefore, it can be supposed that the results indicating the role of gender in burnout will run counter to those of other studies conducted in more democratic countries. However, the results retrieved by researchers from the United Arab Emirates significantly reduce the probability of such outcomes. In their study, Bataineh and Alsagheer (2012) focus on three burnout dimensions (exhaustion, accomplishment, and depersonalization) and the question concerning whether they are influenced by various demographic characteristics of the participants. It was found out that there were no significant relations between the dimensions and characteristics (age, sex, etc.) of special education teachers included in the sample.
In the end, the majority of studies included in the review have common features as they use the MBI scale and apply qualitative research methods such as surveys, focus groups, or interviews. Nowadays, a lot is known about the dimensions of employee burnout and factors that relate to them. Nevertheless, some subtopics are difficult to be reviewed due to conflicts of findings reported by various authors. Among these aspects, there is a question concerning the presence of personality traits that introduce predictors to higher occupational burnout rates. Also, there is a disagreement between findings describing the impact of gender, age, marital status, and other factors on burnout levels in people providing care to individuals with intellectual disabilities. The majority of studies report no connection between these variables. Nevertheless, there is the research gap considering the impact of demographic and work-related variables on burnout levels in special education teachers in Saudi Arabia. Taking into account the important role that unique cultural values play in all types of social interactions, the proposed research can expand the knowledge concerning the peculiarities of employee burnout in Muslim countries.
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