New research reveals that burnout leads to worse academic achievement

Published: 16/06/2020

Students who are suffering from symptoms of burnout, defined as exhaustion, cynicism and reduced efficacy, achieve worse academic results, according to new research from York St John University and London School of Economics and Political Science.

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The study of over 100,000 students in secondary schools, colleges and universities, is the first to highlight the significant effect of burnout on academic achievement.

The authors, Dr Daniel Madigan (York St John University) and Dr Tom Curran (LSE), identified three symptoms of burnout: reduced efficacy, exhaustion and cynicism. In the review, they examined how these symptoms correlate with academic achievement. While all three symptoms had a negative impact, reduced efficacy showed the greatest negative correlation which, the authors note, is unsurprising, as negative self-perception contributes to such avoidant behaviours.

Interestingly, this correlation between burnout symptoms and academic achievement appears consistent across genders, and educational settings with the study looking at secondary and tertiary education. And, when looking at chronic factors, such as depression, the authors note that depressive symptoms in and of themselves bear little correlation to academic achievement, unless they apply exclusively to the educational context.

Academic achievement is an important social outcome, and has been a key indicator for predicting health, wellbeing and economic outcomes. Schools in the UK have a range of measures to test academic excellence and students face increased pressure.

However, this research suggests that it is important that those working in educational contexts recognise burnout as a significant barrier to academic achievement.

Dr Daniel Madigan, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology, School of Science, Technology, and Health at York St John University said:

“It appears that burnout not only leaves students psychologically and physically withdrawn from their studies but also inhibits their academic performance. Given the substantial pressures that students currently face, the findings are particularly concerning. Preventing burnout should be a high priority for policymakers, schools, and teachers when trying to improve student outcomes.”

Dr Tom Curran, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE added:

“Against a background of increasing standardised testing, achievement pressures, and competition for high school and college, students can be forgiven for feeling a little burned out. In the context of the current pandemic, it is likely that such feelings are acutely exacerbated. This research is important because it indicates that burnout impinges negatively on academic performance and should, therefore, be carefully considered as students return to the classroom.”

A copy of the study: Does Burnout Affect Academic Achievement? A Meta-Analysis of Over 100,000 Students Article in Educational Psychology Review · April 2020, can be accessed via Springer.

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