In this study, burnout has been studied among Dutch teachers using the theoretical frame of equity theory. Burnout is a metaphor that describes a particular syndrome which is typically found in human service professions, such as teaching, and is assumed to be linked to the emotional strain of working frequently and intensively with other people.
Although burnout among teachers has been studied quite extensively for years, few of these studies are theory driven. Equity theory assumes that people, who are engaged in either an intimate or a work relationship, invest in (investments) and gain from (outcomes) that relationship. A disturbed balance of investments and outcomes (lack of reciprocity) is presumed to lead to both negative emotions and a tendency to restore the inequitable balance.
The value of social exchange processes has been demonstrated in a variety of settings. However, results generally are inconclusive as to which operationalisation of reciprocity can be used best. In this thesis the Dutch version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory for Educators (MBI-NL-ES), as well as three reciprocity indices are validated. In general, results demonstrate that the MBI-NL-ES is a reliable and valid instrument to measure burnout among Dutch teachers and that reciprocity is best measured at a global instead of a specific level.
Examining burnout among teachers from a social exchange perspective resulted in several conclusions. First, social exchange processes are relevant in the exchange relationships teachers maintain with their students, colleagues, and the school. Second, the relationship with students can be regarded as the most salient in this respect, the relationship with the school the least salient and the relationship with colleagues taking an intermediate position. Third, burnout levels tend to be higher when lack of reciprocity is experienced. Forth, although it is assumed in equity theory that people try to reduce inequitable feelings by for instance lowering their investments, we have found no support to back-up this assumption. In fact, inequitable feelings seem to increase when investments are decreased.
In sum, the findings presented in this thesis contributed not only to the validation of burnout and reciprocity measures, but they also reinforced our notion that a disturbed balance of investments and outcomes (i.e., lack of reciprocity) relates significantly to burnout. Furthermore, more insight was gained into the affective and psychological withdrawal reactions to feelings of lack of reciprocity.