Leisure and Burnout in Ministry Articles

in-f image

The Leisure-Burnout Connection

Most people laugh when they discover that I have a Ph.D. in Recreation. Believe it or not, there is a whole body of literature and research dealing with the leisure and the scientific study of recreation. One of the most interesting discoveries I had while narrowing my dissertation research was the lack of cross-disciplinary research available.

In the early 1980's, the pinnacle of publishing about burnout, nearly every author mentioned leisure and recreation as a mediating factor of the syndrome. Similarly, in the field of leisure studies, many discussed leisure as a factor of burnout prevention. Yet, during that same time, there were not even a handful of researchers from either discipline that quoted from the other.

A psychologist named Maslach pioneered the study of burnout. Through the study of helping professionals from many disciplines she defined burnout as "a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals that do 'people work' of some kind." In her landmark work, Burnout: The Cost of Caring, she fleshed out the theory of burnout and outlined the basics for dealing with burnout and stress in the workplace. Many of the mediating factors she suggested were terms familiar in the study of leisure: leisure, vacation, rest, relaxation, time off/away. However, she never followed up those suggestions with verifiable research. This could be said of nearly any discussion of burnout and leisure from the early -1980's through the mid-1990's.

When I completed my research of clergy in the WNCC in 1995, it was the only study on record that looked specifically at the relationship between leisure and burnout that also utilized quantitative data. These conclusions may seem obvious, but they are now supported by reliable data:

· Sound leisure behaviors (regular day off, adequate vacation, regular exercise, hobbies, friends and colleagues, and personal retreats) were all significantly related to burnout.
· Those who had strong leisure habits were less likely to be emotionally exhausted, depersonalize those whom they served, and they showed a higher sense of personal accomplishment.
· The same was true with clergy who were satisfied with their leisure.

Okay, laugh if you want. Laughter is good for you too.


Back to In-Formatio