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A study finds the key factors for predicting burnout in professional drivers
  burnout professional drivers

The occupational burnout syndrome is an occupational health problem and increases the risk of accidents (Photo: Rodolfo Clix, Pexels)

Olga Fernández and Sònia Armengou Casanovas

A study shows that fatigue, emotional stability, and a lack of motivation are predictors of burnout syndrome

This syndrome is an occupational health problem and increases the risk of accidents

The number of deaths from accidents involving lorries increased during lockdown

Occupational burnout syndrome may lead to an increase in collisions involving professional drivers and injuries in the workplace. A study carried out by Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) highlights the factors that cause this syndrome and how to anticipate them.

Burnout in the workplace involves work-related stress; in some jobs, such as professional drivers, it can have serious repercussions on other people, because it increases the risk of accidents. The study, which has been published in the Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, highlights the main factors that cause occupational burnout syndrome and enable burnout among professional drivers to be anticipated. "It appears when stress is maintained over time and this leads the individual to a state of exhaustion," said the psychologist and researcher Patrícia Tàpia-Caballero, a course instructor on the Master's Degree in Human Resource Management in the UOC's Faculty of Economics and Business and an adjunct professor in the URV's Department of Psychology, who authored the study with María José Serrano-Fernández, Maria Boada-Cueva, Joan Boada-Grau and  Luis Araya-Castillo.

"There are two types of stress: eustress, which is stress that is beneficial to the individual, such as when we perceive the demands of work as a challenge, and distress, which is harmful stress and has damaging effects on us, such as when we perceive that we do not have enough resources to meet the demands work makes of us. When this work distress persists, it becomes burnout," explained Tàpia-Caballero.


Drivers at greater risk

The study evaluated 518 professional drivers from various transport sectors: drivers of taxis, ambulances, lorries, public transport, etc., who deal with passengers, users, clients, patients, and patients' relatives to varying degrees. "We knew from previous studies that professionals at the most risk of experiencing occupational burnout are those who deal with people," said Tàpia-Caballero.

The results show that professionals who deal with people every day are those who suffer from burnout the most, and who are more likely to make mistakes while driving and are at greater risk of being involved in traffic accidents. It is important to take all the factors into account: the characteristics and content of the job, and other individual factors, such as personality," said the author of the study.

In addition to having a negative impact on performance at work, occupational burnout syndrome also increases the risk of accidents, according to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. This situation has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, as the number of deaths in lorries weighing more than 3,500 kg has multiplied by 2.4 compared to the average figure for the last five years, according to a study on problems, risks and accidents in professional transport related to COVID-19, undertaken by FESVIAL (Fundación para la Seguridad Vial) and the Universitat de València in 2020.


How to predict occupational burnout

The research found that the best predictors were work fatigue, which can predict exhaustion (the first indicator of occupational burnout), a lack of motivation, which can predict depersonalization (the second indicator), and emotional stability, which can predict a lack of personal fulfilment (the third indicator). "The best predictors are fatigue, such as drowsiness, tiredness or a lack of energy, emotional stability, such as knowing how to manage emotions that can create conflicts, and a lack of motivation," according to the doctor in psychology Patrícia Tàpia-Caballero.

When establishing occupational health and safety measures in companies, the study states that the fatigue of professional drivers in particular can be measured using a questionnaire called DF-8, developed this year by Tàpia, Boada and Vigil. This identifies one of the first indicators of burnout: exhaustion. "It helps identify workers suffering from fatigue before the appearance of the other indicators: depersonalization—cynical attitudes—and a lack of personal fulfilment—a feeling of professional ineffectiveness,” she said. Another measure that could prevent burnout among drivers would be training them in coping and stress management strategies.

"Organizations must place greater emphasis on psychosocial risks. Sometimes they go unnoticed by superiors and even by the employees themselves, who do not realize what is happening to them. They may be underperforming in their job, lacking motivation, disillusioned, unable to concentrate... and not know why. Allowing this to persist does serious harm to the worker and their environment. These situations must be prevented because they endanger both the driver and their passengers," concluded the researcher.

The results of the study highlight the importance of designing individual interventions to reduce the incidence of occupational burnout, helping reduce sick leave and possible collisions, in addition to increasing the driver's well-being.


This research supports Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3, Ensure health and well-being for all, at every stage of life, and 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth.


Reference article:

Tàpia Caballero, P., Serrano Fernández, M.J., Boada Cuerva, M., Araya Castillo, L. & Boada Grau, J. (2021). Variables that predict Burnout in Professional Drivers. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics



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UOC experts

Patrícia Tàpia-Caballero

Member of the UOC's Faculty of Economics and Business.