About staff burnout

Staff working in aged care face specific challenges which may increase the risk of burnout. [1] Burnout is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon. [1] It is not classified as a medical condition but is a specific response relating to the workplace. [1] Burnout is characterized by three dimensions:

  • Exhaustion – feeling worn out, decreased energy, depletion, debilitation, fatigue.
  • Cynicism – negative detachment from work (previously termed ‘depersonalisation’, which focused on human services).
  • Lack of accomplishment – decreased capability or productivity, reduced morale, and the inability to cope (previously termed ‘reduced personal accomplishment’, which focused on personal level accomplishment). [2]

Staffing pressures, increasing demand for care, increasing complexity of care needs, family expectations, being unable to take breaks, lack of media appreciation, and risks of injury and abuse have all been seen as possible contributors to a workplace enabling burnout. [3,4]

Aged care staff have been adversely impacted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with working conditions reflecting the realities of needing to curb the risk of infection, reduced opportunities for social interaction, and changing care practices. [5, 6] Burnout in aged care has become more problematic and, given low unemployment rates, many workers are leaving the workforce. [7]

Understanding what can support aged care staff and services to remain healthy and productive is critical. Identifying how to more effectively address potential burnout issues in the sector arising from COVID-19 is also necessary if the sector is to be prepared to not just respond to future pandemics but value and support its workforce.

  1. World Health Organization. Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases [Internet]. Geneva: WHO; 2019 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from:  
  2. Maslach C, Leiter MP. Understanding the burnout experience: Recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World psychiatry. 2016;15(2):103-111. 
  3. Isherwood I, Mavromaras K, Wei Z. Attraction, retention and utilisation of the aged care workforce [Internet]. Adelaide: University of Adelaide, SA; 2018 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from:  
  4. Harrad R, Sulla F. Factors associated with and impact of burnout in nursing and residential home care workers for the elderly. Acta Biomed. 2018 Dec 7;89(7-S):60-69.  
  5. Altintas E, Boudoukha AH, Karaca Y, Lizio A, Luyat M, Gallouj K, et al. Fear of COVID-19, emotional exhaustion, and care quality experience in nursing home staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2022 Sep-Oct;102:104745.  
  6. McGuinness SL, Johnson J, Eades O. et al. Mental health outcomes in Australian healthcare and aged-care workers during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Apr 19;19(9):4951.  
  7. Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA). Duty of care: Aged care sector in crisis [Internet]. Melbourne, Vic: CEDA; 2022 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from: