Oldenburg Burnout Inventory (OLBI)
By Maggie Bowman
Psychology Research Assistant
✅ Coming soon on Bravely Connect
The OLBI is a self-report measure used to assess the severity of work-related burnout. It consists of 16 questions which ask the client to indicate their levels of agreement with various statements related to professional burnout. The OLBI contains two subscales measuring exhaustion and disengagement. Total scores are calculated via the summation of each item; however, some items assess vigor and engagement, and these items are reverse-scored. Potential scores on each subscale range from 8 to 32 with the total potential OLBI score ranging from 16 to 64. Higher scores indicate higher levels of burnout. Limitations for the OLBI include its inability to diagnose any specific disorder via cutoff scores, and potential concerns about item 13’s validity when used with modern day workers who often change careers. Even with these limitations, the OLBI may be helpful for efficiently tracking patients’ levels of burnout.
📏 Lengths: 16 questions (5 minutes)
📋 Administration: Self-administered
🎯 Uses: Assess exhaustion and disengagement in relation to occupational burnout
⚠️ Important Caveats: No cutoff scores, measure authors view burnout as a dichotomy
✅ Available in Bravely Connect? Yes
🌏 Culturally Applicable? Yes
The OLBI Question type and length
The client is presented with 16 questions asking clients to indicate their levels of agreement with various statements related to professional burnout. Each item has the same selection of answers: a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 4 (strongly disagree). There are eight items which assess one’s potential senses of vitality and engagement related to their work; these items are reverse-scored when calculating the total OLBI score.
Here are examples of items from the OLBI and the range of answers:
Please indicate the degree of your agreement by selecting the number that corresponds with each statement.
I can tolerate the pressure of my work very well. (Reverse-scored)1. Strongly agree2. Agree3. Disagree4. Strongly disagree
During my work, I often feel emotionally drained.
The OLBI has also been adapted for use in student populations. This version of the OLBI is the OLBI-S.
For the full list of questions, check out the measures on Bravely Connect, or follow the following link to the original unautomated version in English: OLBI
What does the OLBI measure
The Oldenburg Burnout Inventory (OLBI) is a self-report measure of burnout, a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, cynicism or depersonalization, and reduced professional efficacy (Halbesleben & Demerouti, 2005) that often occurs in people who work in demanding and stressful occupations, such as healthcare, education, social services, or customer service. However, burnout can occur in employees of any industry, and the OLBI items use language that can apply to any occupation. The OLBI consists of 16 items that assess the severity of burnout. The 16 items are split between two subscales assessing exhaustion and disengagement. Potential OLBI scores range 16–64 with higher scores indicating higher levels of burnout. Research indicates that the English version of the OLBI demonstrates acceptable reliability as well as factorial, convergent, and discriminant validity (Halbesleben & Demerouti, 2005).
OLBI Factor structure
The OLBI sets out to assess burnout using two subscales measuring exhaustion and disengagement. A 2001 study by the scale authors found that the OLBI’s factor structure mirrored its subscales and theorized that the two-factor structure stemmed from burnout resulting from two workplace factors: high demands on the job causing exhaustion and low amounts of job resources causing disengagement.
However, a 2015 study by Sedlar and colleagues found a different two-factor structure in which the factors were populated by the negatively- and positively-worded items respectively. The Sedlar study also posited a potential four-factor structure consisting of the negatively- and positively-worded items from both the exhaustion and disengagement scales. This potential four-factor structure could be described as vigor (positive exhaustion items), exhaustion, engagement (positive disengagement items), and disengagement.
The history and theory behind the OLBI
The OLBI was conceptualised in Germany by Evangelia Demerouti and Friedhelm Nachreiner in 1998. It was further validated and refined by Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, and Schaufeli in 2001. The authors created the OLBI in response to psychometric shortcomings identified in the burnout scale most commonly used at the time (Demerouti et al., 2001). Whereas the prior scale was concerned mainly with human services occupations, the OLBI authors aimed to assess burnout in people working in all industries.
The prior scale also assessed burnout using three subscales: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. The OLBI authors found that emotional exhaustion and depersonlization were the strongest indicators of burnout, so the personal accomplishment concept was excluded from the OLBI. Emotional exhaustion and depersonalization were also thought to be more integral to the syndrome of burnout. In the OLBI, “disengagement” takes the place of depersonalization, referring to emotionally distancing oneself from one’s work. A more broad descriptor of “exhaustion” replaces emotional exhaustion to encapsulate more types of exhaustion that may result from work: cognitive, physical, and emotional.
OLBI Scoring Interpretation
OLBI scoring is calculated via the summation of the item scores on each subscale. The disengagement and exhaustion subscales both consist of eight items: four negatively-worded items, and four positively-worded items. The positively-worded items are reverse-scored. The OLBI is scored using a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 4 (strongly disagree). Potential scores on each subscale range from 8 to 32 with the total potential OLBI score ranging from 16 to 64. Higher scores indicate higher levels of burnout.
The OLBI authors suggest that burnout is a dichotomous construct in which burnout is only present if a person is experiencing high levels of both disengagement and exhaustion from job environments with high demands of their employees and few resources available to ensure those demands are met (Demerouti et al., 2001). However, they do not provide cutoff scores to indicate when one “tests positive” for either construct, and some other burnout researchers conceptualize burnout as a continuous phenomenon occurring on a spectrum (Iserson, 2018). Although OLBI scores are not applicable for diagnosing specific mental health conditions, they may be used to track a client’s perceptions of how burnt out they feel in their professional life using their own prior scores as a point of reference.
Who developed the measures, licensing and how to obtain the OLBI
The OLBI was developed primarily by industrial psychology researchers Evangelia Demerouti and Friedhelm Nachreiner in several studies spanning the late 1990s and early 2000s. Further collaboration with Arnold B. Bakker and Wilmar B. Schaufeli validated the structure and theoretical underpinnings of the OLBI in 2001.
The OLBI is free to use and does not require any specific licensing.
The OLBI is available on Bravely Connect as part of our automated measures. See the OLBI on Bravely Connect →
Limitations, biases and when you should/shouldn’t use the OLBI
The OLBI is a self-report measure that assesses respondents’ sense of occupational burnout. While the OLBI is capable of measuring negative emotions associated with burnout, it is not a diagnostic instrument and there is no score cutoff to indicate any mental health condition. The OLBI authors also conceptualize burnout as a dichotomous trait (Demerouti et al., 2001) while other burnout researchers may conceptualize burnout as a spectrum (Iserson, 2018).
In terms of cross-cultural applicability, the OLBI has been validated in a variety of countries including China (Xu et al., 2021), the Philippines (Tus et al., 2021), India (Subburaj & Vijayadurai, 2016), Brazil and Portugal (Sinval et al., 2019), Slovenia (Sedlar et al., 2015), Poland (Baka & Basińska, 2016), Pakistan (Khan & Yusoff, 2016), Malaysia (Mahadi et al., 2018), Greece (Demerouti et al., 2003), and Nigeria (Ogunsuji et al., 2022).
While much of the aforementioned cross-cultural validation research sampled workers from academic and medical environments, several of these studies included office workers (Sinval et al., 2019), law enforcement officials (Subburaj & Vijayadurai, 2016), and food service workers (Tus et al., 2021), as well as bankers, chemists, veterinarians, biologists, pharmacists, insurance employees, lawyers, economists, and statisticians (Demerouti et al., 2003).
Despite the generally strong cross-cultural applicability of the OLBI, several studies in different countries including Italy, Brazil, Russia, and Sweden found poor factor loading for item 13 (“this is the only type of work that I can imagine myself doing”) (Sinval et al., 2019). Sinval and colleagues suggest that this particular item may be less applicable for modern workers who typically have more employers over their lifetimes, especially younger workers who may wish for a wide variety of career experiences.
As with many measures developed and validated in Western cultures, we recommend that the OLBI be used in conjunction with comprehensive clinical assessments taking a client’s unique sociocultural background into consideration.
As always, if you’ve found a measure you would like adding to Bravely Connect as an automated measure, just drop us a measure request here.
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