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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

Muir Matches Measure provides visual representation of job burnout

There are visual measures to quantify job satisfaction and measure pain, such as the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale posted in doctors' offices and hospitals.

However, there were no visual measures to track job burnout, so Notre Dame professor Cindy Muir (Zapata) set out to create a short-term measure to assess employees' feelings about burnout. 

The Muir Matches Measure is a validated visual measure of job burnout created by Muir and published with Charles Calderwood, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech, and Dorian Boncoeur, an assistant professor for the Mendoza College of Business.

According to Muir, visual measures are powerful because they allow people to quickly assess their feelings.

“The idea for [the measure] hit me as I stared at an image of matches burned at different levels during a presentation,” she said. 

Long surveys are time-consuming, especially for those experiencing job burnout, so Muir wanted to create a quick and regular way to assess burnout by using a visual that is easily recognizable: burning matches. The scale of matches burning down allows people to pinpoint how they are feeling. 

Calderwood explained that job burnout is a challenge that arises from insufficient recovery.

“Recovery is how people keep themselves replenished and occupationally healthy over time,” he said. 

Within burnout literature, the time scale of burnout has progressed to include both feelings over a long time and daily fluctuations.

“You have burnout that is a chronic strain reaction or a longer-term syndrome, but you also see the symptoms of burnout vary from day-to-day in terms of how exhausted you feel or how disconnected from your work you feel,” Calderwood explained. 

The paper published by Muir and her coauthors confirmed that the visual scale of the matches burning down corresponds with existing measures of job burnout. They validated the scale by looking at different instruction sets and ways of defining burnout. 

Calderwood said that, when launching the tool, the group had to grapple with the misalignment between how people refer to burnout in everyday language in comparison to how burnout may be referred to by an academic or defined in a dictionary. 

“‘Burnout’ is something that's become a term in our everyday language. People say that they're ‘burned out,’ but they can mean different things by that,” Calderwood said. “The disconnect between the everyday understanding of burnout and how it's defined academically was a challenge I’m not sure we anticipated when the project started.” 

Licenses to the measure can be purchased by companies and employees, according to Muir.

“It is my hope that companies use [the tool] in their climate surveys to check in on their employees,” Muir said. “They might use it to track trends over time or to see how a large-scale change initiative has impacted their employees.”

Calderwood said the tool will be important for employees in high-stress occupations, including nursing and teaching, which have previously experienced high burnout rates. 

The measure can also be downloaded online for personal use after completing a short survey. Muir said the data collected will be used to gain a better understanding of burnout levels in different industries and occupations, which will be used in future research. 

While the Muir Matches Measure allows people to identify if they are feeling burned out at their job, the next step is taking that information from the visual and learning how to deal with burnout.

“I am now working on how to best advise people to use their self-assessment to make changes that can help reduce their job burnout,” Muir said.

Contact Caroline Collins at