Intellectual Disability Teachers Burnout in Saudi Arabia

Research Topic

There is no doubt that the effectiveness of specialists’ work remains the ultimate value in any sphere of human activity as an organization focuses on the practical outcomes of employees’ work. Nevertheless, there is a range of factors that can significantly reduce the number of satisfied clients and threaten employees’ mental health. Occupational burnout among special education teachers in Saudi Arabia is the topic that will be studied within the frame of the research paper.

The topic of occupational burnout in intellectual disability teachers living and working in different countries has been studied by numerous researchers. For instance, Bataineh and Alsagheer (2012) attempt to identify and study “the sources of social support” that can shed light upon possible measures reducing burnout (p. 5). Even though there are significant intercultural differences between countries, it is known that high burnout levels are peculiar to intellectual disability teachers in countries with different levels of economic development such as Turkey (Küçüksüleymanoğlu, 2011), Greece (Platsidou, 2010), and the Sultanate of Oman (Mohamed, 2015).

Speaking about the current state of knowledge concerning the causes and consequences of occupational burnout in education specialists, it is important to mention that the majority of researchers acknowledge that the effects of work-related stress in special education teachers are worse than in regular teachers. As for the causes that lead to this difference, special education practice involves a range of specific tasks related to disabled children’s problems.

Considering physical limitations that exist for disabled students, special education teachers have to make more efforts than regular teachers to explain new topics to their students. Moreover, considering the inequality of intellectually disabled children, special education teachers have to apply specific practices to avoid hurting their feelings, and it can be regarded as an additional source of occupational burnout.


There are numerous reasons why it is important to study the way that various dimensions of occupational burnout are manifested in teachers in different cultures. To begin with, many researchers in the field prove that work-related stress has a significant influence on the life satisfaction of special education teachers and consider teaching as “a highly stressful profession” (Hamama, Ronen, Shachar, & Rosenbaum, 2013, p. 731).

As it follows from this information, the failure to study the specific characteristics of work-related stress in intellectual disability teachers from Saudi Arabia has negative consequences. In particular, it can lead to a significant decrease in life satisfaction levels of special education teachers. Worse still, this negative tendency can encourage more specialists working in the sphere of special education to leave the profession due to the growing dissatisfaction and stress.

Another reason why it is important to study the proposed research topic is inherent in the peculiarities of the discussed profession. In general, teaching has always been considered as a profession that involves high levels of stress. The situation becomes even worse when it comes to the field of special education as the latter involves additional challenges for professional teachers. Among the factors that are responsible for high levels of stress in intellectual disability teachers all over the world, there is a large number of students’ specific needs that these professionals “showing the high levels of exhaustion” are supposed to meet (Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006, p. 496).

Also, it is known that many specialists working with intellectually disabled people are exposed to “challenging behavior including aggression” that reduces their motivation (Hensel, Lunsky, & Dewa, 2012, p. 910). More than that, the presence of positive outcomes for intellectually disabled students is often unobvious, and many employees fear that they will be false “accused of abuse” or the use of harsh treatment during the work (McConkey, McAuley, Simpson, & Collins, 2007, p. 186).

Combined with the high levels of stress peculiar to the profession, this factor significantly increases employee turnout rates in different countries. Studying factors that are interconnected with occupational burnout rates in special education teachers, it is possible to use the retrieved data to improve the existing programs and initiatives helping education specialists to cope with stress. Paying special attention to the characteristics of intellectual disability teachers who are the most susceptible to work-related stress, it will be possible to single out the categories of professionals from Saudi Arabia who need additional training. In such a way, the research on the effects of burnout in special education professionals in Saudi Arabia is expected to have significant practical outcomes.

As it follows from these statements, the proposed study is going to make a unique contribution to the field, expand the knowledge on occupational burnout in intellectual disability teachers in Saudi Arabia, and provide the data helping other researchers to improve stress management techniques that are currently applied in the country. In particular, the use of the specific data on work-related stress among intellectual disability teachers can help to increase the “prosocial motivation” of such specialists (Hickey, 2014, p. 134). In its turn, the latter has a positive influence on the life satisfaction of education professionals. Therefore, the positive changes that can be encouraged by the proposed study are numerous.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical and conceptual framework remains one of the most important things to be identified before conducting the research. In general, the topic of occupational burnout and stress management has not been studied for many years even though work-related stress has always influenced people in different countries and spheres of activity. The proposed research is aimed at studying the effects of occupational burnout on intellectual disability teachers working in Saudi Arabia. The theory that has been used to approach the topic and identify hypotheses and research questions is the work by Maslach, Schaufeli, and Leiter (2001).

The chosen study touches upon the most significant inventions in the field. For instance, reflecting on the topic of research tools utilized on a global scale, they describe the MBI scale “that was originally designed for use in human service occupations” (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 401).

Another theoretical aspect that is extremely important for the proposed research is the exact definition of occupational burnout that should not involve any inconsistencies. According to the researchers, job burnout that used to be a slippery concept presents “a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job” (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 397). The discussed source presents one of the most comprehensive works devoted to the topic because it generalizes the knowledge on occupational burnout in an effective manner.

The primary research question refers to the effects of burnout on special education teachers in Saudi Arabia whereas the additional ones that are expected to shape the study were constructed by the statements from the chosen theory. According to the authors, “there are important characteristics of some occupations that affect workers’ experience of burnout” (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 408). The additional research questions focus on the extent to which four individual factors are related to occupational burnout in special education teachers in Saudi Arabia.

These four factors include the degree earned by specialists, their gender, the level of teaching, and the number of years in the profession. As it follows from the discussed theory, “age and formal education” belong to the number of personal factors related to burnout (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 409); therefore, the use of education degrees and the number of years of professional experience as variables is approved by the discussed theory. The situation is a bit different in connection with gender because the source states that there are “some arguments that burnout is more of a female experience”, but these claims have not been confirmed (Maslach et al., 2001, p. 409).

The study suggests that gender has not been proved to be a strong predictor of occupational burnout. Nevertheless, considering that Saudi Arabia belongs to a number of patriarchal societies, it is important to use this research question. It will help to check whether the results for the country with strong religious traditions are different from the results for countries where gender roles are more flexible. In terms of the level of teaching, it is supposed to be an appropriate variable to be studied in the proposed research as there is a lack of knowledge on the role of this factor.

Therefore, the chosen theory has been used to conceptualize the topic that will be investigated. The source presents a thorough discussion of individual factors that can be regarded as predictors of burnout. Based on this discussion and the knowledge gap related to some of the proposed variables, the research questions were formulated.


Bataineh, O., & Alsagheer, A. (2012). An investigation of social support and burnout among special education teachers in the United Arab Emirates. International Journal of Special Education, 27(2), 5-13.

Hakanen, J. J., Bakker, A. B., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2006). Burnout and work engagement among teachers. Journal of School Psychology, 43(6), 495-513.

Hamama, L., Ronen, T., Shachar, K., & Rosenbaum, M. (2013). Links between stress, positive and negative affect, and life satisfaction among teachers in special education schools. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14(3), 731-751.

Hensel, J. M., Lunsky, Y., & Dewa, C. S. (2012). Exposure to client aggression and burnout among community staff who support adults with intellectual disabilities in Ontario, Canada. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 56(9), 910-915.

Hickey, R. (2014). Prosocial motivation, stress and burnout among direct support workers. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 27(2), 134-144.

Küçüksüleymanoğlu, R. (2011). Burnout syndrome levels of teachers in special education schools in Turkey. International Journal of Special Education, 26(1), 53-63.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 397-422.

McConkey, R., McAuley, P., Simpson, L., & Collins, S. (2007). The male workforce in intellectual disability services. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 4(3), 186-193.

Mohamed, A. H. H. (2015). Burnout and work stress among disability centers staff in Oman. International Journal of Special Education, 30(1), 25-36.

Platsidou, M. (2010). Trait emotional intelligence of Greek special education teachers in relation to burnout and job satisfaction. School Psychology International, 31(1), 60-76.