05 April 2012

Stressful job leads to emotional burnout

Research shows that staying in an organisation out of a sense of obligation leads to emotional exhaustion, a chronic state of physical and mental depletion from stress and demands.


Love it or leave it — if only it were that simple. According to new research from Concordia University, the Université de Montréal and HEC Montréal, staying in an organisation out of a sense of obligation or for lack of alternatives can lead to emotional exhaustion, a chronic state of physical and mental depletion resulting from continuous stress and excessive job demands.

Published in the journal Human Relations, the study found that people who stay in their organisations because they feel an obligation towards their employer are more likely to experience burnout. The same applies when employees stay because they don’t perceive employment alternatives outside their organisation.

“Our study examined whether some forms of commitment to an organisation could have detrimental effects, such as emotional exhaustion and, eventually, turnover,” says co-author Alexandra Panaccio, an assistant professor in the Department of Management at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business.

“When employees stay with their organisation because they feel that they have no other options, explains Panaccio, “they are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion. This feeling, in turn, may lead them to leave the organisation. The implication is that employers should try to minimise this 'lack of alternatives' type of commitment among employees by developing their competencies, thus increasing their feeling of mobility and, paradoxically, contributing to them wanting to stay with the organisation."

The researchers also found that people with high self-esteem are most affected by a perceived lack of employment alternatives — possibly because that perception is inconsistent with their self-view as important and competent people.

How the study was done

Panaccio and her colleagues surveyed 260 workers from various industries, including information technology, health services, engineering and architecture. Participants were, on average, 34 years old; 33% held managerial positions, while 50% worked in the public sector.

The research team measured various types of organisational commitments, such as whether employees identified with a company’s goals and values and whether they felt an obligation to stay.

"It may be that, in the absence of an emotional bond with the organisation, commitment based on obligation is experienced as a kind of indebtedness — a loss of autonomy that is emotionally draining over time,” says Panaccio.
 - (EurekAlert, April 2012)

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