Are these the ‘hidden’ reasons that cause burnout?

by L&D15 Aug 2016
Consider a manager who has the duty to guide a team.

The problem is that the manager does not like being the centre of attention.

Furthermore, think about an accountant who is outgoing and needs close social relationships.

However, the current role does not offer much interaction with colleagues or clients.

The result of both circumstances is a mismatch between their individual needs and the opportunities they are offered in their roles.

The outcome is more than just an unhappy and unfulfilled employee.

In fact, the worker is at risk of emotional and mental exhaustion from work - often described as ‘burnout’.

This can also lead the employee to experiencing a lack of motivation, low efficiency, and a helpless feeling.

More worryingly, this can evolve into anxiety, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, insomnia, and depression.

The study involved researchers at the Universities of Zurich and Leipzig looking at how the 'unconscious needs' of employees play an important role in the development of burnout. This involved looking at two ‘implicit motives’.

The first is the ‘power motive’ which is the need to take responsibility for others, maintain discipline, and engage in arguments or negotiation, in order to feel strong.

The second implicit motive is the ‘affiliation motive’ which is the need for positive personal relations, in order to feel trust, warmth, and belonging.

The results found a mismatch is risky because employees can get burned out when they have too much or not enough scope for power or affiliation compared to their individual needs.

The leading author, Veronika Brandstätter, Professor of Psychology at the University of Zurich, found that the frustration of unconscious affective needs, caused by a lack of opportunities for motive-driven behaviour, is “detrimental to psychological and physical well-being”.

The study involved recruiting 97 women and men between 22 and 62 through the Swiss Burnout website, an information resource and forum for Swiss people suffering from burnout.

The participants completed questionnaires about their physical well-being, degree of burnout, and the characteristics of their job, including its opportunities and demands.

The researchers found that the greater the mismatch between someone's affiliation motive and the scope for personal relations at the job, the higher the risk of burnout.

Further, adverse physical symptoms, such as headache, chest pain, faintness, and shortness of breath, became more common with increasing mismatch between an employee's power motive and the scope for power in the job.

These results suggest that interventions that prevent or repair these mismatches could increase well-being at work and reduce the risk of burnout.

One way to address this is "job crafting," where employees proactively try to enrich their job in order to meet their requirements.

This could involve an employee with a strong affiliation motive who might handle duties in a more collaborative way and try to find ways for more teamwork.

Beate Schulze, a Senior Researcher at the Department of Social and Occupational Medicine of the University of Leipzig, said a motivated workforce is the "key to success in today's globalised economy".

“Here, we need innovative approaches that go beyond providing attractive working conditions. Matching employees' motivational needs to their daily activities at work might be the way forward,” said Schulze .

“This may also help to address growing concerns about employee mental health, since burnout is essentially an erosion of motivation.”

The study is published in Frontiers in Psychology.

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