“It is often not the job that burns you out, but the organization.”

E. Forrest Christian Uncategorized Leave a Comment

InformIT has an interesting article on recent research out of Wharton by Sigal Barsade and Lakshmi Ramarajan (“More than Job Demands or Personality, Lack of Organizational Respect Fuels Employee Burnout

Dec 8, 2006).

Barsade and Ramarajan were especially interested in health care because many of the lower-level jobs in that industry tend to be difficult, and because a lot of research has been done on the industry’s burnout rate, says Barsade. “In the existing literature, there are two factors that have predicted burnout and why it occurs. The first factor is the job itself. The second is the personality of the employees, and the presence of ‘negative affectivity’ — someone’s propensity to be high energy in their negative emotions, such as anger, irritability, anxiety or frustration. It’s not that people are always feeling that way, but that they are feeling that way more so than people who have less negative affectivity. We focused on those two factors.”

The question then becomes whether they have higher negative affectivity because of their personalities (onus of fault on the individual) or because they are in a system that is poor (onus on the organizational system).

Later, they talk about doing a survey with Certified Nursing Assistants in a long-term care facility.

Under the heading “trait negative affectivity,” employees rated their general tendency to feel irritable, upset, nervous, afraid and guilty. “Burnout” was measured by participants’ reactions to four statements: “I feel emotionally drained from my work;” “I feel used up at the end of the workday;” “I feel fatigued when I get up in the morning and have to face another day on the job,” and “I feel burned out from my work.”

Interestingly, RO predicts these emotions as a result of non-requisite organization, of employees who do not have a Real Boss. The structure, I would argue, stinks.

Jaques and Co. also had some interesting research on hospitals, talking about how doctors are not part of the employment hierarchy but members of the hospital.

Finally, let’s note, with wild laughter, there amazing finding about having discretion over one’s work:

The impact of organizational respect on burnout is felt most strongly when job autonomy is low. This finding confirms the researchers’ hypothesis going into the study about the importance of autonomy, which they define as “the discretion that one has to determine the processes and schedules involved in completing a task.” Autonomy, the researchers note, can act as a buffer on stress — and actually decrease job burnout — if autonomy is high, but not if it is low.

Wow. When you have proper level of discretion over your work and proper context for it set by your manager, you enjoy your job.

It’s shocking how much money we waste on treating a problem that we already know how to cure. People deserve better than the evil structures that we put them in.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

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