Burnout and Performance in Organizations An Investigation of the Interplay of Individual and Job Characteristics

  • This dissertation examined under which conditions stressful working conditions relate to emotional exhaustion and how emotional exhaustion affects individual performance. Emotional exhaustion, which refers to a depletion of emotional resources, is considered to be the core component of burnout. Burnout has become an important issue for individuals at work and their organizations. Therefore, interest in this concept from researchers and practitioners has increased dramatically over the past twenty years. Despite knowing that stressful job conditions are potential antecedents of emotional exhaustion, we know much less about factors that can alter this relationship as well as about consequences of emotional exhaustion. This dissertation addressed this gap in three empirical studies, which are summarized below. The first study tested whether matching and non-matching resources buffer detrimental effects of job demands on emotional exhaustion. The second study examined whether a person characteristic (overcommitment) aggravates effects of stressful working conditions on emotional exhaustion and job performance. The third study investigated if emotional exhaustion relates to cognitive performance and job performance. Study 1 investigated whether interaction effects between job demands and resources on emotional exhaustion are more likely if these three concepts’ dimensions match (emotional, cognitive or physical). I tested the Demand-Induced Strain Compensation (DISC) model’s proposition that matching resources are more likely to buffer job demands’ detrimental effects on job strain, such as emotional exhaustion, than non-matching resources. I retrieved data from 177 school teachers; a subsample was re-examined after a time lag of about 21 months (N= 56). Unlike previous DISC studies, I tested the interaction between demands and resources with at least two demands per dimension, increasing the reliability of my findings. Focusing on the dimensions of demands and resources and their match introduces a new theoretical approach to research on teacher burnout. The present study contributes to the literature by testing the DISC model with a longitudinal design in a sample of German school teachers, including a statistical test of the triple-match hypothesis. Linear regression analyses revealed concurrent and lagged main and interaction effects of emotional and cognitive job demands and resources on emotional exhaustion. In large parts, job demands were positively and resources were negatively related to emotional exhaustion. Moreover, resources buffered detrimental effects of job demands. Results mainly supported the propositions of the DISC model which provides a valuable theoretical framework for the study of interaction effects in occupational health psychology and, in particular, for interventions to reduce job strain in teachers. Because reducing job demands is not always feasible, I propose that interventions should also target improving teachers’ resources (e.g., emotional support) in order to reduce emotional exhaustion among teachers. Such interventions would likely benefit from considering the dimension of working conditions and outcomes by focusing on matching concepts. Study 2 focused on the often neglected interaction hypothesis of the model of Effort-Reward Imbalance with its two components effort-reward imbalance (ERI) and overcommitment (OC), which proposes that OC potentiates the detrimental relationships between ERI and the outcomes, here emotional exhaustion and job performance. ERI represents an imbalance between work-related costs (in the model termed efforts) and occupational gains (in the model termed rewards). Overcommitted employees are characterized by a motivational pattern of excessive work-related commitment and a high need for approval. They have difficulties to withdraw from work and are disproportionally irritable. I applied multilevel modeling based on data from 152 employees nested in 20 teams from a German manufacturing company. As predicted, results showed that ERI was positively related to emotional exhaustion and negatively related to supervisor-rated job performance while OC was unrelated to emotional exhaustion and job performance. Thereby, Study 2 extends the scope of the ERI model by being the first study that relates ERI to supervisor-rated job performance as an organizational outcome. Importantly, testing the interaction hypothesis by taking OC into account as a moderator, results showed that OC significantly aggravated the associations between ERI and emotional exhaustion as well as between ERI and job performance. Especially for overly committed employees, balanced working conditions appear to be important to prevent emotional exhaustion and to avoid performance decrements. Therefore, it seems crucial to identify these employees and take special care of them, for example, by offering trainings to alter their work-related attitudes of approval and commitment. Study 3 investigated how emotional exhaustion, as a state of depleted resources and compromised executive control, relates to cognitive performance, job performance, and health. Theoretically, I assumed that executive control deficits impair cognitive performance. I further assumed that exhausted employees are less likely to invest their remaining resources and thus show lower job performance. Because emotional exhaustion evolves gradually, I focused on working and apparently healthy teachers reporting various levels of exhaustion. Unlike most previous studies, I applied a longitudinal design, which offers more insight into the direction of effects. The combination of longitudinal data, multiple-source data, and the assessment of various individual performance facets collected in a non-clinical sample make a novel study that contributes to the literature of burnout and cognitive performance. As hypothesized, cross-sectional linear regression analyses of 100 teachers showed that emotional exhaustion was significantly negatively related to cognitive performance, indicated by self- and peer-rated cognitive impairments as well as performance decrements in a neuropsychological learning and memory test (all p < .05). Longitudinal linear regression analyses confirmed this for self- and peer-rated cognitive impairments by trend (p < .10). In these longitudinal linear regression analyses, work-related exhaustion also significantly predicted self-rated physical health. However, emotional exhaustion did not affect self-rated job performance, which might be explained with the compensatory control model. In tests of reversed causation, none of the outcome variables at Time 1 predicted change in emotional exhaustion at Time 2. This speaks against cognitive impairments serving as a vulnerability factor for exhaustion. In sum, findings contribute to the understanding of the burnout syndrome. Results underpin the negative consequences of emotional exhaustion for cognitive performance and health that are relevant for individuals and organizations alike. To sum up, this dissertation extended research on work-related emotional exhaustion and individual performance. More specifically, interaction hypotheses were tested within a recently developed and an established theoretical job strain model—the DISC model and the ERI model, respectively. Additional variables were integrated in the models, such as conflicts with colleagues and emotional support in the DISC model or job performance in the ERI model, and thus extended their scopes. Moreover, consequences of emotional exhaustion for cognitive performance were examined. Methodologically, longitudinal and multilevel study designs as well as supervisor- and peer-ratings as well as laboratory test data add to the current state of research. Taken together, results presented in this work showed that protective resources and vulnerability factors moderate relationships between stressful working conditions and emotional exhaustion and should be taken into account when thinking about work place interventions. Finally, this work underpins the relevance of emotional exhaustion for individual functioning with the finding that emotional exhaustion can impair cognitive performance and health.

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Meta data
Publishing Institution:IRC-Library, Information Resource Center der Jacobs University Bremen
Granting Institution:Jacobs Univ.
Author:Nicolas Feuerhahn
Referee:Brigitte M. Kudielka, Christian Stamov-Roßnagel, Sabine Sonnentag
Advisor:Brigitte M. Kudielka
Persistent Identifier (URN):urn:nbn:de:101:1-201305294885
Document Type:PhD Thesis
Date of Successful Oral Defense:2012/10/02
Year of Completion:2012
Date of First Publication:2012/11/27
PhD Degree:Psychology
School:JCLL Jacobs Center on Lifelong Learning and Institutional Development
Library of Congress Classification:R Medicine / RC Internal medicine / RC952-1245 Special situations and conditions / RC963-969 Industrial medicine. Industrial hygiene [incl. job stress]
Call No:Thesis 2012/41

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