Burnout is caused as a result of a mismatch between an individual’s unconscious needs and the opportunities and demands at the workplace, says a study with implications for the prevention of job burnout.
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from work, which results in lack of motivation, low efficiency, and helpless feeling. Its health effects include anxiety, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, insomnia, and depression.
The results showed that a mismatch between job characteristics and either implicit motive can cause burnout. Employees can get burned out when they have too much or not enough scope for power or affiliation compared to their individual needs.
“We found that the frustration of unconscious effective needs, caused by a lack of opportunities for motive-driven behaviour, is detrimental to psychological and physical well-being,” said leading author, Veronika Brandstatter, Professor at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.
“The same is true for goal-striving that doesn’t match a well-developed implicit motive for power or affiliation, because then excessive effort is necessary to achieve that goal. Both forms of mismatch act as ‘hidden stressors’ and can cause burnout,” Brandstatter added.
Further, the unconscious needs of employees — their so-called “implicit motives” — play an important role in the development of burnout.
The researchers focus on two important motives: the power motive, that is, the need to take responsibility for others, maintain discipline, and engage in arguments or negotiation, in order to feel strong and self-efficacious.
Secondly, the affiliation motive, the need for positive personal relations, in order to feel trust, warmth, and belonging.
For the study, the team analysed 97 Swiss men and women, between the age group 22 and 62. The greater the mismatch between someone’s affiliation motive and the scope for personal relations at the job, the higher was the risk of burnout, the researchers said.
Likewise, 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 his or her job.
Interventions that prevent or repair such mismatches could increase well-being at work and reduce the risk of burnout, the team suggested.
“A motivated workforce it the key to success in today’s globalised economy. Matching employees’ motivational needs to their daily activities at work might be the way forward,” noted Beate Schulze, researcher at the University of Leipzig in Germany.
“This may also help to address growing concerns about employee mental health, since burnout is essentially an erosion of motivation,” Schulze said, in the paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.