!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Respect as an Antidote to Burnout

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Respect as an Antidote to Burnout

"Can the values of the company — including whether you treat employees with respect or with disrespect — influence how people do their work and whether or not they will feel burned out?"

This is the question Lakshmi Ramarajan decided to investigate after observing burnout problems firsthand at a nonprofit organization where she worked for a while. As reported today at Knowledge@Wharton, the answer to the question appears to be yes.

Ramarajan, now a graduate student at Wharton, has collaborated with Wharton professor Sigal Barsade on research that looks specifically at the job of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) at long-term care facilities. The goal of their study was to measure the degree to which organizational respect influences job burnout.

In the study, respect was measured by asking CNAs to indicate how characteristic these five statements were of their organization:
  • Staff members respect each other.

  • Staff members are treated with dignity.

  • Cultural diversity of the staff is valued.

  • Supervisors pay attention to staff members' ideas.

  • Staff members are encouraged to be creative when solving problems.
The above items were chosen in consultation with senior managers and employees as representing "how organizational respect would be demonstrated in their organization."

CNAs were also asked about autonomy — "the discretion that one has to determine the processes and schedules involved in completing a task." Employees answered three questions:
  • In general, how much say or influence do you feel you have in what goes on in your unit?

  • Do you feel that you can influence decision-making ... regarding things about which you are concerned?

  • Does your supervisor ask your opinion when a problem comes up which involves your work?
To gauge individual CNAs' "negative affectivity" ("propensity to be high energy in their negative emotions, such as anger, irritability, anxiety or frustration"), the CNAs rated themselves on "their general tendency to feel irritable, upset, nervous, afraid and guilty."

Finally, burnout was measured by CNAs' strength of agreement or disagreement with 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.

  • I feel burned out from my work.
Key findings from the research include:
  • Burnout is not just a function of the employee's personality (degree of "negative affectivity"), or of how pleasant or unpleasant job duties are (e.g., having to clean up after incontinent patients).

    An organization's culture and, specifically, the presence or absence of respect for employees, is also an important determining factor.

  • Autonomy helps stave off burnout.

  • For CNAs there is a positive correlation between job tenure and burnout.

    An implication is that longer-term employees may stay on the job (perhaps because of a lack of other employment opportunities), but not be engaged in their work.
In light of their research findings, Ramarajan and Barsade recommend that organizations make a point of demonstrating respect for employees and the work the employees are doing. They should also acknowledge the difficulty of the work and compliment good performance. If higher wages are not feasible, non-monetary rewards, such as recognition dinners, certainly are.

These recommendations seem like common sense, but we all know that common sense is less common than it should be.

Note: For previous posts on the importance of respect in maintaining a healthy work environment, you can click here, here and here.


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