Many highly-engaged employees suffer from burnout

February 21, 2018, University of Cambridge
Many highly-engaged employees suffer from burnout
Credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters

Underlining the danger of job burnout, a new study of more than 1,000 US workers finds that many employees who are highly engaged in their work are also exhausted and ready to leave their organisations.

Whereas lack of engagement is commonly seen as leading to turnover due to boredom and disaffection, the study finds that companies, in fact, risk losing some of their most motivated and hard-working employees due to high stress and burnout – a symptom of the "darker side" of workplace engagement.

It is concerning, concludes the study by academics working in the UK, US and Germany, that many engaged employees suffer from stress and burnout symptoms, which may be the beginning of a pathway leading into disengagement.

"Nearly half of all employees were moderately to highly engaged in their work but also exhausted and ready to leave their organisations," said co-author Dr. Jochen Menges from the University of Cambridge. "This should give managers a lot to think about."

The study, published in the journal Career Development International, examined multiple workplace factors that divide employees into various engagement-burnout profiles. These include low engagement-low burnout ("apathetic"), low engagement-high burnout ("burned-out"), high engagement-low burnout ("engaged"), "moderately engaged-exhausted"; and "highly engaged-exhausted".

While the largest population at 41 percent fit the healthily "engaged" profile, 19 percent experienced high levels of both engagement and burnout ("highly engaged-exhausted") and another 35.5 percent were "moderately engaged-exhausted".

The highest turnover intentions were reported by the "highly engaged-exhausted" group – higher than even the unengaged group that might be commonly expected to be eyeing an exit.

"These findings are a big challenge to organisations and their management," said Menges, who is a Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at Cambridge Judge Business School. "By shedding light on some of the factors in both engagement and burnout, the study can help organisations identify workers who are motivated but also at risk of burning out and leaving."

While previous studies had looked at engagement-burnout profiles, the new study – conducted at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, in collaboration with the Faas Foundation – also focuses on demands placed on employees and resources provided to them in the workplace, and how these affect engagement and burnout.

The study is based on an online survey of 1,085 employees in all 50 US states. It measured engagement, burnout, demands and resources on a six-point scale ranging from such responses as "never" to "almost always" or "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree".

For engagement, questions included "I strive as hard as I can to complete my job" and "I feel energetic at my job". For burnout, participants were asked how often at work they feel "disappointed with people" or "physically weak/sickly". Demand questions included "I have too much work to do", while resources were measured by questions such as "my supervisor provides me with the support I need to do my job well".

The researchers then examined overlap of these various factors, and how they interact and influence each other, in order to draw conclusions about the different profile groups.

"High engagement levels in the workplace can be a double-edged sword for some employees," said Menges. "Engagement is very beneficial to workers and organisations when burnout symptoms are low, but engagement coupled with high burnout symptoms can lead to undesired outcomes including increased intentions to leave an organisation. So managers need to look carefully at high levels of engagement and help those employees who may be headed for , or they risk higher turnover levels and other undesirable outcomes."

Explore further: Burnout found prevalent among doctors in single health system

More information: Julia Moeller et al. Highly engaged but burned out: intra-individual profiles in the US workforce, Career Development International (2018). DOI: 10.1108/CDI-12-2016-0215

Related Stories

Burnout found prevalent among doctors in single health system

February 20, 2018
(HealthDay)—Burnout is prevalent among physicians, affecting over one-third of physicians in a single health system, and is associated with health care delivery, according to a research letter published online Feb. 19 in ...

High levels of burnout, stress for U.S. surgical residents

November 17, 2017
(HealthDay)—Surgical residents have high levels of burnout, which is associated with high stress, depression, and suicidal ideation, according to a study published online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Workplace stress can take a toll on your brain surgeon, too

February 9, 2018
When it comes to workplace stress, even doctors aren't immune to its effects. For doctors training to become neurosurgeons, burnout is common, and certain workplace stressors—like unrewarding mentor relationships, difficult ...

High costs associated with physician burnout, attrition

November 22, 2017
(HealthDay)—Physicians who are experiencing burnout are more than twice as likely to leave their organization within two years, and this is associated with significant economic costs, according to a report from the American ...

Self-help book works to combat burnout and stress—without a therapist

November 27, 2017
Around a third of all employees find their work stressful. Interventions for stress and burnout are available, but often not accessible for many employees. A self-help book based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) ...

Recommended for you

Serious loneliness spans the adult lifespan but there is a silver lining

December 18, 2018
In recent years, public health officials have warned about a rising epidemic of loneliness, with rates of loneliness reportedly doubling over the past 50 years. In a new study, researchers at University of California San ...

Junk food diet raises depression risk, researchers find

December 18, 2018
A diet of fast food, cakes and processed meat increases your risk of depression, according to researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Looking on bright side may reduce anxiety, especially when money is tight

December 17, 2018
Trying to find something good in a bad situation appears to be particularly effective in reducing anxiety the less money a person makes, possibly because people with low incomes have less control over their environment, according ...

Levels of gene-expression-regulating enzyme altered in brains of people with schizophrenia

December 14, 2018
A study using a PET scan tracer developed at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has identified, for the first time, epigenetic differences between the brains of individuals ...

Self-perception and reality seem to line-up when it comes to judging our own personality

December 14, 2018
When it comes to self-assessment, new U of T research suggests that maybe we do have a pretty good handle on our own personalities after all.

Video game players frequently exposed to graphic content may see world differently

December 13, 2018
People who frequently play violent video games are more immune to disturbing images than non-players, a UNSW-led study into the phenomenon of emotion-induced blindness has shown.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.