Workplace burnout is increasingly widespread worldwide and has a detrimental effect on employee performance and well-being, as well as on the overall productivity of the organizations in which individuals experiencing burnout are embedded.
This phenomenon causes significant mental fatigue, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (a state in which people feel disconnected from their bodies, emotions, and thoughts), and a decline in personal fulfillment. While a considerable amount of research has already explored the causes and mechanisms of burnout, the role of personal relationships has largely been overlooked.
Now, a study led by the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE University) in Moscow has argued that satisfaction in personal relationships can significantly impact the manifestation of workplace burnout syndrome, particularly in men.
To test this hypothesis, study author Ilya Bulgakov, a research fellow in Psychology at HSE, has administered a survey to 203 employees across a variety of Russian companies, who were asked the assess their satisfaction with personal relationships and the presence of burnout symptoms.
The investigation revealed that, as the level of marital satisfaction increased, the risk of workplace burnout decreased – a correlation found to be more pronounced in men. According to Bulgakov, these findings highlight existing disparities in social roles and stereotypes attributed to men and women, as well as variations in expectations related to marriage and career.
“For men, career success can often become a fundamental aspect of their identity and self-esteem. As a result, they may encounter greater pressure in the workplace and experience elevated stress levels while striving to fulfil their duties and meet expectations. In this context, marital satisfaction and feeling supported in one’s private life can become critical factors in preventing burnout among men,” Bulgakov explained.
For women experiencing burnout, depersonalization – characterized by a feeling of disconnectedness from colleagues and clients and a decrease in empathy and compassion – seems to play the most important role, while for men, the main burnout symptom is usually emotional fatigue from being overwhelmed with work-related requests and feeling incapable of managing them.
These differences are most likely linked to the different social expectations and roles imposed on women and men within the professional realm. For instance, in many cultures, women are expected to be empathic and nurturing, while men are seen as providers and protectors. Thus, women often experience pressure concerning the amount of emotional support they are expected to offer to colleagues and clients, leading to heightened stress and a tendency to dissociate from these responsibilities, ultimately leading to depersonalization.
On the other hand, men expected to have a high-level of responsibility linked to their perceived social roles can easily lead to emotional burnout. Fortunately, in their case, marital satisfaction was found to mitigate to a certain degree such symptoms.
The study also found that men who experience greater professional success tend to have higher levels of satisfaction in their personal relationships – a correlation that was not identified in women – suggesting that support in one’s personal life could play a greater role in facilitating workplace success for men compared to women.
“Individuals suffering from workplace burnout syndrome often struggle to disconnect from their work and therefore remain in a constant state of tension. Consequently, personal relationships serve as a means for them to escape the pressures of the career race, providing a source of satisfaction and support. Interestingly, this association has been observed only in men. This can perhaps be attributed to traditional social roles, where men are frequently assigned greater responsibility for attaining career success, leading to higher work-related pressure,” Bulgakov explained.
Better understanding the specific aspects of employee burnout could help organizations more efficiently manage stressful situations and enhance employee motivation. Since the way individuals construct and engage in both professional and personal relationships have major implications for their professional self-determination and the ways in which they cope with possible burnouts, taking into account the full complexity of these factors is crucial for avoiding damage to both individuals and organizations caused by burnout.
The study is published in the journal Organizational Psychology.
Workplace burnout is a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion often linked with feelings of cynicism, detachment, and a sense of lack of accomplishment in the job. Burnout is not just everyday stress; it’s a prolonged, consistent state that can lead to serious physical and mental health problems.
You feel drained, unable to cope, and tired all the time. You might struggle to get out of bed, even after rest, and feel devoid of energy.
You may start to lose interest in your work, or begin to feel negative, cynical, or indifferent about your tasks or coworkers. You may also feel disconnected and might start distancing yourself emotionally and physically from your work.
You may often feel unproductive or that your work doesn’t matter, despite putting a lot of effort into your tasks.
These can include things like headaches, stomachaches, appetite changes, and sleep disturbances.
You might have trouble concentrating, make more mistakes than usual, or struggle to be creative.
Workplace burnout is typically the result of work-related pressures or stressors. These can include long hours or heavy workload, lack of control over your work, insufficient rewards for your efforts, or unfair treatment.
If you’re experiencing workplace burnout, it’s essential to seek support. This could include speaking to a supervisor or HR about the issues you’re facing, seeking help from a mental health professional, or making lifestyle changes to manage stress and promote balance, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and time for relaxation and social activities.
Employers also have a role to play in preventing and managing burnout. They can provide a supportive work environment, clear and fair job expectations, opportunities for career development, recognition for good work, and ensure work-life balance for their employees.