Geneva: Burnout is caused by a mismatch between a person's unconscious needs and the opportunities and demands at the workplace, a new study has found.
Burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion from work, which results in a lack of motivation, low efficiency, and a helpless feeling, researchers said. Its health effects include anxiety, cardiovascular disease, immune disorders, insomnia, and depression, they said.
Researchers from the Universities of Zurich in Switzerland and Leipzig in Germany show that the unconscious needs of employees - their so-called "implicit motives" - play an important role in the development of burnout.
They focused 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; and the affiliation motive, the need for positive personal relations, in order to feel trust, warmth, and belonging.
A mismatch between job characteristics and either implicit motive can cause burnout, the results show. Moreover, a mismatch in either direction is risky: 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 affective needs, caused by a lack of opportunities for motive-driven behaviour, is detrimental to psychological and physical well-being," said Veronika Brandstatter from University of Zurich.
Researchers recruited 97 women and men between 22 and 62 through the Swiss Burnout website, an information resource and forum for Swiss people suffering from burnout. Participants completed questionnaires about their physical well-being, degree of burnout, and the characteristics of their job, including its opportunities and demands.
The greater the mismatch between someone's affiliation motive and the scope for personal relations at the job, the higher the risk of burnout, 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 their job, they said. The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.