Work Characteristics Affect Burnout Risk in Human Service Workers

Released: 10/11/2010 10:45 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
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Addressing Burnout Risk Factors Might Help to Lower High Disability Rate

Newswise — For workers in human service settings, job factors like role conflicts and high emotional demands can increase the risk of burnout—leading to long-term sickness absence, reports a study in the September Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Efforts to improve these work characteristics—and to identify early symptoms of burnout—might help to reduce or prevent burnout-related sick leave and disability, according to research performed at the Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment. The lead author was Dr. Marianne Borritz of Bispebjerg University Hospital, Copenhagen.

The study used data from a large study of public-sector workers in human service settings, such as social security offices, institutions for the disabled, and homecare services. Past studies have found that human service workers have high rates of burnout and long-term sickness absence (more than two weeks).

The study found several work characteristics linked to an increased risk of sickness absence. The strongest factor was a high rate of "role conflicts"—for example, knowing things ought to be done one way, but having to do them in a different way. Workers at the highest level of role conflicts had more than double the risk of long-term sickness absence.

High emotional demands, poor role clarity, and low leadership quality were also linked to sickness absence. Once burnout developed, the rate of long-term sickness absence was nearly three times higher.

The study is the first to look at how work characteristics affect burnout and sickness absence in human service workers. These workers face unique strains in dealing with clients and patients, associated with high rates of burnout and disability.

The results identify some key work characteristics affecting the risk of burnout and sickness absence in human service workers. Efforts to improve these on-the-job strains—especially role conflicts and high emotional demands—might help to reduce burnout. "At least as important, [human service] organizations should be attentive to employees with symptoms of burnout to prevent long-term sickness," Dr. Borritz and colleagues conclude.

About ACOEM
ACOEM (www.acoem.org), an international society of 5,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals, provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments.

About Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ( www.joem.org)


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