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Stress and Burnout

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Their implications to employee and organization

Pressures at work and at home bring about stress. However, employers cannot manage to protect the workers from stress that arise outside work, but can protect them from stresses that come about through work. Stress at work can be a factual problem to the organization as well as for the workers. Therefore, the occupation of individuals can be a major source of stress. Whenever individuals face stress because of various conditions in their occupation and fail to cope with the stress, this usually results into burnout (Khattak et al., 2011). An employee who suffers burnout becomes disorganized, disoriented and may result into harmful psychological and physiological effects. In addition, burnout adversely affects employees’ turnover and leads to unfavorable impact on organizational effectiveness.

Kahn and Quinn (1970) define stress as the outcome of facet of the assigned work role that has caused harmful effect to an individual. Occupation stress is considered as a harmful factor in the work environment.  Organizational structure moderates employee stress which requires the need for a more detailed and systematic investigation of the role played by organizational structure towards employee’s stress (Conner and Douglas, 2005).  Organization’s change process directly affects the prosperity of the employee since it has high insecurity to an employee which in turn brings enhanced feelings of stress. This decreases job satisfaction and have negative implications on physical and psychological health on the employees in an organization (Cunha and Cooper, 2002). According to David Lee (2000), “Employees with low job satisfaction are 30 percent more likely to have multiple injuries than those with high satisfaction. Employees with a higher number of stressful life events were 25 percent more likely to have had more than one injury than those with a low number of stressful life events.” (p. 3).

Uncertain organizational environment and fear have different negative outcomes ranging from lack of trust between employees and management and decrease in organizational commitment, which may persuade employees to quit the organization (Schweiger and Denisi, 1991). People under stress find it difficult to maintain a healthy balance between work life and non-work life. This may make them to be engaged in unhealthy activities like smoking, drinking and abusing drugs. Griffiths, Leka, and Cox (2003) suggest that stress may affect the immune system of an individual and impair their ability to fight infections. “American women with heavy workloads and little job control are three times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than women with the same work load, but had more control” (Lee, 2000, p. 4). The University of Texas, School of Social Work (1996) suggests, “Stress is inevitable and some degree of it is healthy as it encourages the work force to become more productive and innovative” (p. 1). Therefore, stress can be considered as an environmental stimulus to a person or an idiosyncrasy between individual and environment.

Excessive and enduring stress might contribute to burnout or feelings of excessive mental exhaustion. Burnout can be defined as a situation in which an individual can no longer sustain any further pressures from his/her job and feels totally overcome by stress (Pines and Kafry 1978). The mental, physical and psychological demands placed on an employee due to organizational pressures over a prolonged period of time, results in ever increasing personal sacrifices on the part of the employee which if remain unresolved results in burnout. According to Burke and Mikkelsen (2006), back pain and headache are the identified adverse consequences of occupational burnout. Employees who suffer from occupational stress are not in a position to meet the expectations of the organization. Below is a conceptual model of occupational stress and work-related burnout indicating the process of stress development in organizations and employees.

These outcomes in turn result in well known indications of burnout that is confounded anger and irritability (Savery, 1988). The major symptoms of burnout are exhaustion, isolation, and lack of personal execution. According to Maslach and Jackson (1982), there is a high correlation between burnout and a number of psychological and physical health problems such as insomnia accompanied by fatigue, headache, misdirected anger, feelings of isolation and tiredness. Burnout has become a major problem in the modern day work environment which has been found to have increased the number of sick leaves and absenteeism by the employees (Leiter and Maslach, 2000). According to a national survey, scheduled absences by U.S. employees rose by nine percent in 1993, costing work organizations as much as $750 per employee (Lee, 2000). Physical and psychological aspects of burnout play a significant role in explaining why employee’s desire to quit their jobs. Therefore, burnout is a direct outcome of an individual’s perceptions about job satisfaction and his/her performance which in turn indirectly effects organizational commitment resulting in a desire to quit.

It is evident that stress and burnout directly lead to the loss of resources in an organization, where expenses like sick leaves, insurance premiums and personnel functions hide much of the resources. This is because stress and burnout increase the utilization of sick leaves, contribute to the on-the-job accidents and increase employee turn-over. According to the University of Texas, School of Social Work (1996), “it is estimated that 54% of all work absences are some-how connected to stress” (p. 1). Stress and burnout also hamper an organization from reaching its desired outcomes. This is because the affected employees show little enthusiasm for their work, lower dedication, and decrease creativity. As a result, employees lack interest or concern for the customers or consumers they are serving.  This not only leaves a lasting impression on the organization customer which affects their overall satisfaction but hinder successful organizational outcome. Therefore, stress and burnout are costly both to the employee and the organization due to the missed opportunities to efficiently achieve desired outcomes.

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