Industrial Organizational Psychology Burnout Research Paper

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Burnout

The acceleration trap refers to the growing incidence of firms accelerating the pace of their business without break. Acceleration succeeds in the short-term, but in the long-term it can have devastating consequences for the organization. Bruch and Menges (2010) argue that many of those consequences are symptoms. The underlying cause, they posit, of those symptoms is employee burnout. The pace of today's business world is rapid, a result of competitive pressure. In order to ensure that the company does not succumb to this pressure and fall into an acceleration trap, the human resources department needs to learn how best to define, identify and manage burnout. This paper will analyze the issue of employee burnout from the perspective of the human resources department in order to shed some light on the issue and generate some responses to addressing the burnout problem.

Defining Burnout

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Burnout is considered to be "the erosion of a positive psychological state" (Schaufeli, 2009). This definition assumes a beginning point -- a positive psychological state. This state is what lay practitioners would call "normal," where employees are motivated and compelled to a normal degree by their jobs. During the early stages of acceleration, the psychological state may improve. The motivation of the challenge signals to the employee to improve output and activity. During such a period, an employee is essentially working beyond his or her capacity. This is only sustainable for short bursts, especially in terms of the psychological effects. Thus, a prolonged period of accelerated pace will result in the gradual breakdown of the positive psychological state.

Identifying Burnout

Burnout typically is identified through its symptoms. There are four categories of burnout symptoms -- nonburnout, disengaged, exhausted and burnout (Peterson, 2008). As the employees progress through these stages, a variety of specific symptoms will emerge. These include increased absenteeism, reduced productivity, illness, increased turnover, decreased morale.

Research Paper on Industrial Organizational Psychology Burnout Assignment

For the organization, the negative symptoms of burnout are evident. Bruch and Menges identified stark differences between organizations that are suffering burnout and those that are not. Organizations that are suffering burnout feel that they do not have sufficient resources to do the job; work under constantly elevated time pressure; do not see the "light at the end of the tunnel" and seldom get the chance to regenerate. Employees feeling these symptoms are almost always in an organization that is facing a burnout situation.

Other symptoms can be found by examining the organization. Bruch and Menges identify the types of organizational activities that have a high correlation with organizational burnout. These include a rapid, prolonged period of heightened activity; constant change; employees taking on too many tasks; and employees taking on too many types of tasks. If the organization has rapidly expanded its revenues but not met that with an expansion of human resources, there is also a high chance of burnout.

Impacts

Burnout has serious consequences for any organization that suffers it. The biggest concern is that burnout is a feedback loop. Once a company gets into an acceleration trap, it is difficult to exit. Managers, stockholders and even the employees themselves view the accelerated workload as the new norm, and continue with it even after problems become apparent. The fear of competition that often drives companies to enter the acceleration trap in the first place often brings the company back into the trap even if it makes an attempt to exit.

The short run impacts on employees are obviously challenging, but there are strong negative long-term consequences of creating an environment that fosters employee burnout. One of these is that the company suffers long-term productivity declines. Even if the company emerges from the acceleration trap, employees are not going to immediate be in a position to return to a state of acceleration. Restoration will take time.

Another negative outcome, related to a prolonged state of suppressed productivity, is a prolonged slump in profits. Managers act as agents for the shareholders, so they have a duty to behave in a manner that will deliver the most profits. Indeed, the acceleration trap begins with good intentions to build profits. However, when short-term profit seeking becomes the sole raison d'etre for the business, long-term profits suffer. Strategic decisions are undertaken that do not take into account the negative long-term externalities of those actions. Burnout creates problems that last for a long time, and keep profits down to a level where the company would have been better off taking a long-term view from the outset.

Additionally, the company that creates burnout among its employees will have a poor employer brand. An employer brand is the value of the brand to potential employees. The best employees will seek out the company that has the best reputation and avoid companies that have a poor reputation. When a company burns out its employees, those employees begin to leave. Those that remain complain. As a result,-word spreads that the company is not a good one to work for. This discourages quality applicants. For years to come, a company with a reputation for burning out its employees will have difficulty attracting the best candidates. This can put the company at a competitive disadvantage. This lingering impact of large scale burnout can reduce competitive for years, an indicator of why the long-term impacts of the acceleration trap and the attendant burnout are so significant.

Managing Burnout

Once burnout has been identified in the organization, there are a number of steps that can be undertaken to deal with burnout. Bruch and Menges prescribe a number of remedies for the acceleration trap and employee burnout. The first of these is to stop the action. While burnout is a deeper issue, the first remedy is the surface level solution -- stop. The company can immediately relieve pressure on its workers by ceasing new projects, canceling less valuable projects or otherwise reducing the workload.

The second phase of managing burnout is to define the company's strategy. One characteristic of the burnout state is that there is little sense of direction. Without a sense of focus, managers and employees are apt to take on too many tasks. As a result, they compound the burnout. In order to put a stop to this negative feedback loop, management must set a clear strategy for the company. This gives the employees some focus and allows them to better prioritize tasks, hopefully leading to the elimination of some non-essential tasks.

The third phase of managing burnout is to decide how to make decisions. Bruch and Menges prescribe that poor decisions lead to burnout and that this can be remedied through the adoption of better decision-making strategies. This can help the company to make better decisions with regards to its strategies and tactics.

The fourth phase is to institute a period of rest. It is important that when the above tactical initiatives are implemented that the company does not simply fall back into the acceleration trap. A rest period will help to prevent that. In addition, rest periods are critical to ending burnout in the organization. Burnout does not simply disappear when the action stops. There is a period of repair and rejuvenation that must occur in order for employees to restore their positive psychological state.

There are a number of tactical-level changes that can also be made to address the issue of burnout. These include indulging in success, modeling better behavior, using feedback systems to monitor for fresh burnout and to institute periodic time-outs in order to allow the organization to recover (Bruch & Menges, 2010). Each of these can help to foster a culture where burnout is prevented on an ongoing basis. They are all relatively easy to implement as well, once the larger strategies above have been implemented.

Implications for Human Resources

Many of the changes required to manage burnout are at the managerial level. The executive team must be front and center in addressing the changes that need to be made to prevent burnout or to recover from it, as the issues tend to be structural in nature. This does not mean, however, that the human resources department plays no role in dealing with burnout.

In fact, HR is likely to be the first point of contact for employees suffering from the early stages of burnout or for managers who suspect their charges are suffering burnout. Human resources will also see an uptick in turnover and will note any increase in absenteeism. Thus, human resources serves as an early warning system for organizational burnout. For HR to perform this function at its best, it will need to systematically equate this data with an accelerated strategic pace.

Human resources is also likely to manage individual burnout cases. The department therefore should have specific procedures for diagnosing burnout issues. This does not mean undertaking a psychological differential diagnosis, but it does mean that the department should be able to drill down past the immediate symptoms in grievance issues to find their underlying causes. As Bruch and Menges point out, burnout is often masked by other behaviors… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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