The Science Behind Workplace Burnout

While for most, working in a role that you have worked hard to achieve, or a career that you have studied for is often exhilarating; however with a reported increase in workplace burnout, it has lead Psychologists to look into which other internal factors contribute to workplace unrest or unhappiness.

Across many industries, long working hours have been shown to be significantly correlated to burnout, however new research from the University of Zurich suggests that the greater the incongruity between your unconscious desires and the progression opportunities given to participants, the greater the likelihood of suffering from burnout at work.

Researchers asked 100 participants to write short descriptions of different pictures showing people working in different roles. The accounts were evaluated to establish the participants’ unconscious desires and needs, focusing on two key motives:

1. The Power Motive.

The power motive describes the need to take ownership for others and the desire to maintain discipline.

2. The Affiliation Motive.

The affiliation motive describes a strong desire for positive interpersonal relations.

The findings showed overwhelmingly that people who wrote accounts of positive personal relations exhibited the affiliation motive, while those who wrote about influencing others showed evidence of the power motive.

Individuals whose work did not adequately fulfill their desires & motives demonstrated higher potential for burnout, and the bigger the gap between dreams and reality, the more likely they were to burnout.

Additionally, as employees become absorbed in their work, they can also start feeling disconnected from others and themselves, leading to emotional numbness and depersonalisation.

Physical symptoms, such as migraines and general sickness become more common as the mismatch increase, which in turn contributes to increased workplace absence and reduced productivity.

HR departments can attempt to combat burnout caused by mismatch by speaking to their teams regularly about how they feel at work, leaving room to air grievances and change aspects of the job so they are more motive-oriented. It is always possible to improve any employment situation, which can start with speaking to your Line Manager for different tasks or approaches, however you have to firstly understand what it is you wish to achieve out of your current role or career path.

Try to think back to why you took the role and what motivated you in the beginning, you can often solve a lot of workplace burnout by a simple change in perspective.

For research sources or more information on how to combat burnout please click here, alternatively you can contact us, we have HR specialists on hand who would be happy to assist.