Sense of obligation to employer can cause burnout: Study

Lack of employment alternatives can also lead to emotional exhaustion
||Last Updated: 04/13/2012

Staying in an organization out of a sense of obligation or for lack of alternatives can lead to emotional exhaustion, found a study.

People who stay in their organizations because they feel an obligation towards their employer are more likely to experience burnout — a chronic state of physical and mental depletion resulting from continuous stress and excessive job demands.

The same applies when employees stay because they don’t perceive employment alternatives outside their organization, found the study by Concordia University, the Université de Montréal and HEC Montréal.

“Our study examined whether some forms of commitment to an organization could have detrimental effects, such as emotional exhaustion and, eventually, turnover,” said co-author Alexandra Panaccio, an assistant professor in the department of management at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business.

“When employees stay with their organization because they feel that they have no other options, they are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion. This feeling, in turn, may lead them to leave the organization,” said Panaccio.

Employers should try to minimize the “lack of alternatives” type of commitment among employees by developing their competencies, which will increase their feeling of mobility and contribute to them wanting to stay with the organization, she said.

People with high self-esteem are most affected by a perceived lack of employment alternatives — possibly because that perception is inconsistent with their self-view as important and competent people, found the study, which surveyed 260 workers.

The study looked at various types of organizational commitments, such as whether employees identified with a company’s goals and values and whether they felt an obligation to stay.

"It may be that, in the absence of an emotional bond with the organization, commitment based on obligation is experienced as a kind of indebtedness — a loss of autonomy that is emotionally draining over time,” said Panaccio.

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