Workplace burnout is widespread and has a detrimental effect on employee performance, wellbeing, and the overall productivity of the organization. The literature contains numerous studies exploring the causes and mechanisms of workplace burnout; however, the role of personal relationships in this context has not received sufficient attention.
Burnout causes significant mental fatigue and manifests through emotional exhaustion, depersonalization (a state in which individuals feel disconnected from their body, thoughts, or emotions), and a decline in personal fulfilment.
The study aimed to test the hypothesis that satisfaction in personal relationships can impact the manifestation of workplace burnout syndrome. To achieve this, a survey was administered to 203 employees across different Russian companies, wherein the participants were asked to assess their satisfaction with personal relationships and the presence of workplace burnout symptoms.
The study findings indicate that as the level of marital satisfaction increases, the risk of burnout decreases, and this correlation is more pronounced in men. The researchers attribute these findings to disparities in social roles and stereotypes attributed to men and women, along with variations in expectations related to marriage and career.
For men, career success can often become a fundamental aspect of their identity and self-esteem. As a result, they may encounter greater pressure in the workplace and experience elevated stress levels while striving to fulfil their duties and meet expectations. In this context, marital satisfaction and feeling supported in one’s private life can become critical factors in preventing burnout among men.”
Ilya Bulgakov, Study Author, Doctoral Student, HSE School of Psychology
When it comes to women, depersonalization characterized by a sense of detachment from colleagues and clients and a decrease in empathy and compassion has a greater impact on the development of burnout. For men, the most significant factor is emotional fatigue from being overwhelmed with requests and feeling incapable of effectively managing them.
The researchers suggest that depersonalization experienced by women is linked to the societal expectations and social roles commonly imposed on them within the professional realm. Thus, in many cultures, there is an expectation for women to demonstrate nurturing and empathetic behavior. Women frequently experience pressure concerning the amount of emotional support they offer to colleagues, clients, or patients. Escalation of such expectations can result in heightened stress and a tendency to disengage from these responsibilities, ultimately leading to depersonalization, with a detrimental effect on work performance and relationships with colleagues and clients.
In men, emotional burnout can be triggered by social expectations linked to their roles as providers and protectors, which frequently entail a significant level of responsibility and work-related stress.
The findings reveal that men who experience greater professional success also tend to have higher levels of satisfaction with their personal relationships. No such correlation has been found for women. According to the researchers, this suggests that support in one’s personal life may play a more significant role in facilitating workplace success for men compared to women.
‘Individuals suffering from workplace burnout syndrome often struggle to disconnect from their work and therefore remain in a constant state of tension. Consequently, personal relationships serve as a means for them to escape the pressures of the career race, providing a source of satisfaction and support. Interestingly, this association has been observed only in men. This can perhaps be attributed to traditional social roles, where men are frequently assigned greater responsibility for attaining career success, leading to higher work-related pressure”, comments Ilya Bulgakov.
The researchers emphasize that for organizations, understanding the specific aspects of employee burnout can serve as a valuable tool in managing stressful situations and enhancing motivation.
“The phenomenon of professional burnout is multifaceted. The personal relationships of employees, both within and outside the organization, are not only important per se but can also be considered as significant predictors of work-related burnout. The way individuals construct and engage in both professional and personal relationships, their behavior and self-perception within them, may have implications for their professional self-determination and ultimately contribute to the experience of burnout. Our study brings attention to the importance of conducting further research on burnout, particularly in relation to professional identity and the intricacies of interpersonal interactions in the workplace”, says Bulgakov.
Bulgakov, I. A., et al. (2023) The relationship between burnout and satisfaction with marriage among employees of Russian organizations. Organizational psychology. doi.org/10.17323/2312-5942-2023-13-1-145-160.