HR Strange But True!
November 17, 2006

If you've noticed turnover on the rise at your organization, it may not be the jobs that the workers don't like. It may be you -- or your fellow managers, of course.

"One of the biggest complaints employees have is they are not sufficiently recognized by their organizations for the work that they do," said Sigal Barsade, a management professor at the Wharton School and co-author of a paper entitled "What Makes the Job Tough? The Influence of Organizational Respect on Burnout in Human Services."

"Respect is a component of recognition," Barsade said. "When employees don't feel that the organization respects and values them, they tend to experience higher levels of burnout."

Co-author Lakshmi Ramarajan, a doctoral student in the Wharton management department, puts it even more succinctly: "It is often not the job that burns you out, but the organization."

Ramarajan got the idea for the paper when she was working for a non-profit organization where the employees were excited about their work, but management turned a deaf ear to their ideas. The result was a revolving door.

"Employees were passionate about their jobs, but felt disrespected by their managers," says Ramarajan. "The employees were belittled and patronized, and often publicly chastised for challenging the status quo."

The authors cited several ways in which the perception of organizational respect -- or the lack thereof -- can influence employee burnout. For example, in situations where employees feel that the organization does not treat employees with respect or dignity, burnout can occur from demoralization.

"Disrespected employees may need to mask their true emotional reaction regarding how their organization treats them while they assist their clients," the authors wrote. "This masking and suppressing could increase emotional exhaustion, a major component of burnout studied in the human services industry."

Conversely, they said, "Individuals who feel respected by their organizations are more likely to expend effort on behalf of the organization" and are therefore less likely to experience burnout.

Among the study's findings, described on the website, Knowledge@Wharton:

  • The impact of organizational respect on burnout is felt most strongly when job autonomy is low. The authors said this finding confirms their hypothesis going into the study about the importance of autonomy, which they define as "the discretion that one has to determine the processes and schedules involved in completing a task." Autonomy, the researchers said, can act as a buffer on stress and decrease burnout.
  • The respect with which an organization treats its employees "is a pervasive organizational-level phenomenon that employees can recognize and agree upon."
In a worst case scenario, "disrespectful organizations can be left with neglected and neglectful individuals who have figured out how to cope or survive by mentally turning over while those with better job alternatives -- or more commitment to their professions rather than the organization -- end up leaving," the researchers said.

While the Ramarajan's and Barsade's paper focuses on the healthcare industry, their findings apply to a broader range of industries and individuals, they said.

Source: Knowledge@Wharton

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