04/03/2012 04:34 EDT | Updated 06/04/2012 05:12 EDT

Job Burnout Could Be Caused By Obligation Or Lack Of Choice


MONTREAL - Whether you feel a sense of obligation about your work or are staying on the job because you don't see an alternative, new research suggests the end result for employees could be the same: burnout.

According to Montreal researchers, the decision to stick with your company — whether by choice or because of slim pickings in the job market — can lead to emotional exhaustion, a chronic state of physical and mental depletion resulting from continuous stress and excessive job demands.

The study was conducted by Concordia University, Universite de Montreal and HEC Montreal. The findings were published in the journal Human Relations.

Concordia assistant professor and study co-author Alexandra Panaccio and her colleagues surveyed 260 workers from various industries, including information technology, health services, engineering and architecture. Among participants — aged 34 on average — 33 per cent held managerial positions, while 50 per cent worked in the public sector.

The study found that people who stay in their organizations because they feel an obligation towards their employer are more likely to experience burnout. A similar effect can also be seen among workers who stay the course because they don't see alternatives for employment outside their current organizations.

Researchers also observed that individuals 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.

Researchers also measured various types of organizational commitments, like 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 in a release.