Married men less prone to workplace burnout

June 11, 2023

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Married men less prone to workplace burnout

Workplace burnout is widespread and has a detrimental effect on employee performance, wellbeing, and the overall productivity of an organization. Academic 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.

A new 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. 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.

What the researchers say: "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,” said the study’s lead author.

In 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. In 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 towards colleagues, clients and other stakeholders. The expectation of maintaining this level of empathy 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.

The researchers also found 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,” commented the co-author of the study. “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.”

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,” explained the lead author. “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.”

So, what? In part this study confirms that depersonalization plays a significant role in burnout—as studies done in the US and the UK have recently shown. However, the burnout referred to in Western studies comes from working with machines rather than people and having machines rather than people control the workflow.

The depersonalization noted in Western studies affects both men and women more-or-less equally.

However, the loss of men’s “traditional” breadwinner role—especially due to the decline of middle-class income producing semi-skilled jobs—and their “place” in the family structure (women are increasingly in the higher-paying jobs) is, as many studies have shown, a cause of male depression, extreme stress, alcoholism, addiction and suicide. This being the case, I am not sure that “burnout” in men is anything more than a manifestation of one of the above, especially depression and stress-related anxiety.

What we regard as the “traditional” roles of men and women are, in fact, a comparatively recent phenomenon in human evolution. Many researchers, including myself, have not seen any manifestation of burnout in traditional hunter-gatherer societies—or long-lasting depression for that matter.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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