Emotional Exhaustion and Job Performance

This is an Article sent to me by a student of Psychology. It is a long but fantastic piece that should be read, I have added the link at the end for those wishing to read the full article.

Emotional Exhaustion and Job Performance : The Mediating Role of Motivation

Written By: Jonathon R. B. Halbesleben Department of Health Management and Informatics, University of Missouri—Columbia Wm. Matthew Bowler Spears School of Business, Oklahoma State University
Acknowledgement: Portions of this article were presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, Seattle, Washington, August 2003.

We acknowledge the thoughtful comments of Mark Bolino, Stevan Hobfoll, and Jenn Becker.

Burnout is a psychological response to work-related stress that consists of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced perceptions of personal accomplishment (Maslach, 1982; Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Unfortunately, burnout has become organizational reality for many employees. Maslach and Leiter (1997) argued that burnout had reached epidemic proportions in North America. What started as a “buzzword” in the popular press in the late 1970s has grown into an important research endeavor; burnout is now the subject of thousands of research articles and dozens of books (Halbesleben & Buckley, 2004b). Nonetheless, despite suggestions that burnout has significant impact on people, their performance, the performance of organizations, and society on the whole (Maslach et al., 2001; Minnehan & Paine, 1982; Paine, 1982; Schaufeli, 2003), more research is needed to understand the relationship between burnout and its consequences.

The purpose of this article is to investigate the relationship between the emotional exhaustion component of burnout and job performance. Although some research exists that has explored this relationship, researchers have not adequately positioned the effects on performance within a theory of burnout and have not addressed how theories of performance influence the burnout-performance relationship. Specifically, researchers have not adequately addressed the influence of motivation. Mitchell (1997) defined motivation as “those psychological processes involved with the arousal, direction, intensity, and persistence of voluntary actions that are goal directed” (p. 60), suggesting that key to motivation is determining the goals that individuals work toward (Barrick, Stewart, & Piotrowski, 2002).

Motivation is commonly considered a direct antecedent to performance but can also be linked to theories of burnout in terms of resources invested in work. In this article, we specifically address the issue of how motivation is the mediating link in the emotional exhaustion-performance process. We discuss the existing literature addressing the relationship between emotional exhaustion and performance and then discuss how consideration of performance models influences that theoretical relationship. We present the findings of a two-sample study designed to examine the emotional exhaustion-job performance relationship with motivation as a mediator. The use of two samples allowed for a constructive replication of the model presented as well as increasing generalizability in terms of occupation of the participants (Tsang & Kwan, 1999). We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for organizations and future research that considers the link between burnout and job performance.

Emotional Exhaustion
In this study, we focus on the emotional exhaustion component of burnout. This approach is justified, in large part, because of two issues. First, although Maslach's (1982, 1993) original three-component conceptualization of burnout has dominated the burnout research (particularly as it relates to measurement of burnout), a number of researchers have called into question the three-component conceptualization of burnout (e.g., Moore, 2000; Shirom, 2003) and other conceptualizations have been proposed for the processes underlying burnout (cf. Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001; Pines, Aronson, & Kafry, 1981; Shirom, 1989).

The alternative conceptualizations of burnout differ in a variety of ways; however, all of them include emotional exhaustion as a primary component of burnout, suggesting that it is indeed central to the experience of burnout. Second, it is common in the burnout literature to find inconsistent relationships between components of burnout and antecedent or consequent processes; emotional exhaustion appears to be the most consistent in its relationships with outside variables, such as commitment and job satisfaction (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993; Demerouti et al., 2001; Green, Walkey, & Taylor, 1991; R. T. Lee & Ashforth, 1996).

There has been some attention given to the various outcomes of burnout, including physiological consequences (cf. Shirom, Westman, Shamai, & Carel, 1997), turnover, and turnover intentions (Cherniss, 1992; Freudenberger, 1975; R. T. Lee & Ashforth, 1993, 1996; Maslach, 1976, 1978). Despite this effort, there still remain many questions regarding the outcomes, particularly those that are work related, of burnout (Maslach, 2001). Much of the theoretical work on burnout (e.g., Cordes & Dougherty, 1993) treats burnout as the end state, without considering what other consequences burnout may influence. This is problematic, as burnout is perhaps best considered as a mediator that leads to other important work-related consequences (Maslach & Leiter, 1999), among which is job performance.Job Performance

One of the most commonly cited negative consequences of burnout is a reduction in job performance (Maslach, 1982; Halbesleben & Buckley, 2004b). However, as noted by Wright and Bonett (1997), there has been a need for more empirical work conducted to investigate the relationship between burnout and job performance. In response, they conducted a longitudinal study that found a negative relationship between emotional exhaustion and job performance (see also Leiter, Harvey, & Frizzell, 1998; Vahey, Aiken, Sloane, Clarke, & Vargas, 2004; Wright & Cropanzano, 1998). Conversely, other studies have typically found very low amounts of shared variance between burnout dimensions and job performance (Bakker, Demerouti, & Verbeke, 2004; Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998) and inconsistencies in findings when only considering emotional exhaustion and performance, particularly when considering multiple sources of performance information (Keijsers, Schaufeli, Le Blanc, Zwerts, & Miranda, 1995; Lazaro, Shinn, & Robinson, 1985; Randall & Scott, 1988).

A limitation of the previous thinking about the relationship between emotional exhaustion and job performance is that it has failed to adequately consider models of performance and burnout in explaining the effects of burnout on performance. When one considers theories of performance, it becomes clear that emotional exhaustion is unlikely to have a direct effect on job performance and instead should be mediated by a more direct antecedent of performance (Bakker et al., 2004; Jex, 1998; Sullivan & Bhagat, 1992). We propose that, because of its links to both performance and burnout theories, motivation is a potential mediator to the emotional exhaustion-job performance relationship.
Despite the theoretical mediating effect of motivation, there has been very little research investigating how motivation and emotional exhaustion are related. There is a paucity of research that has examined the effects burnout has on more direct perceptual-motivational processes. In particular, there is a need to better understand the choices employees make in directing their motivational resources; such an understanding will address gaps in understanding of the relationship between emotional exhaustion and job performance.Emotional Exhaustion, Performance, and the Conservation of Resources Model

The relationship among emotional exhaustion, motivation, and job performance can be explained in terms of the conservation of resources (COR) model of stress and burnout (Hobfoll, 1988, 1989, 1998; Hobfoll & Freedy, 1993). The model suggests three ways in which individuals experience stress: (a) loss of resources, (b) threat to current resources, and (c) inadequate return on investments made to maximize resources (e.g., an employee who takes extra courses in management to increase the likelihood of promotion but is passed over in the promotion). In recent years, the COR model has become an important model in understanding the burnout process (e.g., Brotheridge & Lee, 2002; Halbesleben & Buckley, 2004a).

One of the strengths of the COR model is its ability to explain the processes leading up to burnout, through the three processes noted above, and also the ability to explain the consequences of burnout. It is for this reason that we build on the COR as the theoretical framework for this study. Specifically, as emotional exhaustion represents a significant depletion of resources (Hobfoll, 2001), the COR model suggests that burned out employees will carefully select the manner in which they use their remaining resources (Siegall & McDonald, 2004).

Motivation as a Resource
Key to our link between emotional exhaustion and performance through the COR model is the notion that motivation represents the investment of resources. Hobfoll (1989) defined resources as “those objects, personal characteristics, conditions, or energies that are valued by the individual” (p. 516). In Hobfoll's (1989) theory, motivation serves as an energy resource; in fact, Hobfoll (1998) specifically listed time for work and motivation to get things done as part of a list of COR resources. Moreover, he noted, energy “resources are typified not by their intrinsic values so much as their value in aiding the acquisition of other kinds of resources” (Hobfoll, 1989, p. 517). As such, motivation is invested in the job to obtain other valued resources (e.g., good performance, continued employment).

Tying the notion of motivation as a resource to the relationship between emotional exhaustion and job performance requires further investigation of Hobfoll's (1998, 2001) notion of investment in resources. As a result of resource loss or threat of loss, employees tend to take steps to protect their resources. In effect, employees distance themselves from the situation that is causing the emotional exhaustion to begin with (Cherniss, 1980; Freedy, Shaw, Jarrell, & Masters, 1992; Siegall & McDonald, 2004). Moreover, employees protect their resources by coming up with better strategies for resource investment, such that they attempt to maximize the returns associated with investment of their resources (particularly their energy resources; M. M. Baltes & Baltes, 1990; P. B. Baltes, 1997; Hobfoll, 2001). One way in which employees might seek to protect resources is to put less effort into their work (lower motivation), resulting in lower job performance (Wright & Cropanzano, 1998).
However, as we have noted, employees who are experiencing emotional exhaustion will be selective in the manner in which they invest resources. This suggests that they will carefully select the type of motivational resources they will engage to satisfy performance goals at work. Throughout the motivation literature, various goals have been proposed, with three primary goals emerging: achievement striving, status striving, and communion striving (Barrick et al., 2002; Hogan & Shelton, 1998; McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953). Achievement striving is defined as an individual's motivation to achieve tasks, independent of other people. Status striving is defined as an individual's motivation to obtain power within the organizational hierarchy. Finally, communion striving is defined as energy directed at “obtaining acceptance in personal relationship and getting along with others” (Barrick et al., 2002, p. 44).

From these ideas, Barrick et al. (2002) designed a measure of motivation that assesses the arousal, attention-direction, and intensity-persistence of each of the three cognitive emotional motives, consistent with the definition of motivation provided by Mitchell (1997). They also presented empirical support for the three-factor conceptualization of motivation and its relationship to performance in their study of telemarketing sales representatives. Specifically, they found that achievement, status, and communion striving served as mediators between sales representative personality traits and job performance (based on supervisor ratings of performance). In the present study, we argue that the three types of motivation mediate the relationship between emotional exhaustion and job performance. Moreover, as they serve as different forms of motivational resources, we argue that the manner in which employees invest in the different types of motivation, and their subsequent relationships to types of job performance, are associated with the experience of emotional exhaustion.

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