Anyone who has experienced job burnout may also have suffered with symptoms of depression. And those who struggle with depression may find that their symptoms result in significant burnout on the job. Until now, little research has examined how these two constructs relate to each other, and more specifically, if they are interchangeable as predictors and outcomes of one another. Conservation of Resources (COR) theory is based on the presence of downward spirals, a situation that arises when an individual has a deficiency of resources in one area, which leads to the exhaustion of resources in other areas. COR theory provides an excellent foundation for examining the influence of each of these constructs on each other because depression could cause a person to be sapped of energy, thus leading to accelerated job burnout. Likewise, being overburdened at work could cause a person’s abilities to be overtaxed, leading to physical and mental exhaustion, which could accelerate symptoms of depression.
Understanding exactly how these two factors affect each other, and how physical activity (PA) could act as a buffer against both burnout and depression, could provide significant benefits to both business and medical professionals. The positive ramifications of PA on depression have been well documented, but a recent study led by Sharon Toker, of the Faculty of Management at Tel Aviv University in Israel, is among the first to look at how PA can prevent depression from leading to burnout and vice versa. Toker and her colleagues evaluated over 1,500 employees three separate times over 3½ years. They found that not only did PA decrease risk for depression and burnout, but employees who had the highest levels of PA had virtually no signs of either burnout or depression on the job. This could be attributed to increased sense of mastery from PA, distraction from depressive symptoms, or overall physical and psychological recovery achieved by even minimal PA. Toker suggests that businesses could increase productivity and reduce burnout by offering health club memberships or gym facilities to their employees. Toker said, “Moreover, in designing intervention programs, employers should acknowledge the benefits of PA as an important means of preventing the buildup of work-related or general distress.” The results of her study also emphasize the benefits of PA outside of the workplace for those suffering with depression or general stress-related burnout.
Toker, S., & Biron, M. (2012, January 9). Job Burnout and Depression: Unraveling Their Temporal Relationship and Considering the Role of Physical Activity. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026914
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