Workplace burnout occurs in nearly every profession. Even people who genuinely enjoy their jobs can experience exhaustion and overwhelm in the workplace. For mental health professionals, the risk of burnout is extremely high. Psychologists, counselors, and other mental health experts are exposed to extremely emotional situations and invest immense amounts of time, energy, and personal interest in their clients, which can deplete their own emotional resources. Burnout can have significant negative impacts on professions, including high turnover, absenteeism, and low cooperation. In addition, individual consequences of burnout include increased stress, risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, sleep problems, and other negative health outcomes.
The importance of decreasing workplace burnout cannot be understated. Interventions have emerged that focus on ways to improve workplace functionality and well-being. One avenue for doing this includes increasing gratitude in and out of the workplace setting. Michelle E. Lanham of the Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio wanted to evaluate the effect of gratitude on workplace burnout. In a recent study, Lanham assessed the levels of job satisfaction and burnout among 65 professionals in the mental health field. The participants reported their levels of hope, job satisfaction, particular job variables, burnout, and gratitude.
Lanham found that the participants who had high levels of work-related gratitude were more emotionally exhausted but more satisfied with their jobs than those with less gratitude. She also found that dispositional gratitude, gratitude unrelated to work, predicted a higher sense of personal achievement. This suggests that dispositional gratitude may have an indirect effect on general emotions of positivity, such as optimism and hope.
Although the sample size in this study was rather small and evaluations were based on only one snapshot in time, the results have important implications. Lanham believes that interventions that strive to improve gratitude, through daily journaling or other means, may improve overall gratitude, both personally and professionally. Another unique method for expressing gratitude that could have far-reaching benefits is through letter writing. If an individual writes a letter of gratitude to a co-worker, and then shares the letter with that person, the impact could be significant. This strategy has yet to be fully tested, but Lanham hopes her study will motivate additional research in this area. “Future research should examine which types of interventions, if any, are most effective in reducing burnout and enhancing workplace satisfaction,” she added.
Lanham, Michelle E., Mark S. Rye, Liza S. Rimsky, and Sydney R. Weill. How gratitude relates to burnout and job satisfaction in mental health professionals. Journal of Mental Health Counseling 34.4 (2012): 341-54. Print.
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