Workplace Incivility Linked to Burnout

Nursing is a tough profession as nurses must deal with a variety of challenges including being the target of mistreatment, ranging from incivility to physical violence. In this new study, Zhiqing Zhou, Laurenz Meier and Paul Spector investigated if workplace incivility linked to burnout in a sample of nurses.

Why Is Burnout Important?

An employee, including a nurse, who experiences burnout will feel overwhelmed and unmotivated at work. This can occur as a result of handling too much stress. Burnout can lead to reduced productivity, and an increased chance of leaving the job. Studies have linked burnout to being mistreated at work, but most studies have not tracked employees over time to see cumulative effects.

How We Conducted the Study

A sample of 84 full-time nurses completed surveys on 5 consecutive weeks asking about their experiences. The surveys asked about the prior week.

  1. Incivility. Rude and nasty comments they encountered from coworkers, supervisors, and patients.
  2. Burnout that they felt.
  3. Work-family conflict. The extent to which demands at work interfered with family life.
  4. Demands for emotional labor. Having to display certain emotions, such as appearing cheerful or not displaying certain emotions, such as appearing angry or sad. Avoiding the expression of negative emotions is a particular concern with nurses who deal with people who are seriously ill.

What distinguishes this study from most others is that we introduced an element of time by having nurses complete 5 surveys. This enabled us to see if burnout was higher during weeks when there was incivility versus weeks when there was not.

Workplace Incivility Linked to Burnout

The main findings of this study was that on a weekly basis, incivility linked to burnout and work-family conflict, but it was mainly incivility from other nurses and patients that mattered. We also found that demands for emotional labor amplified the connection between incivility and burnout. That is, when demands were high, the link between incivility and burnout was even stronger. This is significant in showing that the combination of incivility and demands for emotional labor compounded.

Potential Points of Intervention

Intervention begins by first recognizing that aspects of the work environment can contribute to burnout. Attention can then be directed toward modifying that environment. There are two potential points of intervention for organizations concerned about reducing burnout in nurses.

  1. Reduce incivility. The main sources of incivility that mattered for these nurses was from other nurses and from patients. One way to reduce incivility would be to focus on the climate of the organization, that is, the things that management cares about and emphasizes. A line of research on violence prevention climate, mainly in nurses, seems promising in showing that a management focus on reducing mistreatment can be helpful.
  2. Reduce demands for emotional labor. Organizations might relax demands that nurses display the “right emotions” on the job. Allowing more leeway, and providing ways in which negative emotions can be expressed. For example, nurses might be allowed to vent feelings during breaks away from patients. Nurses who are feeling upset could ask a colleague or supervisor to step in so they could take a break to calm down, rather than tough it out and hide their feelings.

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