Perceived Prosocial Impact: The Burnout Antidote

Topic: Burnout
Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (2010)
Article: Doing good buffers against feeling bad: Prosocial impact compensates for negative task and self-evaluations.
Authors: A.M. Grant, and S. Sonnentag
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Employee burnout often manifests itself in the form of emotional exhaustion which has been found to lead to decreased job performance, increased withdrawal behaviors (e.g., turnover, absences) and even health problems.

Two potential contributors to emotional exhaustion include negative evaluations of ourselves (i.e., low core self-evaluations) and negative evaluations of our work tasks (i.e., low intrinsic motivation).  However, in a recent study by Grant and Sonnentag (2010), the authors hypothesized that even when employees evaluate themselves and their work tasks negatively, emotional exhaustion can be averted!

In two studies, Grant and Sonnentag found that low core self-evaluations and low intrinsic motivation do indeed predict emotional exhaustion.  BUT, employee perceptions that their work tasks help others (i.e., perceived prosocial impact) helped buffer against emotional exhaustion.

Ultimately, when employees evaluate themselves or their work tasks negatively, they tend to dwell on negative aspects of their job, which leads to emotional exhaustion.  However, when employees feel that their work has a positive impact on other people (perceived prosocial impact), their  focus seems to shift to the potential positive impact of their work, which prevents emotional exhaustion.These findings suggest that managers may consider explicitly pointing out to employees how their work makes a difference for others.

Grant, A.M., & Sonnentag, S. (2010). Doing good buffers against feeling bad: Prosocial impact compensates for negative task and self-evaluations. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 111, 13-22.Gran