Role conflicts, lost workdays may be linked among human service workers
"Employers have to show leadership creating work environments in such ways that role conflicts among employees working in human services will be eliminated or at least reduced," said Dr. Marianne Borritz, lead author and staff specialist andhead of the Department of Occupational Medicine at Bispebjerg University Hospital in Copenhagen. "Employers, therefore, have to talk with the employees to get knowledge about specific role conflicts at the workplaces before acting."
The Danish National Research Centre for the Working Environment studied private sector human service workers in five types of organizations:
- Social security offices.
- A psychiatric prison.
- Institutions for severely disabled people.
- Somatic hospital wards.
- Homecare services in both rural and urban areas.
Of the 1,734 respondents to the centre's questionnaire, more than 20 percent developed what the study called long-term sickness, described as receiving sickness absence compensation for at least two weeks. Previous studies have suggested that human service workers have high rates of burnout and long-term sickness.
Burnout was described as a particular type of prolonged occupational stress with exhaustion -- physical, emotional and mental -- as its core symptom. It has been the focus of Danish research in human service work, especially among health care professionals, social workers, and home care workers. Once burnout developed, the rate of long-term sickness absence was nearly three times higher, according to the study.
The study examined several work characteristics linked to an increased risk of sickness absence. The strongest factor was a high rate of role conflicts; for example, having to do things which the employee believes ought to be done in a different way. Workers at the highest level of role conflict had more than double the risk of long-term sickness absence.
Other factors associated with burnout were role clarity -- knowing exactly what is expected of the employee; predictability -- being informed well in advance of important decisions, changes or plans for the future; and quality of leadership -- having an immediate supervisor who gives high priority to job satisfaction.
The study suggested that these factors, if not properly addressed, could lead to burnout and lost workdays.
"To reduce sickness absence, organizations within human services should improve the psychosocial work environment, especially reduce role conflicts," the study said. "At least as important, human service organizations should be attentive to employees with symptoms of burnout to prevent long term sickness."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
December 16, 2010
Copyright 2010© LRP Publications