03 September 2018 Photo Thabo Kessah
Burnout affects productivity in higher education
Elizabeth Nchapi’s study says burnout has adverse results for both employer and employee.

Staff members who are chronically exhausted may develop a cynical attitude towards their work and are likely to underperform, therefore feeling incompetent or experiencing a sense of reduced accomplishment. This is according to a research study by Elizabeth Nchapi, Head: Finances, on the University of the Free State’s Qwaqwa Campus. The study, which formed part of her Master of Arts (Higher Education Studies), also gives a comprehensive view on potential consequences for individuals and the organisation itself.

“The study was informed by my experience as a finance professional working at a higher-education institution where most of the research on burnout has mainly been around academic staff, hence this study focused on administrative staff,” she said.

Work environment stressors for administration staff

“Administrative staff in this sector have a responsibility to provide quality service not only to the academic core business of the institution, but also to the external stakeholders. Their working conditions require extensive multitasking, as they may often be expected to perform external roles or in fields other than their regular functions. Given that they continuously work under these circumstances, members may increasingly suffer from pressure leading to stress and burnout, which is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s work environment.”

Work-environment stressors that lead to burnout, according to the study, include work overload, student interaction, team conflict, role ambiguity, job insecurity, lack of organisational support, lack of motivation, and workplace bullying.

Results of burnout

“Some of the potential consequences of burnout that have been identified as serious health problems may include, among others, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, and respiratory infections,” said Nchapi.

“Previous studies have shown that burnout does not only impact employees’ physical and psychological well-being. It also has significant consequences for the organisations and the employers. These include absenteeism, alcohol abuse, and poor organisational commitment, which ultimately result in poor performance,” she added.

The study further emphasises that personal and organisational consequences cut across the lines of gender, age, race, and employment levels. 


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