A thesis on fire : Studies of work engagement, Type A behavior and burnout

Sammanfattning: The overall address of the present thesis is the relationship between being ‘on fire’ and burning out. More specifically, the thesis focused largely on two representations of involvement in work (work engagement and Type A behavior) and their respective relationships to burnout. Another pervasive theme was construct validity in assessing burnout and work engagement. These themes were addressed in four empirical studies, conducted in a sample of health-care workers (Study I) and a sample of information communication technology consultants (Studies II, III, and IV). Study I aimed to extend the previously preliminary support for the construct validity of the Swedish version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). The objective of Study II was the discriminant validity of the Utrecht Work engagement Scale (UWES) against the theoretically adjacent constructs job involvement and organizational commitment. Another objective was the translation and evaluation of a Swedish version of the UWES. In Study III, the aim was to investigate (cross-sectional) association between Type A behavior, work engagement and burnout. Study III had two foci: 1) whether Type A behavior interacts with job factors to affect burnout and work engagement, and 2) the associations between the main components of Type A behavior (achievement-striving and irritability/impatience) and burnout as well as work engagement. Study IV concerned the longitudinal relationships between Type A behavior and burnout, and between work engagement and burnout. The results presented in this dissertation supported the construct validity of Swedish versions of the MBI and the UWES. It was further indicated that emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (or cynicism) constitute the core aspects of burnout, and that work engagement was more prominently associated with lack of health complaints than job involvement and organizational commitment. Type A behavior was found to be associated with burnout and work engagement in cross-sectional data, however different aspects of Type A behavior appeared to have somewhat different association with burnout and work engagement respectively. The achievement-striving aspect of Type A behavior was related primarily to work engagement, whereas irritability was associated with less engagement and more burnout complaints. No indications of an interaction between Type A behavior and job stress were found. The most important finding of Study IV was that change in Type A behavior was unrelated to change in burnout across time (one-year interval). Furthermore, Study IV supported the notion that work engagement and burnout are bipolar opposites and constitute a work well-being continuum. To conclude, the present thesis suggests that burnout should be viewed as an erosion of intrinsic, affective engagement in work occurring when intrinsic motivation is frustrated by job stress. To avoid conceptual confusion, burnout should be distinguished form exhaustion syndrome however it should be acknowledged that burnout may have negative impact on health. The present study indicated that Type A behavior is unrelated to the specific burnout reaction, a finding that needs to be replicated before generalizability can be assumed. However, it was assumed that Type A behavior represents an instrumental approach to work, further corroborating that burnout is a specific construct referring to the draining of a specific energetic and affective state. This does not imply that Type A behavior is unrelated to health deterioration – most plausibly, Type A behavior generates exhaustion and fatigue from over-exertion of energy. Both research and practice would benefit from exploring how work engagement may best be enhanced using job redesign.