This study investigated how gratitude relates to burnout and job satisfaction in mental health professionals. Sixty-five mental health professionals (counselors, case managers, clinical administrators/supervisors, employment/housing specialists, social workers, psychologists) completed questionnaires assessing demographics, job context variables, hope, gratitude, burnout, and job satisfaction. Consistent with hypotheses, workplace-specific gratitude predicted emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and job satisfaction after controlling for demographic/job contextual variables, hope, and dispositional gratitude. In addition, dispositional gratitude predicted personal accomplishment after controlling for demographic/job contextual variables but not after controlling for hope. Implications for counselors and suggestions for future research are discussed.
Mental health professionals are at high risk of burnout (Ashtari, Farhady, & Khodaee, 2009; Linnerooth, Mrdjenovich, & Moore, 2011). Burnout., which results from persistent work stress, involves emotional exhaustion (mental strain attributed to job stressors), depersonalization (mentally distancing oneself and adopting a more impersonal view of other people), and decreased sense of personal accomplishment (Maslach & Jackson, 1981; Richardsen & Martinussen, 2004). Burnout can adversely affect both personal health and organizational functioning.
NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF BURNOUT
Burnout has been linked to poor health outcomes. For instance, a 10-year prospective study of industrial workers found that burnout increased the risk of hospitalization due to cardiovascular disease after controlling for employee health at baseline (Toppinen-Tanner, Ahola, Koskinen, & Vaananen, 2009). In a follow-up study, Ahola, Vaananen, Koskinen, Kouvonen, and Shirom (2010) found that burnout predicted mortality after other health problems and demographic factors were taken into account. Studies have also found that burnout relates to increased depression (Peterson et al., 2008; Toppinen-Tanner et al., 2009; Watkins, Grimm, & Kolts, 2004) and poor sleep quality (Brand et al., 2010; Peterson et al., 2008). Interestingly, there is evidence of a crossover effect in that burnout is related to poorer physical and emotional health in the romantic partners of employees (Bakker, 2009).
Burnout can also adversely affect the ability of organizations to function effectively. It has been linked to increased employee turnover (Chiu & Tsai, 2006), low morale and absenteeism (Hayes & Weathington, 2007), and an increase in grievance actions filed by employees against the organization (Kumar, Bhagat, Lau, & Ng, 2006). Because of the potential adverse consequences of burnout on the health and functioning of both employees and organizations, researchers have tried to identify factors that predict burnout.
PREDICTORS OF BURNOUT
Researchers have examined how age and job experience relate to burnout. In a recta-analysis of 15 studies, Lim, Kim, Kim, Yang, and Lee (2010) found that age was one of the most important predictors of burnout among mental health workers, with younger workers showing more burnout. Similarly, Garner, Knight, and Simpson (2007) found that age was inversely related to burnout in counselors working in correctional facilities. However, the findings are not entirely consistent; other studies have shown that more experience in the mental health field relates to increased burnout (e.g., Lasalvia et al., 2009; Linley & Joseph, 2007). Given the conflicting findings, research is needed to determine how age and length of time at a job may interact with other factors to augment or protect against burnout.
Other major predictors of burnout are social and supervisory support. For instance, supervisory and colleague support was related to less emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and a greater sense of personal accomplishment among school counselors (Yildirim, 2008) and counselors in correctional settings (Dozier, 2010). University-based counselors who felt socially connected in the workplace and who believed colleagues respected their work reported a greater sense of personal accomplishment and less emotional exhaustion and depersonalization (Ross, Altmaier, & Russell, 1989). Clinical supervision offers a means of support in mental health settings, and employees who are not adequately supervised are at higher risk of burnout (Edwards et al., 2006; Kumar, Hatcher, Dutu, Fischer, & Ma'u, 2011).
Researchers are also beginning to examine how positive psychology constructs impact organizational functioning (Martin, 2005; Miller, Nickerson, Chafouleas, & Osborne, 2008; Richards, Campenni, & Muse-Burke, 2010). For instance, they have examined the role of hope in predicting burnout and job satisfaction. In a study of nurses, Sherwin et al. (1992) found that hope was negatively related to emotional exhaustion and depersonalization and positively related to personal accomplishment. Similarly, Schwartz, Tiamiyu, and Dwyer (2007) found hope was negatively correlated with burnout in social workers employed in private and public settings. Moreover, hope has been found to relate positively to job satisfaction in continuing care assistants (Duggleby, Cooper, & Penz, 2009).
GRATITUDE AND BURNOUT
Another positive psychology construct that may affect burnout is gratitude, which involves being aware of and appreciating good things that happen and taking the time to express thanks (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004). There are several reasons why gratitude might relate to less burnout and higher job satisfaction among mental health professionals. Gratitude motivates prosocial behavior (Bartlett & DeSteno, 2006; Emmons & McCullough, 2004; McCullough & Tsang, 2004) and corporate social responsibility (Andersson, Giacalone, & Jurkiewicz, 2007). It may affect one's perceptions of the workplace, because there is evidence that gratitude relates to a positive bias in remembering life events (Watkins et al., 2004). Gratitude may also relate to burnout because it promotes effective coping skills …