The Mediating Role of Work Engagement and Burnout in the Relationship between Job Characteristics and Psychological Distress among Lawyers

By Hopkins, Veronica; Gardner, Dianne | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, March 2012 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Mediating Role of Work Engagement and Burnout in the Relationship between Job Characteristics and Psychological Distress among Lawyers


Hopkins, Veronica, Gardner, Dianne, New Zealand Journal of Psychology


Research carried out with lawyers to date indicates that they are more likely to be affected by psychological distress (e.g. symptoms of depression and anxiety) compared to the general population and to other occupations. Studies undertaken in the United States have consistently shown that lawyers are more than twice as likely as the general population to experience depression (Benjamin, Darling & Sales, 1990; Daicoff, 2004). In addition, lawyers report elevated levels of anxiety when compared to the general population (Beck, Sales & Benjamin, 1995; Daicoff, 2004). This trend does not appear limited to the United States, with recent research indicating that Australian lawyers also suffer from higher than average rates of psychological distress than the general population (Nelk, Loscombe, Medlow & Hickie, 2009).

Three avenues of research have emerged to explore why lawyers suffer from high levels of depression and anxiety. Studies have been undertaken with law students to understand whether the experience of law school impacts on mental health (e.g. Benjamin, Kaszniak, Sales, & Shanfield, 1986; Sheldon & Krieger, 2004). Other research has focused on common personality traits argued to be prevalent among lawyers (such as pessimism, perfectionism and need for achievement) and whether these make lawyers more susceptible to psychological distress (e.g Daicoff, 2004; Elwork, 2007; Peterson & Seligman, 1984; Satterfield, Monahan, & Seligman, 1997; Seligman, Verkuil, & Kang, 2005). A third avenue of research has focused on environmental factors such as lawyers' working conditions. This is the focus of the present study.

There is evidence to suggest that job characteristics such as work-family conflict, lack of job control, lack of social support and lack of feedback may impact on job dissatisfaction, a correlate of psychological distress (Daicoff, 2004). For instance, in a study of Chicago lawyers Heinz, Hull, & Harter (1999) found that lawyers who perceived less conflicting career and personal demands and those who could balance these demands were more likely to be satisfied with their job. In addition, Heinz et al. (1999) found that job autonomy was positively related to job satisfaction, with those lawyers who indicated greater freedom in selecting clients and more autonomy over their work being more likely to report high job satisfaction. Research has shown that lawyers who perceived a lack of social support available to them, or reported that their colleagues were unsupportive, were more likely to be dissatisfied with their job (McCann, Russo, & Benjamin, 1997). In addition, the availability and quality of mentoring (including career advice and psychosocial support) from supervisors and colleagues were positively associated with job satisfaction among lawyers (Higgins & Thomas, 2001).

Other aspects of work that may contribute to lawyer dissatisfaction include time pressures, work overload, increasing pressures from employers for more billable hours, lack of respect from superiors and client demands (Daicoff, 2004). In addition, the law firm culture may contribute to a sense of generalised anxiety, with internal politics and the adversarial system of law promoting an environment of hostility, suspicion and cynicism (Elwork & Benjamin, 1995).

This study aims to provide insight into how aspects of lawyers' work can lead to negative psychological outcomes such as burnout and psychological distress as well as positive outcomes such as work engagement. High levels of burnout are associated with increased psychological distress (Shirom, Melamed, Toker, Berliner, & Shapira, 2005), and high levels of work engagement are associated with reduced psychological distress (Hallberg & Schaufeli, 2006). Investigating job characteristics associated with burnout and work engagement can provide insight into those aspects of work which can influence mental health outcomes.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Mediating Role of Work Engagement and Burnout in the Relationship between Job Characteristics and Psychological Distress among Lawyers
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?