Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Serving Up the Self: Role Identity and Burnout in Client Service Environments

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Serving Up the Self: Role Identity and Burnout in Client Service Environments

Article excerpt


The sometimes excessive focus on customer orientation in the client service industry can not only have negative effects on client service, but also compromise the health of customer service employees through the development of burnout.

Job-related burnout, which has aptly been described as the 'biggest occupational hazard of the twenty first century' (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 3), can have devastating consequences at both the individual and organisational levels. At the individual level, the prolonged experience of burnout has been linked to the development of depression (Hakenen & Schaufeli, 2012; Shani & Pizam, 2009), anxiety (Richardsen, Burke & Leiter, 1992) and diminished levels of self-esteem (Rosse, Boss, Johnson & Crown, 1991). At the organisational level, employee burnout leads to increased turnover intention (Choi, Cheong & Feinberg, 2012; Surana & Singh, 2012), absenteeism (Petersen et al., 2011), reduced organisational commitment (Surana & Singh, 2012), reduced job satisfaction (Tsigilis, Koustelios & Togia, 2004) and a decrease in productivity and job performance (Leung, Chan & Dongyu, 2011).

A number of studies have examined the potential negative effects of burnout in customer or client service environments (Lings, Durden, Lee & Cadogan, 2014; Low, Cravens, Grant & Moncrief, 2001; Witt, Andrews & Carlson, 2004). Given that client service employees play a critical role in service organisations and contribute significantly to profitability by facilitating customer engagement, satisfaction and retention (Alexandrov, Babakus & Yavas, 2007), the negative effects of burnout amongst client service employees can be particularly devastating to the organisations for which they work. Burnout amongst client service employees has been shown to significantly reduce the quality of interpersonal work-related relationships (Singh, Goolsby & Rhoads, 1994) resulting in compromised service levels and reduced customer satisfaction (Yagil, 2006).

Situational variables, such as job and organisational characteristics, are probably the most frequently examined antecedents to burnout in the organisational context (Crawford, LePine & Rich, 2010; Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner & Schaufeli, 2001; Low et al., 2001; Maslach, Jackson & Leiter, 1996; Singh et al., 1994). Other antecedents include personality and dispositional factors (Swider & Zimmerman, 2010; Witt et al., 2004) and the nature of interpersonal relationships (Bakker, Schaufeli, Sixma, Bosveld & Van Dierendonck, 2000).

Notwithstanding some notable exceptions (e.g. Buunk, Peiro, Rodriguez & Bravo, 2007; Edwards & Dirette, 2010; Geng, Li & Zhou, 2011; Kang, Twigg & Hertzman, 2010; Lammers, Atouba & Carlson, 2013; Vanheule, Lievrouw & Verhaeghe, 2003; Vanheule & Verhaeghe, 2004), surprisingly little empirical research has been conducted into the role of identity-related variables in the development of burnout, even though identity-related variables may explain more variance in burnout scores than the often-examined job and organisational variables (Buunk et al., 2007). Previous research focusing on the relationship between identityrelated variables and burnout has generally been descriptive in nature, at the expense of a deeper understanding as to exactly how these variables can contribute to burnout. As far as could be established, no work has been done to investigate how the processes of identity construction and enactment could contribute to the development of burnout. This state stands to be corrected through the present research.

Research purpose and objectives

Whilst the limited investigations into the relationship between identity and burnout have made an undeniably important contribution to our understanding of the development of burnout, further research is required to gain a deeper understanding of how the processes associated with the construction and enactment of a specific identity could contribute to burnout. …

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