Featured Articles
Jenny Baker
/ Categories: 614

Research Brief of Lee et al.’s (2023) Emotional Exhaustion Across the Workday…

Jolynn Nelson & Enzo Novi Migliano

Emotional exhaustion refers to a person’s diminished emotional resources and is related to outcomes such as employee job performance, turnover, and well-being (Lee et al., 2023). The authors of the study investigated how emotional exhaustion changes differently throughout a workday for different people (i.e., person level) and for the same people on different days (i.e., day level) in a sample of 64 call center and 50 service industry employees. The participants, who worked 30 or more hours a week, completed at least 3 full days of an experience sampling study (i.e., collecting survey measures from the same people multiple days in a row). For this study, participants completed three surveys a day: at the beginning, middle, and end of their shift.

The emotional exhaustion of participants was explored in two ways: Their emotional exhaustion at the beginning of the workday and their emotional exhaustion growth rate throughout the workday. Lee et al. (2023) found that emotional exhaustion tended to increase over the typical workday, but there was wide variability in this workday trajectory across people and across days. The authors proposed and tested three “person-level” (i.e., an individual difference that varies across workers) and three “day-level” (i.e., a work-related factor that varies from day to day for the same worker) predictors of workday emotional exhaustion (see Appendix for their three-level model of emotional exhaustion). The person-level predictors included supervisor support,1 autonomous motivation,1 which reflects one’s interest and identification with their work, and controlled motivation,2 which reflects one’s perceived pressure to work due to external influences. The day-level predictors included prior evening work detachment,2 which reflects one’s perceived ability to disconnect from work while not working, customer mistreatment,3 and coworker socialization.3 The results of a multilevel modeling4 analysis supported most of the hypotheses.

The key findings of the study were

  1. On average, the greater an employee’s perceived autonomous motivation reported at the beginning of the study, the less perceived emotional exhaustion they reported at the beginning of each workday during the study period.
  2. On average, the greater an employee’s perceived controlled motivation, the more perceived emotional exhaustion they reported at the beginning of each workday during the study period.
  3. On average, the greater an employee’s perceived supervisor support reported at the beginning of the study period, the slower their perceived emotional exhaustion typically (on average) grew throughout their workdays during the study.
  4. On a day-to-day basis, the greater an employee’s perceived prior evening detachment, the less perceived emotional exhaustion they reported at the beginning of the workday, but the faster their perceived emotional exhaustion grew throughout their workday. Thus, employees with lower prior evening detachment started the workday with higher levels of emotional exhaustion that remained elevated throughout their shift (i.e., slower growth rate), but employees with higher prior evening detachment started the workday with lower levels of emotional exhaustion that then increased throughout their shift (i.e., faster growth rate).
  5. On a day-to-day basis, the greater an employee’s perceived customer mistreatment on a given day, the faster their perceived emotional exhaustion grew throughout their workday.
  6. On a day-to-day basis, the greater an employee’s perceived socialization with coworkers on a given day, the slower their perceived emotional exhaustion grew throughout their workday.
  7. There were occupational differences within the sample such that call center employees, compared to service workers, reported higher emotional exhaustion at the start of the day (which was maintained throughout the day).

Practical Implications

Because emotional exhaustion has been linked to employee job performance, turnover, and well-being in past research, it is important for organizational managers to understand the dynamic nature of emotional exhaustion throughout the workday and the factors that relate to employees’ emotional resources. The findings of this study indicate that managers should address factors that drain employees’ emotional resources (i.e., customer mistreatment and external work pressure); potential options for solutions include training in coping strategies (e.g., mindfulness, perspective taking) and emphasizing personal rather than external control at work. Emphasizing personal control (autonomy) at work may involve supporting employee participation in decision-making processes (where possible), offering choices within structured options, and soliciting and acknowledging employee input. Managers can encourage employees to detach from work when not working as a way to lower their emotional exhaustion at the start of the day but also realize that additional within-day buffers may be needed to buffer employees from emotional resource loss by cultivating a social environment that facilitates effective and honest communication between coworkers (coworker socializing) and between employees and supervisors (supervisor support). Finally, regarding optimal timing and scheduling of job demands, the results of this study suggest that it may be best to schedule difficult tasks at the start of the day when employees’ emotional exhaustion tends to be lower. 

Limitations to Consider

This study is one of the first to examine daily emotional exhaustion trajectories. However, the novel work has limitations that impact the understanding of the dynamics of emotional exhaustion. For example, the authors of the paper suggest that emotional exhaustion may have a more complex workday trajectory (rather than a simple linear increase) throughout the day, which may not have been captured with only three measurements of emotional exhaustion during the workday. Additionally, the study only sampled from two occupations, call centers and service providers, and given they found differences in emotional exhaustion between the two occupations, more research needs to be done on how sample characteristics influence changes in daily emotional exhaustion. Another limitation included the time frame in which prior evening detachment was measured. In the study, participants reported their prior evening detachment in the morning of the following day, which may be susceptible to recall biases. Finally, the inclusion of additional predictors (e.g., sleep quality) and outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction) in this study may have increased the practical implications of the findings for organizational decision making. In conclusion, although this novel study of emotional exhaustion dynamics has limitations, its contributions to the understanding of how emotional exhaustion levels change throughout the day can help organizations develop efficient and effective interventions.

For more details, please read the full article:

Lee, F. C., Diefendorff, J. M., Nolan, M. T., & Trougakos, J. P. (2023). Emotional exhaustion across the workday: Person-level and day-level predictors of workday emotional exhaustion growth curves. Journal of Applied Psychology, 108(10), 1662–1679. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0001095

Notes

Jolynn Nelson and Enzo Novi Migliano were members of the 2023–2024 Scientific Affairs Committee,

1 Measured one time at the beginning of the study prior to any other measures.

2 Measured once daily on the “before shift” surveys.

3 Measured twice daily on the “midshift” and “end-of-shift” surveys and averaged across these assessments.

4 Daily measures (i.e., level 1) were nested within people (i.e., level 2).

Appendix

Figure 1 from original article (Lee et al., 2023)

Print
551 Rate this article:
5.0
Comments are only visible to subscribers.

Categories

Information on this website, including articles, white papers, and other resources, is provided by SIOP staff and members. We do not include third-party content on our website or in our publications, except in rare exceptions such as paid partnerships.