Clear communication at work helps prevent burnouts

Research by doctoral student Safâa Achnak of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has shown that clear communication between employee and employer about mutual expectations is indispensable to combat depression and burnouts. When the expectations at work are not clear or are not met, this leads to stressful situations.

An employee who does his best also expects something in return from his employer. They have ‘a psychological contract’ in which matters such as appreciation or opportunities for growth are expected. When employees feel that their employer is not fulfilling these tacit obligations, they experience this as a psychological breach of contract (PCB).

Negative emotions

This phenomenon has been investigated by VUB doctoral student Achnak. Two psychological experiments and three questionnaire studies were conducted in which Belgian and American employees active in different sectors were questioned daily or monthly about their fracture and stress experiences. The results show that emotions such as anger and disappointment trigger a PCB.

This negativity in turn provokes psychological stress reactions, in the long and short term, which in turn can lead to physical complaints such as increased blood pressure, depression and burnout. When an employee has to wait a long time for an expected response or promotion from an employer, they can develop feelings of anxiety and depression.

Discuss mutual expectations

The research emphasizes the importance of regularly discussing mutual expectations and quickly providing feedback on unspoken expectations. “This way you protect the well-being of the employee as well as the proper functioning of the organization,” says Achnak. According to her, employers benefit from knowledge of work stressors and training on how these can best be tackled.


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