Topic: Employee Burnout

Author(s), Title and Publication

Miller, K. I., Ellis, B. H., Zook, E. G., & Lyles, J. S. (1990). An Integrated Model of Communication, Stress, and Burnout in the Workplace. Communication Research, 17(3), 300-326.


Based on social information processing theory and uncertainty reduction theory, this study proposed a model that presents the impact of organizational communication and workplace stress on employee burnout, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction. To test the model, 417 employees at a private midwestern psychiatric hospital were surveyed. Seventy percent of the participants were characterized as caregivers (i.e., nurses, physicians, therapists, and social workers), and 30 percent were characterized as support staff (i.e., accounting, records, and food service). The employees answered questions about 1) communication variables: participation in decision-making processes and social support (supervisory and coworker support); 2) workplace stress; and 3) outcomes: burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, less sense of personal accomplishment), work satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

The results indicated that participation in decision-making processes and social support have important impacts on perceived workplace stress, burnout, satisfaction, and commitment for both caregivers and support staff. Participation in decisions was found to be particularly crucial in reducing stress and burnout, and in increasing a sense of personal accomplishment and job satisfaction. Support from coworkers and supervisors was more effective for reducing support staff’s stress than for caregivers’ stress. Caregivers who gave patients negative responses had more emotional exhaustion, and felt less accomplishment and job satisfaction. For support staff, too much work was the key factor that caused their stress and exhaustion. In addition, though role stress could be detrimental, it provided some employees with a sense of accomplishment.

Implications for Practice

This study was completed more than two decades ago, but stress and burnout are still major issues in the workplace, and the implications remain the same for practitioners and organizations: Managers may help reduce employees’ stress and burnout rates by 1) providing employees with opportunities to participate in the decision-making process, and 2) offering help and social support to employees, especially those who have administrative tasks.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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