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Abstract

To reveal the ameliorative impact of being away from job stressors on burnout, we compared 81 men who were called for active reserve service with 81 matched controls in the same company who were not called during the same period. Each reservist and his control completed questionnaires shortly before the reservist left work for a stint of service and immediately on his return. Analysis of variance detected a significant decline in job stress and burnout among those who served and no change among the control participants. Among those who served, quality of reserve service and degree of psychological detachment from work interacted in moderating the respite effects; the greater the detachment, the stronger the effect positive reserve service experience had in relieving reservists from stress and burnout. Reserve service is discussed as a special case of stress-relieving get-away from work that may be experienced as an ameliorative respite akin to vacation.
Journal
of
Applied Psychology
1998,
Vol.
83. No. 4,
577-585
Copyright
1998
by the
American
Psychological
Association,
Inc.
0021-9010/98/53.00
Relief
From
Job
Stressors
and
Burnout:
Reserve
Service
as a
Respite
Dalia
Etzion,
Dov
Eden,
and
Yael
Lapidot
Tel
Aviv
University
To
reveal
the
ameliorative
impact
of
being away
from
job
stressors
on
burnout,
we
compared
81
men who
were
called
for
active
reserve
service
with
81
matched
controls
in
the
same
company
who
were
not
called
during
the
same
period.
Each
reservist
and
his
control
completed
questionnaires
shortly before
the
reservist
left
work
for a
stint
of
service
and
immediately
on his
return. Analysis
of
variance
detected
a
significant decline
in
job
stress
and
burnout
among
those'who
served
and no
change
among
the
control
participants.
Among those
who
served, quality
of
reserve
service
and
degree
of
psychologi-
cal
detachment
from work
interacted
in
moderating
the
respite
effects;
the
greater
the
detachment,
the
stronger
the
effect positive
reserve
service
experience
had in
relieving
reservists
from
stress
and
burnout. Reserve
service
is
discussed
as a
special
case
of
stress-relieving
get-away from work that
may be
experienced
as an
ameliorative
respite
akin
to
vacation.
A
respite
from
chronic
job
stressors
can
bring relief
from
strain (Eden, 1990; Etzion
&
Sapir, 1997; West-
man
&
Eden,
1997).
The
respite most
frequently
studied
has
been vacation. Accumulating evidence shows that,
not
surprisingly,
employees report less strain during
and
immediately after vacation than before
it
(Eden, 1990;
Lounsbury
&
Hoopes, 1986;
Westman
&
Eden, 1997).
Because
continuous exposure
to
daily stressors
is a
major
precursor
of
burnout, many psychologists
prescribe
occa-
sional time
off
work
as a
means
of
"recharging
one's
batteries"
and
renewing resistance resources (e.g.,
re-
building
support bases, strengthening feelings
of
compe-
tence, etc.;
Ereudenberger,
1974;
Maslach,
1976; Pines
&
Aronson, 1981). Thus, vacations
and
other respites from
work
are
emerging
as an
important
facet
of
work
life
that,
after
long neglect, psychologists have begun
to
explore.
However,
past
findings
raise
new
questions about
the ef-
Dalia
Etzion,
Dov
Eden,
and
Yael
Lapidot,
Faculty
of
Man-
agement,
Tel
Aviv
University. Yael
Lapidot
is now at the
School
of
Business Administration,
College
of
Management,
Tel
Aviv,
Israel.
Yael
Lapidot
collected
the
data
as
part
of the
requirements
for
her
master's
degree
in
organizational
behavior
at Tel
Aviv
University
under
the
supervision
of
Dalia Etzion.
A
preliminary
version
of
this
article
was
presented
at the
Fifth International
Conference
on
Social
Stress
Research,
Honolulu, Hawaii, June
1994.
The
research
was financed in
part
by the
Israel
Institute
of
Business
Research.
Correspondence
concerning this article should
be
addressed
to
Dalia
Etzion,
Faculty
of
Management,
Tel
Aviv
University,
Tel
Aviv
69978,
Israel.
Electronic
mail
may be
sent
to
etziond@post.tau.ac.il.
fects
of
different
kinds
and
lengths
of
respite, individual
differences
in
respite
effects,
and
their durability.
We
know
little about
how
respite
effects
relieve stress
and
strain,
and
which features
of
respites make them salutary.
We
conducted
the
present study
in the
tradition
of
past
respite
research
addressing
the
effect
of a
respite
from
work
on
employee
perception
of job
stressors
and the
experience
of
burnout prior
to the
respite
and on
returning
to
work.
The
unique
contributions
of the
present quasi-
experiment
lie in the
type
of
respite studied
and its
matched-sample
method. Rather
than
the
annual vacation
of
previous respite research,
we
examined
the
ameliora-
tive
effects
of
being away from
the job for
active
military
service.
If
vacation ameliorates
job
stress
by
providing
a
change, then even
a
change
to a
venue that itself
may be
stressful
might provide relief.
If it
could
be
shown
that
reserve service relieves
job
stress
and
burnout,
as
previous
research
has
shown
for
vacation,
the
external validity
of
the
respite-relief approach would
be
enhanced. Thus,
the
present study
is
relevant
to our
broader
aim of
discovering
how
time
off
work
for any
purpose—a
planned, collec-
tive,
or
individual vacation;
job
training;
or
reserve ser-
vice—helps
in
managing stress
and
relieving burnout.
Perceived
Job
Stressors,
Burnout,
and
Respite
Relief
Lazarus
and
Fblkman
(1984)
denned
stress
as a
"rela-
tionship
between
the
person
and the
environment that
is
appraised
by the
person
as
taxing
or
exceeding
his or
her
resources
and
endangering
his or her
well-being"
(p.
19). Most researchers have defined
job
stress only
in
terms
of
negative characteristics
of the
individual
-organi-
577
578
ETZION, EDEN,
AND
LAPIDOT
zational
interface, using
stressors
such
as
overload, role
conflict,
and
role ambiguity
(e.g.,
Beehr
&
Newman,
1978; House,
1983;
Kahn,
Wolfe, Snoek, Quinn,
&
Rosen-
thai,
1964).
A
broader view also includes
as
stressors
the
absence
of
positive characteristics, such
as
variety,
autonomy,
and
challenge (Caplan, 1983; Kanner,
Kafry,
&
Pines,
1978). According
to
Schuler
(1980),
the
presence
or
absence
of
such characteristics determines whether
workers
view
the
situation
as an
opportunity
and
challenge
or as a
barrier
to
their personal satisfaction.
We
defined
job
stressors
in
terms
of the
absence
of
positive
job
char-
acteristics
as
well
as the
presence
of
negative ones.
Burnout
is a
strain caused
by
chronic
stressors.
Freu-
denberger
(1974)
coined
the
term
to
describe
a
syndrome
of
gradual loss
of
motivation experienced
by
volunteers
in
a
rehabilitation agency. Defining
it
operationally,
Maslach
(1976)
referred
to
three
dimensions—emotional
exhaus-
tion,
depersonalization,
and
reduced personal accomplish-
ment—as
typical
of the
helping professions. However,
according
to
Shirom's
(1989)
review
and Lee and
Ash-
forth's
(1996)
meta-analysis,
the
most important dimen-
sion
underlying burnout
is
exhaustion.
Pines
and
Aron-
son's (1981, 1988) definition
of
burnout
as
emotional,
mental,
and
physical exhaustion
is
narrower
but has not
been limited
to any
particular occupational group (Win-
nubst,
1993).
We
adopted their
definition
as
more appro-
priate
to our
sample
of
engineers
and
technicians. Cur-
rently, more
and
more researchers conceive
of
burnout
as
a
work-induced strain that
can
emerge
in any
occupation,
including
management
and
technology
(Etzion,
1988;
Leiter
&
Schaufeli,
1996; Maslach