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Job burnout among Construction Professionals in Hong Kong

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The Constructor Autumn 2006
11
The Hong Kong construction
industry
The nature of the construction
industry; specifically in the context
of Hong Kong, is inherently complex and
demanding. Construction professionals
are often required to work long and
irregular hours within fast track
construction projects, hence these
factors can frequently result in stressful
work environments. In recent years, the
industry has faced recession due to
localised economic reform and
fluctuation in the property market. The
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) within the
construction sector dropped 35% from
2000 to 2004 (Census and Statistics
Department, 2006), resulting in a
considerable amount of uncertainty in so
far as job security is concerned. In
response to this localised decline, many
construction professionals have taken up
new posts within the expanding
economies of Macau and mainland
China. However, this often involves long
periods of frequent travel, away from
family and home. On these bases alone,
there are strong grounds to believe that
construction industry professionals are
likely to encounter a higher degree of
work stress and related social pressure
than would be generally considered the
norm.
Job burnout among
Construction Professionals
in Hong Kong
Brenda Yip and Steve Rowlinson
Department of Real Estate and Construction, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong
*This research project is funded by the Hong Kong Research Grants Council (RGC Ref. HKU7113/03E).
The burnout phenomenon
Burnout is defined as a state of
chronic emotional fatigue which occurs
under constant and daily exposure to
stress, over a prolonged periods of time
(Westman and Eden, 1997). Although
burnout occurs as a result of a complex
interaction between individual
characteristics and issues in the work
environment, job characteristics are
found to be more important (Yip et al.,
2005). Burnout studies were originally
focused on health care and educational
practitioners who work continuously with
people; however, after over three
decades of evolution, burnout has been
proven to exist also among general
occupations, as long as there are role
demands originating in the work
environment (Maslach et al., 1996). The
phenomenon of burnout and its
relationship with personal and work
settings have been studied extensively
within many countries among differing
professional groups. Consistent findings
that burnout has undesirable
consequential effects on both individuals
and their related organisations have
made this phenomenon become the
focus of general interest.
Why should professionals be
concerned about burnout?
Burnout contributed to by job
demands has been demonstrated to
directly threaten individuals mental and
physical health (Tang et al. 2001).
Common symptoms of mental disorders
may include psychological distress,
anxiety, depression, reduced self-
esteem; whereas physical disorders may
include headache, stomachache and
sleep disturbance. These stress-related
symptoms are claimed to be common
causes for sick-leave absenteeism and
an increased risk of future illnesses. In
work environments, individuals suffering
from job burnout are likely to be
experiencing high levels of job tension
and uncertainty, while at the same time,
experiencing low levels of motivation and
job satisfaction. They generally display
a negative attitude towards work
engagement and commitment within
their organisations. As a result, the
performance at work; in terms of
productivity and effectiveness, is likely
to be affected. Recent research
suggests that burnout is a significant
predictor of intention to change jobs
(Lingard, 2003). However, employees,
subject to high levels of burnout, may
remain at their posts, potentially posing
problems of change in their attitude and
work effort, resulting in a downward
trend in performance.
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The Constructor Autumn 2006
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Why should organisations be
concerned about professional
burnout?
Employees are held to be one of the
most valuable assets in an organisation
and it often has a substantial investment
in their education, professional
accreditation, skills, etc. Therefore, when
experienced and competent employees
voluntarily leave an organisation, the
business would normally have to bear the
costs and the loss of capital investment,
i.e. the costs of recruitment, re-training
and replacing personnel. Having identified
the adverse effects of burnout previously
described, it may not then be surprising
to learn that employee burnout contributes
to negative ramifications on organisational
effectiveness; in terms of tangible and non-
tangible implications (Wright and Bonett,
1997). Clearly, from the organisational
perspective, the fiscal results of the
organisation may be adversely affected
by the burnout phenomenon, either
because of a general negative attitude
towards work or equally as damaging
those caused by changes in the behavior
of individuals, resulting in high levels of
absenteeism and ultimately staff turnover.
Why should the construction
industry be concerned about
professional burnout?
If construction professionals suffer
from burnout, inferior work will be
produced and mistakes may be made.
A mistake in the construction industry
can have a very serious effect, being
costly or even fatal, or both! The financial
costs; both tangible and intangible, of
job burnout not only affect the
organisation where the phenomenon is
present but also the industry within the
economy to which it contributes. Where
burnout is widespread, the construction
industry is therefore likely to reduce its
overall efficiency; this in turn threatens
the long-term competitiveness of the
whole sector. The construction industry
plays an important role in the overall
economy of Hong Kong. In spite of the
fluctuation of the property market in the
recent decade, the industry still
contributed an average of 4.6% to the
GDP within 1995 to 2004, representing
an average of HK$58 billions per year
(Census and Statistic Department,
2006). It is therefore reasonable to
assume that an improvement of
organisational performance through
mitigation or minimisation of job burnout
is likely to improve the performance of
the industry as a whole.
Investigation of the relevance
of job burnout among
construction professionals
Although construction professionals
are considered to be a high-risk group
exposed to burnout, there is little
scientific investigation into its relevance
to professionals in the construction
industry; especially within the specific
context of Hong Kong. This research
project, funded by the Hong Kong
Research Grants Council, aims at
innovatively exploring the job burnout
phenomenon among construction
professionals in Hong Kong. This
includes measuring levels of burnout; as
well as identifying its contributing factors
within working environments. It is also
hoped that the research will draw the
attention of the construction industry to
this significant factor and will provide a
foundation for devising intervention
strategies to prevent, manage or curb
burnout.
The professionals selected for study
in this research were defined, according
to their functions of work, having roles
equivalent to architects, project
managers and engineers within
construction related disciplines, quantity
and building surveyors, and other
construction related professionals.
Invitations for participating in an online
survey were distributed via e-mail to by
the participating organisations and
professional institutions. Construction
professionals wishing to participate
access a self-administrated structured
questionnaire directly by going to the
web site address provided in the e-mail.
Completed questionnaires were returned
directly to the data base of the research
team. Anonymity of respondents and
confidentiality of responses were
assured. The survey was conducted in
2005 and received 450 responses
completing both sections of job
characteristics and Maslach Burnout
Inventory (Maslach et al., 1996).
What constitutes burnout?
The structure of burnout reported in
this study was examined by Principal
Factor Analysis and found to be
composed of three dimensions as
follows:
1. Emotional exhaustion: refers to the
feelings of run out emotional
resources and lack of energy
(Example item: I feel used up at
the end of the work day.)
2. Cynicism: reflects having little
interest in and a distant attitude
towards work
(Example item: I have become
less interested in my work since I
started this job.)
3. Lack of professional efficacy:
expresses individuals trend to
evaluate themselves negatively
and are dissatisfied with their
accomplishments at work
(Example negative item: At my
work, I feel confident that I am
effective at getting things done)
Levels of burnout in
construction professionals
Alarmingly high burnout scores were
recorded in this study. Table 1 and figure
1 below illustrated that the construction
The Constructor Autumn 2006
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professionals in Hong Kong scored the
highest in all the three burnout
dimensions when compared with the
secondary school teachers in Hong Kong
(Lau et al, 2005) and the law
enforcement managers in Australia
(Densten, 2001).
Where does burnout occur?
In this study, job characteristics which
are likely to be relevant to the work
demands of construction professionals
were measured. A stepwise multiple
regression procedure was used to test
the ability of different job characteristics
to predict burnout. The results are
summarised in Table 2. Thus, working
environments which display those
characteristics shown in Table 2 are likely
to expose employees to high levels of
burnout.
What can we do about the
burnout phenomenon?
Role overload is observed to be a
significant predictor for all three
dimensions of burnout. This may be
explained, to a large extent, by fast track
construction practices which are a well-
known characteristic of the Hong Kong
construction industry. However, the
conditions associated with this type of
project may not be within the control of
construction organisations alone. The
industry, as a whole, may need to review
existing construction practices, aiming
to effectively reduce the undesirable
implications of professional burnout and
Figure 1: Cross-occupation Comparisons of Burnout Scores
Legends: N=Sample size; SD=Standard deviation
Note: The items of the three burnout dimensions were scored on a seven-point rating scale (0=never, 6=always); i.e. maximum score is 6.
Table 1: Cross-occupation Comparisons of Burnout Scores
Burnout Construction Secondary School Law Enforcement
Dimensions Professionals (N=450) Teachers (N=1,797) Managers (N=480)
Mean (SD) Mean (SD) Mean (SD)
Emotional Exhaustion 3.09 (SD=1.40) 2.49 (SD=1.67) 2.54 (SD=1.67)
Cynicism 2.62 (SD=1.23) 1.31(SD=1.09) 2.11 (SD=1.48)
Lack of Professional Efficacy 1.88 (SD=1.06) 1.84 (SD=1.03) 1.37 (SD=1.21)
Table 2: Job Characteristics as Predictors of Burnout
Job characteristics Burnout Dimensions
Emotional Exhaustion Cynicism Lack of Professional Efficacy
Role overload ✔✔ ✔
Resource inadequacy ✔✔
Control over work pace
Satisfaction with pay
Role conflict ✔✔
Organisation care
Perceptions of performance appraisal ✔✔
Role ambiguity
Legend: = a significant predictor of a particular dimension of burnout.
its related, often hidden costs, which
may prove to be higher than anticipated
in the long term. Resources are always
limited; therefore the negative effects of
burnout cannot easily be managed
without a fundamental change in job role
and responsibility design. Such job
redesign should address also the
aspects of resource inadequacy, role
conflict and role ambiguity highlighted in
this study.
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Construction Professionals Secondary School Teachers Law Enforcement Managers
Burnout Scores
3.5
3
2.5
2
1.5
1
0.5
0
Emotional Exhaustion
Cynicism
Lack of Professional Efficacy
The Constructor Autumn 2006
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The empirical evidence contained in
this study make a significant contribution
towards a better understanding and
awareness of the burnout phenomenon
among construction professionals in Hong
Kong. More importantly, it may also offer
the provision and foundation of a
knowledge base for the design of
organisational intervention strategies to
effectively mitigate and/or minimise
burnout together with its negative effects.
References
Census and Statistic Department (2006),
Hong Kong Special Administrative
Region, China.
Densten, I. L. (2001). Re-thinking
burnout,
Journal of Organizational
Behavior
, 22, 833-47.
Lau, P. S. Y., Yuen, M. T. and Chan, R.
M. C. (2005). Do demographic
characteristics make a difference to
burnout among Hong Kong secondary
school teachers?
Social Indicators
Research
, 71, 491-516.
Lingard, H. (2003). The impact of
individual and job characteristics of
burnout among civil engineers in
Australia and the implications for
employee turnover,
Construction
Management and Economics
, 21, 69-80.
Maslach, C., Jackson, S. E. and Leiter,
M. P. (1996).
Maslach Burnout Inventory
Manual
, 3rd Edition, Palo Alto, CA:
Consulting Psychologists Press.
Tang, C. S. K., Au, W. T., Schwarzer, R.
and Schmitz, G. (2001). Mental health
outcomes of job stress among Chinese
teachers: role of stress resource factors
and burnout.
Journal of Organisation
Behavior
, 22(8), 887-901.
Westman, M. and Eden, D. (1997).
Effects of respite formwork on burnout:
vacation relief and fadeout,
Journal of
Applied Psychology
, 82, 516-527.
Wright, T. A. and Bonett, D. G. (1997).
The contribution of burnout to work
performance.
Journal of Organisational
Behavior
, 18(5), 491-9.
Yip, B., Rowlinson, S., Kvan, T. and
Lingard, H. (2005). Job Burnout within
the Hong Kong construction industry: A
cultural perspective.
Proceedings of the
CIB W92/T23/W107 International
Symposium on Procurement Systems
,
8-10 Feb. 2005, Las Vegas, Nevada,
USA.
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Featuring in this issue:
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QBA 2008 – The HKICM Turn Burnout in Construction Professionals
The QBA Winner (Photo: Courtesy of QBA 2006)
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... This is the exact situation construction organizations in Hong Kong faced during the recent recession. In this context, it is perhaps not surprising to find construction professionals reporting significantly higher levels of burnout than other occupations (Yip and Rowlinson, 2006). In view of the negative implications burnout has on individuals and organizations, it is therefore important to devise intervention strategies to minimize the burnout phenomenon, together with its negative attributes. ...
... Although construction professionals have been found to experience high levels of burnout (Yip and Rowlinson, 2006), little research has so far been attempted to identify what coping strategies these individuals have adopted and their respective moderating effects on the relationship between occupational stressors and consequential burnout. It is therefore important to understand how some construction professionals cope better than others in the presence of role overload, apparently without developing symptoms of burnout, in respect to their coping strategies. ...
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The moderating effect coping strategies have on the relationship between role overload and burnout was investigated in a sample of 222 professional engineers in the construction industry. A four-factor model of coping strategies, based on the Ways of Coping Questionnaire (WCQ) revised scale, was identified to consist of rational problem solving, resigned distancing, seeking support/ventilation and passive wishful thinking. The results revealed that only rational problem solving significantly moderated the relationship between role overload and all three dimensions of burnout, i.e. emotional exhaustion, cynicism and reduced professional efficacy; whereas the moderating effect of resigned distancing and seeking support/ventilation was significant only on emotional exhaustion and cynicism respectively. Passive wishful thinking failed to demonstrate a significant moderating effect on any of the burnout dimensions at all. The importance and methods of incorporating effective coping strategies as a successful intervention for managing burnout at individual, organizational and institutional levels are discussed.
... At an individual level, burnout has been associated with mental and physical health problems, for example, psychological distress, anxiety, depression, reduced self‐esteem [3]. At an organization level, burnout is also consistently linked to negative attitudes towards work, which include low levels of motivation, job satisfaction and organizational commitment, but high levels of job uncertainty [4]. These in turn induce counter‐productive work behavior, such as reduced productivity, absenteeism and staff turnover and hence lower the overall effectiveness of the organization itself [5]. ...
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Work life takes up an important place in human life, and an employee faces many stimuli from internal and external environments and is affected by them in a positive or negative way. Aim: was to investigate relationship among nurses role overload , burnout and managerial coping strategies at Intensive Care Units in Assiut University Hospital. Design: A descriptive design was used. Setting: Four Intensive Care Units in Assiut University Hospital. Subjects: Included all nurses working in Causality, General, & Postoperative Intensive Care Units and Coronary Care Unit in Assiut University Hospital. Tools: Four tools which includes Socio-demographic data sheet, role overload questionnaire, managerial coping strategies & burnout questionnaires. Results: Showed that role overload had highest mean score in General and Casuality ICUs. In addition, coping strategies highest mean scores of rational problem solving , resigned distancing, and seeking support/ventilation were in Casuality and post operative ICUs respectively except passive wishful thinking had highest mean scores in General and Casuality ICUs respectively. Also, burnout had highest mean scores in post operative and general ICU respectively. Conclusions: Nurses employed at ICUs in Assiut University Hospital reported high burnout and use managerial coping strategies as rational problem solving, resigned distancing, seeking support/ ventilation and passive wishful thinking to handle burnout and role overload except passive wishful thinking not used with role overload. Four tools were used to collect data for this study as follows: 1st tool : Socio-demographic data sheet: This part includes socio-demographic characteristics data as: age, sex , unit name, marital status, educational qualification, and years of experience. 2nd tool : Role overload questionnaire which developed by [11], it included five items. The Scoring system of this tool was five-point Likert-scale ranging from “strongly disagree” (1) to “strongly agree” (5). 3rd tool : Managerial coping strategies questionnaire which developed by [12] , it included twenty nine items classified into four factors. Rational problem solving, resigned distancing, seeking support/ventilation and passive wishful thinking. The Scoring system of the this study tool was four-point scale in the following sequence (0 = not used, 1= used somewhat, 2 = used quite a bit, 3 = used a great deal), and 4th tool: Burnout questionnaire which developed by [13], it included twenty two items. The Scoring system of this study tool was five-point Likert-scale ranging from “Not important” (1) to “More important” (5). Their reliability was assessed in a pilot study by measuring their internal consistency using Cronbach's alpha coefficient method. This turned to be 0.88 for coping strategies, 0.90 for burnout, and 0.96 for role overload, thus indicating a high degree of reliability .The validity was measured by five experts in the field of nursing administration.
... The favorable environment plays a significant role in producing skilled workers. In the recent times, the organizations are well informed about the Human Resource Management (HRM) issues in the working environment (Loosemore & Waters, 2004; Yip & Rowlinson, 2006; Wilkinson, 2008; Sang, Ison, & Dainty, 2009). ...
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The major purpose of the study was to develop an instrument to assess the organizational environment at university level in Pakistan. The data were collected from 336 teachers working at four public sector universities in the province of the Punjab. Items were derived from the relevant literature. The Organizational Environment Scale (OES) includes major components as internal environment, professional development, team work, guidance and support, facilitations, participation and coordination, and rewards and benefits. A Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) using Asymptotic Covariance Matrix, Polychoric Correlation Matrix, and Weighted Least Squares Estimation was employed to validate the OES instrument. LISREL 8.3 was used to conduct Confirmatory Factor Analyses. Fit indices for Organizational Environment Scale indicated an adequate model. Factor loadings for each item had the thresholds value of 0.35. Correlation values among the latent factors were significant at 5%.
... In recent years the construction industry has been aware of the work-life balance issue in human resource management [3] . Empirical research on work-life balance in terms of construction professionals' burnout experience has been conducted in different social cultural contexts such as Australia [4][5][6][7][8] , Hong Kong [9][10][11] , UK [12] , and New Zealand [13] . This study extends the study of construction professionals' burnout to the cultural context of the Netherlands. ...
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To keep a healthy and energetic workforce in the construction industry is not only economical but also socially sustainable. This paper explores issues of occupational health of construction professionals through building a sustainable organizational worklife by effective management of job stress. Using Leiter and Maslach's (2004) theoretical model of worklife and their relationship with employees' well-being this study made a holistic evaluation of job-person match and staff well-being in a Dutch construction company. The person-job fit is measured with six dimensions: workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values. Staff well-being is indicated by levels of burnout, which is measured in three dimensions: exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. Respondents from different departments showed diverse patterns of burnout. Of the six areas of worklife, workload and reward are found to be predictors of exhaustion, community and values are predictors of cynicism, and community is predictor of inefficacy. The result is compared with previous studies and discussed in terms of cultural context and social sustainability.
... Architecture and engineering firms were warned to "stop burnout before it stops your employees" (Design Firm Management & Administration Report, 2002). In a series of studies that followed, construction professionals were found to be 3 experiencing rather high levels of burnout (Lingard, 2003;Lingard and Francis, 2005;Yip and Rowlinson, 2006;Yip et al., 2005b). Burnout is costly for the individuals who are experiencing it and for the organizations whose staffs are experiencing it. ...
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The current chapter is organized according to the crucial factors representing the construction workers’ health integral models. These models describe some of the critical health risks associated with the works in construction and highlight the need for implementing adequate control measures for the recognized hazards even though the incidence of the risks associated with the construction workers’ health, and management is mostly focused on mitigation of the incidents/accident associated; that is concentrating on worker’s safety instead of issues related to health. Thus, it is essential to systematically manage and identify hazards related to health in the working areas. The present chapter considers the association between health in the workplace and risks calling diseases related to lifestyle, which frequently attract interest in the health programs. These programs are appraised critically, and occupational health in the construction industries have been highlighted as these factors connect to the organization’s and design to address the health workers’ problems.
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This survey was conducted to investigate the phenomenon of ‘burnout’ among construction professionals within the Hong Kong construction industry. The structure of ‘burnout’ and its contributing factors and consequential effects on work and non-work aspects were examined Emotional exhaustion and cynicism as structured within the most widely recognised model of burnout was found to be valid. However, a diminished sense of professional efficacy was divided into two factors; named self-worth and self-esteem, which were shown to be comparatively insignificant within the model. Job characteristics were found to be relatively more significant when compared with demographic and personality traits in predicting burnout. Emotional exhaustion and cynicism were proved to be strong and reliable predictors of the construction professional’s turnover. The results were compared with those obtained from similar studies previously undertaken in Australia. Data was found that supported the theory that construction professionals in Hong Kong had demonstrated a weaker positive relationship between ‘burnout’ and work-family stressors over the civil engineers contained within the Australian study. It was therefore concluded that cultural aspects within the environment are likely to influence the formation and implications of burnout which may in turn also induce an impact on the overall performance in the industry.
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This study aims to investigate the relationship between teachers' demographic variables and burnout in Hong Kong using the Maslach Burnout Inventory. It is found that when compared with the North American normative data, Hong Kong teachers scored in the average range of burnout in emotional exhaustion and personal accomplishment while they scored in the low range of burnout in depersonalization. Gender differences were found in all three burnout syndromes, and teachers who were younger, unmarried, without religious beliefs, less experienced, without finishing professional training and of junior rank were more consistently burned out. Whereas age was the strongest predictor for emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, teachers' rank is the best predictor for personal accomplishment. However, the effect of demographic characteristics of teachers on burnout is not that salient.
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The conceptualization and psychometric properties of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (Maslach and Jackson, 1981) were examined by this study. A new structure of five burnout factors was identified using a sample of 480 Australian law enforcement managers. An examination of each item, along with single and confirmatory factor analyses supported both emotional exhaustion and the lack of personal accomplishment factors splitting into two factors while depersonalization remained a single factor. The new five-factor structure incorporates psychological and somatic strain aspects of emotional exhaustion, and two aspects of the lack of personal accomplishment, namely self and others. This expanded factor structure clarifies the multi-dimensional nature of the MBI. Further research directions are discussed. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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This study examined the mental health outcomes of job stress among Chinese teachers in Hong Kong. A total of 269 Chinese teachers participated in Study 1 which provided cross-sectional data regarding the associations among stress resource factors, burnout, and negative mental health. Study 2 was a six-month longitudinal study which aimed to establish the direction of the associations among the hypothesized variables across two time points with a separate sample of 61 Chinese secondary school teachers. Results of the structural equation modelling analyses on the cross-sectional data at T1 showed that stress resource factors of self-efficacy and proactive attitude were negatively related to burnout, which in turn had a direct effect on negative mental health. Stress resource factors were also directly linked to mental health status of teachers. Results of similar analyses on the longitudinal data at T2 further indicated that burnout at T1 had a direct impact on burnout at T2, which in turn had a direct effect on negative mental health at T2. Findings and limitations of the study were discussed. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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A survey was undertaken to explore the experience of 'burnout' among engineers working in the Australian construction industry. The most widely recognized model of burnout, comprising emotional exhaustion, cynicism and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment was found to be valid. However, Australian engineers experience a strong sense of the social worth of their professional activity, independently of believing in their own individual competence as engineers. There was also a widespread belief that the rewards enjoyed by engineers as a result of their professional endeavours are not commensurate with their level of skill and responsibility. The results of the study also show that burnout cannot be attributed to a single cause but occurs as a result of a complex interaction of individual characteristics and issues in the work environment. As such, there is no single 'cure' for burnout and multiple intervention strategies are probably needed. However, the relative importance of job characteristics compared to personality characteristics in predicting burnout suggests that job re-design may be an effective preventive strategy. Cynicism and emotional exhaustion were strong predictors of engineers' intention to leave their jobs. This suggests that measures to prevent burnout could also help to reduce turnover and its associated costs.
Job Burnout within the Hong Kong construction industry: A cultural perspective. I Features Special Journal of The Hong Kong Institute of Construction Managers (HKICM is a non-profit making company limited by guarantee
  • B Yip
  • S Rowlinson
  • T Kvan
  • H Lingard
Yip, B., Rowlinson, S., Kvan, T. and Lingard, H. (2005). Job Burnout within the Hong Kong construction industry: A cultural perspective. Proceedings of the CIB W92/T23/W107 International Symposium on Procurement Systems, 8-10 Feb. 2005, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. I Features Special Journal of The Hong Kong Institute of Construction Managers (HKICM is a non-profit making company limited by guarantee !"#$%&'()*) Autumn 2006