• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Burning Out in Silence

Why muting dissent at work is dangerous

The ‘burning man’ from Burning Man Festival / © Wikimedia Commons

Russian companies still pursue authoritarian leadership styles, and employees often avoid articulating their concerns and complaints to management. Together with chronic stress and work-family imbalance, this can often result in emotional burnout. This is the conclusion of a study by researchers from North Dakota State University (USA) and HSE University.

Venting to Co-Workers and Friends

Russians have still not learned how to express their dissent with corporate policy to their top managers and supervisors. It is more common to discuss the annoying things with co-workers, vent to family members or friends, rather than express concerns openly to management. As a result, people experience burnout and simply don’t have the inner strength to continue working.

A joint study by American and Russian researchers revealed the positive correlation between Russian’s latent dissent at work and emotional burnout.

Social psychologist Christina Maslach, known for her research on emotional burnout, puts burnout symptoms into three categories:

  emotional and physical exhaustion;

 a sense of reduced professional accomplishment and cynical attitude to work;

 feelings of alienation from the organization and co-workers.

Other signs of burnout include absenteeism and intentions to quit.

The study was conducted in Perm, Russia. It involved 237 participants, 117 males and 120 females aged from 18 to 57, who work full-time in various sectors. The responders completed questionnaires with demographic questions and several scales measuring the level of dissent with respect to their employers’ policies and emotional burnout, as well as corporate support for work-family balance.

Surviving Between Family and Work

Russian employees often experience chronic stress, the study authors say. According to the available data, it can impact up to 70% of workforce.

There are global reasons for this. Russia’s accession to international markets in the 1990s and the 2000s required firms to improve their competitiveness and performance indicators, which has led to increased stress at work both for managers and rank-and-file employees. Another stress factor is authoritarian leadership style, which is popular in Russian companies and does not allow employees much freedom to express their opinions or dissent in regards to organizational policies, the researchers note.

Russian managers have attributed their heightened work stress (Gorelova E, 2013) to the following reasons:

 unpredictable business environment in the country;

 difficulties in building trust with people;

 lack of comprehensive, unifying business rules;

 constant changes in legislation.

Rank-and-file employees in Russia also have contended that working life is becoming much more stressful owing to the increasing demand for skills and working time, as well as the intensified competition on the job market. Furthermore, women in Russia often face additional stress because both political and religious discourses in Russia dictate that child-rearing is essentially a female project.

As a consequence, many working Russians experience a work-family imbalance. While companies often formally stand for family values and develop programmes to support this balance, they are not always implemented in practice. The study’s authors note that managers may send out mixed messages that employees are not ‘really’ encouraged to utilize work-family benefits, even when such programmes exist.

This results in a vicious circle, when a deficit of support from management, together with work overload, leads to emotional burnout. This, in turn, can significantly worsen one’s work-life imbalance.

Furthermore, the research has demonstrated that those who get real support from managers have fewer chances of burnout. ‘With both formal organizational support and informal managerial support, employees may feel more comfortable and less guilty putting family responsibilities before work,’ the researchers say.

Talking Openly about Problems

One of the researchers’ key conclusions is that encouraging the expression of dissent is a viable way to empower employees and this, thereby, can reduce their stress level. The more explicitly an employee expresses their ‘upward dissent’, the less chances for burnout they have. Moreover, it has been confirmed that feedback has a positive effect. It turns out to be statistically more important with respect to the factors of correlation with burnout levels, says Tatyana Permyakova, one of the study authors.

Latent dissent, as the research indicates, is expressed by employees through their burnout.

Containing dissent is already one of the signs of burnout.

Employees just don’t have any strength to fight. They may feel alienated from the company and lack motivation to do anything.

‘In an ideal workplace, employees can complain about tiny, but frustrating events before they develop into severe stressors. In this sense, a democratic organizational climate that welcomes dissent is key in combating employee burnout in the workplace,’ the researchers conclude.



Authors of the Study:

Cheng Zeng, North Dakota State University, USA

Tatiana Permyakova, Professor, Department of Foreign Languages, HSE University, Perm

Elena Smolianina, Associate Professor, Department of Foreign Languages, HSE University, Perm

Irina Morozova, Associate Professor, Department of Foreign Languages, HSE University, Perm

Author: Marina Selina, May 06, 2020