June 27, 2022
May 30, 2022

Burnout Does Not Discriminate Based on Personality

A photograph of a smoking lit match with a dark background.
"Contrary to recent popular narrative, our latest research does not support the view that susceptibility to burnout is affected by our underlying personality. Fatigue and burn-out are not discriminatory, they can affect anyone at any time.”

Our personality affects many of our behaviours. The complex combinations of qualities which make us unique influence our preferences for how we conduct ourselves in every context of our lives; how we behave when we are in our most natural and comfortable state, the way we act in an everyday environment, for example at work, and the way we respond to external stimuli such as pressure or stress.

In a recent interview, the author Jennifer Moss claimed that our personalities affect our proneness to burnout. Burnout is an occupational issue stemming from stress in the workplace that can cause major issues in wellness. Specifically, Moss cited data that showed introverts to have reported more burnout throughout the Covid-19 pandemic than extraverts. She argues that this is because isolation led introverts to feel they lacked the opportunity to be brought “out of [their] shell”. Extraverts, on the other hand, are claimed to have had more emotional flexibility as a resource to handle isolation during the pandemic. At MindAlpha, we questioned whether these findings were watertight and decided to conduct our own investigation.

First, we decided to test the relationships introversion and extraversion have with burnout. We collected data from a sample of 100 full-time employed people (50 males, 50 females) from Western countries in the spring of 2022. During this time, most Western countries still encouraged working from home.

We operationalised introversion and extraversion separately because people can display traits belonging to both. Placing them into boxes labelled “introvert” or “extravert” is likely to distort the relationship between these factors and other behavioural patterns. Introversion means being intimate, measured and observing. Extraversion means being sociable, demonstrative and enjoying taking charge (Desson et al., 2014). We measured burnout by adapting the emotional exhaustion component of the abbreviated Maslach’s Burnout Inventory (Rutherford et al., 2011).

We found that neither extraversion nor introversion predicted burnout (p > .05). This was also true for the underlying qualities (intimate, measured, observing; sociable, demonstrative, taking charge; p > .05). These results do not support the claim that introverts were more affected by burnout than extraverts.

Second, we tested how extraversion and introversion relate to the balance an individual strikes between individual and group motivation factors, operationalised via our own job satisfaction and organisational satisfaction metrics. MindAlpha’s model of motivation suggests that an imbalance between these can lead to burnout. People who feel highly individually motivated, but not collectively motivated can prosper in the short-term, but without the support a team provides this is generally not sustainable and our research shows fatigue and burn-out are often the result.

In the same sample, we found that neither introversion nor extraversion was related to individual motivation. Additionally, introversion was not related to collective motivation, however, extraversion was positively correlated with it. This may be due to extraverts, who are more demonstrative, finding it easier to make connections in a group and being more likely to express their positive emotions regarding the organisation.

“Burn-out should be tackled holistically, at the organisational level; treating the root causes rather than symptomatically treating individuals or smaller groups of people.”

Tackling burn-out sits at the heart of sustainable performance for both individuals and organisations. It is estimated that absenteeism costs the UK economy around £19 billion every year.

The fact that the study found burnout not to be contingent upon personality is encouraging because it means it is a challenge which can be tackled at an organisational level. Initiatives to prevent burn-out are not going to favour particular personalities. Indeed, attempting to align initiatives to certain personality traits could be counter-productive if their design excludes people because of an assumption about their behavioural preferences.

This is why, at MindAlpha, we use the Lumina Spark psychometric profiling tool. Lumina overcomes the problem of many psychometric tests; which is forcing people into specific personality traits or types. Lumina measures behavioural preferences at both ends of the spectrum of each personality trait and across multiple different contexts. This means that when we help organisations design solutions to improve motivation, communication and teamwork, we can be sure these interventions are precisely targeted to meet the needs of the users.

 

References

Desson, S., & Benton, S. (2014). Measuring both ends of the big 5 personality scales independently. International Conference on Psychotechnology.

Rutherford, B. N., Hamwi, A., Friend, S. B., & Hartmann, N. N. (2011). Measuring salesperson burnout: A reduced Maslach Burnout Inventory for sales researchers. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 31(4), 429-440.