Study finds mentoring can reduce stress and burnout

A new study has found that mentoring helps reduce stress and minimise the risk of burnout.

The study by researchers at Northern Illinois University found that it is especially effective for individuals who are vulnerable to severe stress because they don’t feel capable of handling some job tasks or feel overwhelmed in the job environment.

According to a 2011 American Psychological Association survey, 36 per cent of workers experience work stress regularly. And a National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety study found that 40 per cent of workers described their jobs as “very or extremely stressful”.

“More and more employers are recognising that employees feel they are being pushed to their limits and that steps need to be taken to promote their physical and social wellbeing,” Lebena Varghese, a doctoral candidate and lead researcher in the Norther Illinois study said. 

“Stress and burnout can be manifested in several different ways and there is no single answer for preventing stress at work. Nevertheless it is possible to offer guidelines on the process of stress prevention in organisations.”

She added: “One way of helping individuals vulnerable to burnout is providing them mentors.”

In the study, Varghese and her colleagues looked at how mentoring can have an impact on employees who are likely to experience symptoms of severe stress as a result of work overload.

“We wanted to examine the relationship between mentoring and burnout among employees who may experience negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, and sadness within the workplace,” she said. “These individuals tend to construe their environment as threatening and demanding, and feel powerless to handle these challenges. Psychologists refer to these personality dimensions as trait neuroticism.”

Through their research, they found that those who were exhibiting traits neuroticism who received formal mentoring from someone higher up within the organisation experienced lower levels of burnout. Also, when this mentoring was part of a formal programme, these employees were likely to experience lower levels of emotional and cognitive fatigue, gain a greater sense of confidence and self-efficacy, and lessen their intentions to leave the organisation.

“Mentors can be a buffer for those individuals who may be experience levels of stress and burnout,” Varghese said. “We think mentoring, either formal or informal, can be particularly effective in offsetting vulnerability to stress and burnout for individuals who score higher on this trait.”

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