Corporate Wellbeing Asia 2023
Employees who act as a bridge between colleagues could be at higher risk of burnout

Employees who act as a bridge between colleagues could be at higher risk of burnout


This is because being a bridge, or an intermediary, is considered a "high-risk, high-reward activity".

According to recent research from ESMT Berlin, employees who act as brokers - i.e. they play an important role in sustaining communication between coworkers who do not communicate directly - are more likely to experience burnout and even possibly exhibit abusive behaviour towards their colleagues.

This is because being a broker, also called a bridge, or an intermediary, is considered a "a high-risk, high-reward activity".

The research project, which spans three studies, examines the psychological costs of having to sustain communications with colleagues who do not communicate directly with each other. This could include colleagues who are in different units, regions, or time zones, which would make it hard for them to communicate. These employees could also have different expertise, or be in conflict with each other, and thus, require an intermediary to coordinate their activities.

The first study of the project examined employees’ email exchange records, as well as burnout and abusive behaviour data for over 1,500 employees at a large South American university over a five-month period. The second study utilised an online longitudinal survey with employees based in the US, while the third study used an experimental design that assigned employees randomly to sustain communications with disconnected coworkers.

In the end, all three studies noted similar findings: When employees communicate with coworkers who cannot, or do not, want to communicate with each other directly, they (the intermediaries) experience increased burnout, which then leads to a higher chance of engaging in abusive behaviour.

Evidently, while there are significant benefits to being a broker (i.e. increased performance, creativity, or faster promotions), intermediating third parties ultimately increases the risks mentioned above. As such, the research acknowledges the benefits of brokering relationships can be consequential, deeming it "a high-risk, high-reward activity".

The increased chances of burnout are naturally detrimental for the broker, with the likelihood of that employee needing to take time off after a period of high-stress levels. To conclude, the study suggests providing brokers with opportunities to periodically disengage from their role so that they can replenish their psychological resources, as a way to buffer them from burnout.

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Lead image / Shutterstock 

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