Proposed Research Topic
The proposed topic for this study is: ‘Evaluating the impact of job demands and job resources on work-related stress and burnout in ethnic minority employees’.
Rationale and Problem Statement
Human resources are widely considered one of the main business assets that help in gaining and sustaining a competitive advantage (Nahrgang et al., 2011). Recent studies in the field of human resource management (HRM) have indicated that within a single company, employees’ knowledge, experience, skills, and competencies create a unique asset that is virtually impossible for competitors to recreate or imitate (Salmela-Aro & Upadyaya, 2018). That is why business entities should give close consideration to the issue of employee well-being and satisfaction. Otherwise, employees are likely to suffer from work-related stress and burnout, which could have devastating effects on individual and organisational performance (Rossi et al., 2017). The need to cope with stress in the workplace not only diminishes employees’ motivation and engagement, resulting in suboptimal productivity, but also poses a threat to the firm’s ability to attain its strategic goals, putting its financial sustainability and competitiveness at stake (Bao et al., 2022). Another reason why this topic has been selected is that work-related stress and employee burnout negatively affect retention levels, causing additional costs and expenditures on recruiting and training (Lizano & Barak, 2012).
Even though the concepts of work-related stress and burnout, as well as their role in individual and organisational performance, have been well researched, there are still certain gaps in the body of knowledge this study attempts to bridge. Specifically, to the researcher’s knowledge, too little academic attention has been directed towards the aforementioned well-being variables in the context of a culturally diverse workplace (Gleason et al., 2020). The existing literature indicates that ethnic minority employees are more exposed to so-called minority stress, which could be defined as a type of stress that people experience when they feel they have to hide some part of who they are due to their socio-cultural differences from the majority group of employees (Affrunti et al., 2018). In turn, the impact of both physical and emotional stressors on ethnic minority employees is likely to be more prominent as compared to other workers (Saijo et al., 2014). Still, the extent to which this assumption has been empirically validated is limited. This study will attempt to narrow down the identified research gaps by examining how these stressors, as well as organisation-related factors, affect ethnic minority employees’ work-related stress and burnout levels. By focusing on this issue, this academic project is expected to contribute to our understanding of the well-being factors of those employees who have minority status in the workplace.
Research Aim, Objectives, and Questions
In this study, the author attempts to examine the effect that job demands and resources produce on work-related stress and burnout in ethnic minority employees. To achieve this purpose, the following research objectives must be attained.
- To identify the main triggers and effects of work-related stress and burnout on employees, relying on the existing body of literature.
- To assess the relationship between job resources and job demands and their impact on employee experiences in the workplace.
- To examine the extent to which job resources and job demands contribute to ethnic minority employees’ burnout levels.
- To provide practical recommendations on how to reduce the level of work-related stress and burnout in those employees who have minority status.
The following research questions have been designed based on the aforementioned aim and objectives:
- Why are work-related stress and burnout dangerous to both employees and employers?
- How do job resources and job demands affect ethnic minority employees’ well-being?
- How could companies reduce the level of job-related stress and burnout in their employees who belong to ethnic minority groups?
Preliminary Literature Review
Main Triggers and Effects of Work-Related Stress and Burnout
Traditionally, stress and burnout have been viewed as integral aspects of the work process which cannot be avoided either by an employee or an employer (Hu et al., 2011). At the same time, it is the employer’s responsibility to alleviate the effects of these characteristics on individual and organisational performance. This is often done by providing employees with a wide range of both financial and non-financial incentives (Gleason et al., 2020). Based on this relationship, one could assume that the concept of employee well-being implies the establishment of the equilibrium between employees’ needs and expectations from their work and what is expected from them to do this work (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). Still, high levels of work-related stress and burnout in employees indicate that this balance is disturbed, and certain remedial actions are needed to restore the effectiveness of human resources in business contexts (Leiter et al., 2014).
Employees could feel stressed because of multiple factors, which include but are not limited to a lack of control, unclear job expectations, communication issues, a lack of social support, and a heavy workload (Radic et al., 2020). For example, when employees are unable to influence decisions which, in turn, affect their work, they may feel stressed and emotionally exhausted. A situation where employees are unclear about the extent of authority they have or what their superiors expect from them could also trigger work-related stress and burnout in these employees (Bao et al., 2022). In addition, the feeling of isolation is commonly reported to trigger work-related stress, which is especially relevant to ethnic minority employees, who may experience certain communication difficulties and challenges in the workplace (Yener & Coşkun, 2013). With that being stated, in workplaces that are characterised by a high level of cultural diversity, intra-group communication is often more effective as compared to those workplaces with an apparent ethnic majority group (Schaufeli, 2017).
Work-related stress and burnout can have adverse effects on employees, as well as their physical and mental well-being. For example, ignored stress and burnout make employees more prone to poor work performance and error (Bottiani et al., 2019). Moreover, if job stress and burnout go unaddressed, this could lead to conflict in the workplace, affecting other employees and adding to their stress levels as well. Job-related stress could also cause physical and mental conditions, including insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and substance misuse (Lee et al., 2020). When it comes to organisational performance, job burnout and stress could contribute to higher employee turnover rates, which would inevitably increase a company’s costs and expenditures on employee recruitment, onboarding, and training (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). Given that ethnic minority employees are more prone to feeling stressed as compared to their colleagues, the negative effects of work-related stress and burnout on their well-being and performance are likely to be even more profound.
The Job Demands-Resources Framework
The role of work-related stress and burnout in ethnic minority employees’ well-being could be examined using the job demands-resources (JD-R) model, according to which there are two major groups of factors that could trigger job strain, namely job demands and job resources (Alarcon, 2011). The former group incorporates both emotional and physical stressors in an employee’s role, such as a heavy workload, time pressures, role ambiguity, a stressful work environment, and poor relationships with colleagues and superiors (Leiter et al., 2014). In turn, the latter group of factors, which are also referred to as job positives, facilitate the achievement of an employee’s goals and alleviate stress. Job resources include strong work relationships, autonomy, flexibility, mentoring, learning, training, and opportunities for career development (Rossi et al., 2017).
Figure 1: The JD-R Model
Source: Bakker & Demerouti (2007, 313)
Within the scope of the JD-R model, two processes are responsible for the development of work-related stress and burnout. First, excessive job demands limit employees’ ability to adequately recover, which leads to overtaxing and sustained activation (Huang et al., 2022). As a result of this process, employees feel exhausted, which is commonly viewed as the energetic aspect of burnout (Bakker et al., 2004). Second, a lack of resources indicates that job demands are not met and work goals are not achieved, leading to withdrawal behaviour. Withdrawal could be viewed as the motivational component of burnout, which acts as a self-protective strategy focused on the prevention of further energy depletion (Choi et al., 2019). In line with this reasoning, recent empirical studies have discovered the main effects of job demands and resources on work-related stress and burnout (Lei et al., 2021). In turn, job demands are associated with exhaustion, whereas lacking job resources could be linked to disengagement. Moreover, it has been revealed that job resources could diminish the negative impact of job demands on exhaustion (Bakker et al., 2008). However, it is still unclear from the existing literature whether these effects are mediated by employees’ socio-cultural characteristics.
Unlike the effort-reward and demand-control frameworks, the JD-R model does not focus on a specific array of factors, which are believed to lead to a specific set of outcomes. Instead, the JD-R model could be applied to a wide set of personal and job characteristics, meaning it could easily be tailored to the needs of a specific company, given any specific situation (Radic et al., 2020). Moreover, the JD-R model considers both positive and negative processes and outcomes, which increases its recognition and acceptability. Finally, this framework appeals to different occupational groups and allows for bridging the gap between HRM and occupational health management, adding to the performance of both employees and companies (Rossi et al., 2017). At the same time, given that all sorts of resources, demands, and outcomes can be included in the JD-R model, the generalisability of this theoretical framework is limited. Some scholars also argue that the conceptual difference between job resources and job demands is not as fundamental as it might seem. This ambiguity could potentially lead to paradoxical conclusions when it comes to the interplay between resources and demands, as well as their effects on employee outcomes (Lee et al., 2020).
The Role of Job Demands and Resources in Ethnic Minority Employees’ Well-Being
According to the JD-R model, work-related stress and burnout result from high job demands and the lack of job resources (Leiter et al., 2014). It is assumed that burnout leads to health problems, including psychosomatic complaints, depression, and anxiety (Day et al., 2017). For example, in their empirical study, Hu et al. (2011) examined the joint effects of job resources and demands on both employee engagement and burnout. By analysing primary data obtained from more than 1,300 blue-collar workers and health professionals divided into two samples, the researchers concluded that job resources alleviated the negative impact of job demands on employee burnout in only one sample (Hu et al., 2011). These findings to a certain extent contradict those produced by Lei et al. (2021) who argued that excessive job demands made employees feel more depressed and burned out even if they had access to sufficient job resources in the form of recognition and taking part in the decision-making process.
Hu et al. (2011) also found that those employees in more favourable work conditions demonstrated lower risks of burnout and increased work engagement as compared to employees experiencing low job resources and high job demands. With that being said, after controlling for the cumulative effect of job resources and job demands, the researchers discovered a sharp decline in the predictive power of this synergetic effect. On the one hand, these outcomes may indicate that the joint impact of job resources and job demands on ethnic minority employees’ burnout, as well as engagement, adds little in addition to their additive effects. On the other hand, Hu et al. (2011) conducted their study in a culturally homogeneous work environment, which could be viewed as a potential limitation to the generalisability of their empirical findings.
A similar study was carried out by Saijo et al. (2014), who examined the impact of job strain and work burden on employees’ psychological well-being. Specifically, the researchers surveyed around 500 Japanese physicians to identify whether job strain and job factors produced any impact on the respondents’ mental health. As per the analysis, Saijo et al. (2014) concluded that high job strain, a heavy workload, and the lack of days off had significantly higher odds ratios for burnout, depression, and anxiety. At the same time, support from co-workers produced a buffering effect on these symptoms, suggesting that the role of strong work relationships and good communication should not be underestimated when balancing job resources and job demands in the workplace. Still, ethnic minority employees are often reported to experience certain issues when it comes to communicating with peers and superiors, due to socio-cultural differences and cultural barriers (e.g., language barriers) (Radic et al., 2020). Thus, the contribution of the aforementioned factors to ethnic minority employees’ ability to deal with work-related stress and burnout is questionable.
As previously noted, the role of job demands and resources in ethnic minority employees’ well-being has not been extensively researched, providing the author with ample opportunities to explore this issue in detail and contribute to the body of knowledge and understanding. Since this academic project is conceptually based on existing theories and frameworks, it is relevant to consider how the JD-R model applies to other employee groups, which has partly been done in the previous section. By building on and extrapolating from that knowledge, it is possible to examine whether the link between job resources, job demands, and employee well-being applies to ethnic minority employees. The theoretical model of this study, which is based on the JD-R model, is presented as follows.
Figure 2: Conceptual Framework
Source: Based on Bakker & Demerouti (2007, 313)
It should be noted that this project focuses on explaining the negative psychological state, which is burnout, whereas its positive counterpart, namely work engagement, has been purposively removed from the theoretical framework. By doing that, the author attempts to follow a more focused approach to examining and understanding the issue of employee well-being with respect to a particular group of employees who are widely seen to face a disadvantage in the workplace (Adil & Baig, 2018).
This study will be in keeping with objectivist philosophy, an epistemological stance according to which reality exists independently of consciousness, meaning it is external to social actors and researchers (Novikov & Novikov, 2013). Ontologically, this philosophy embraces realism, in which social entities are viewed as physical entities of the natural world. From the viewpoint of objectivist philosophy, physical and social phenomena exist independently, which justifies their examination in the same way as a natural scientist would examine nature (Easterby-Smith et al., 2012). From an epistemological viewpoint, objectivism enables researchers to discover the truth about the world around them by analysing observable and measurable facts rather than relying on interpretations and feelings (Saunders et al., 2015). Axiologically, objectivism implies conducting a study in a value-free manner, since the social actors and social entities exist independently, which is thought to allow for eliminating bias from the data collection process and research findings (Creswell & Creswell, 2017). That said, the social world is too complex to be solely understood through the prism of mathematical equations, which implies that the selected social phenomenon should also be examined, taking into consideration multiple meanings and interpretations made by ethnic minority employees (Chawla & Sodhi, 2011).
Based on the above, two theoretical perspectives, namely positivism and interpretivism, will be adopted to ensure that the research problem is examined as comprehensively as possible. On the one hand, positivism implies designing a rigorous research methodology, which facilitates generalisability and replication (Easterby-Smith et al., 2012). On the other hand, phenomenology, which can be viewed as a branch of the interpretivist perspective, implies that the ultimate source of all value and meaning comes from the lived experience of individuals (Saunders et al., 2015). Following both positivism and phenomenology implies that the proposed study will incorporate certain deductive and inductive elements. Based on the existing body of literature and knowledge, the researcher will test a set of hypotheses about the relationship between job resources and job demands and ethnic minority employees’ burnout. In turn, a new theory specific to this particular group of employees will be developed to get a better understanding of whether and how job resources and job demands affect ethnic minority employees.
To achieve the aforementioned goal, the author will adopt two data collection instruments, namely self-administered questionnaires and semi-structured, open-ended interviews. The data collection process will be cross-sectional and will involve ethnic minority employees from several midsize companies operating in the manufacturing industry in the UK. This choice is justified by the fact that large companies are more likely to have cultural diversity policies in place as compared to midsize organisations. Hence, the issue of employee burnout should be more prominent in this particular context. Questionnaires will be distributed among at least 200 ethnic minority employees, whereas at least 20 managers of the selected companies will participate in interviews. All survey participants and interviewees will be approached using purposive sampling. The collected data will be processed graphically, statistically, and thematically, using SPSS, Microsoft Excel, and NVivo.
The data collection process will be organised following all the necessary ethical guidelines and requirements. Specifically, each participant/interviewee will be provided with a consent form and information sheet beforehand to make sure they are aware of this project’s aim and objectives and that their decision to participate is voluntary (Creswell & Creswell, 2017). Additionally, the author will ensure respondent safety and security by fully anonymising the data collection process.
This project is expected to take around 36 months, which is depicted by means of the following Gantt chart.
Table 1: Timetable
Source: Constructed for this study
Similarly to any other piece of academic writing, the proposed thesis is not free from limitations. Specifically, the project focuses on the negative psychological state, while the positive state will be ignored. Hence, it will be impossible to establish an equilibrium suggested by the JD-R model, making its application to the selected context somewhat limited. Although the proposed project will use quantitative data to establish cause-and-effect relationships between variables, which is reminiscent of a scientific approach to data analysis, the generalisability of the produced empirical findings will still be limited. This is because of a relatively small sample size, which is not representative of the whole population of ethnic minority employees in the UK.
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