Detached Concern in Client Interaction and Burnout

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Abstract

Emotion regulation in client interactions is a crucial predictor of employee well-being in human service work. This article provides a dual concept of detached concern (DC) drawing on Lief and Fox’s (1963) description, newly embedded in approaches of emotion regulation, comprising elements of emotion regulation in the self (detachment) and others (concern). The research focuses on the costs and benefits arising from the interactive effects of detachment and concern on burnout for those in human service professions with intensive client interaction. Based on cross-sectional, self-reported survey data, we studied the impact of DC on employees’ well-being in a 2-stage procedure. In Study 1 (N = 262 kindergarten workers), we investigated the factor structure of the DC measure. In Study 2 (N = 1,011 employees from different human service professions), we confirmed the factor structure and examined the directions and degrees of congruence or incongruence of detachment and concern on burnout using polynomial regression. Slope analysis confirmed that for professionals a congruence at higher values of detachment and concern (balanced DC) resulted in the lowest levels of burnout. Low concern combined with low detachment produced the highest burnout levels. Significantly higher exhaustion was observed when concern surpassed detachment, particularly when high concern was associated with low detachment. Professionals’ depersonalization increased when detachment surpassed concern. Findings highlight the beneficial effects in terms of burnout when human service professionals have a balance of high concern and high detachment. The study provides a new perspective on how client–helper interactions can be regulated in a more functional, health-promoting way at work.

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