Work wellness of academic staff in South African higher education institutions
Barkhuizen, Emmerentia Nicolene
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Academia is a demanding profession, as evidenced by a body of research that documents the debilitating impact of occupational stress and burnout on the personal and professional welfare of academics. In particular, high levels of these pathological phenomena, left unchecked, undermine the quality, productivity and creativity of the academics' work in addition to their health, well-being and morale. Despite these indicators of "weaknesses" and "malfunctioning", academics know that there is times that they operate in a "milieu" of work - there is an intense focus and pleasurable emotions, accompanied by high levels of enthusiasm. Especially, with the upcoming positive paradigm in Occupational Health Psychology, "positive" trends such as work engagement, optimism, organisational commitment and life satisfaction are also commonplace among academics. The first step in the enhancement of work wellness is the successful diagnosis of stress, burnout and work engagement. However, to measure these constructs, it is important to use reliable and valid instruments, and at the same time, take into account the cultural diversity in a multicultural setting such as South Africa. Clearly then, an assessment of this type should be concerned with the issue of construct equivalency. Furthermore, little information exists regarding the causes and effects of occupational stress, burnout and work engagement of academics in South Africa. The general aim of this study was to standardise an adapted version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey (MBI-GS) and the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) for academics in South African higher education institutions, to determine their levels of occupational stress, organisational commitment and ill-health, and to test a structural model of work wellness for South African academics. A cross-sectional survey design was used, with stratified random samples (N = 595) taken of academics in six South African universities. The Maslach Burnout Inventory - General Survey, Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, Job Characteristics Inventory, the Health and Organisational Commitment subscales of the ASSET, The Life Orientation Test and Satisfaction with Life Scale were administered. Cronbach alpha coefficients, exploratory factor analysis, Pearson correlations, multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA), one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA), t-tests and multiple regression analysis were used to analyse the data. Structural equation modelling was used to test a structural model of work wellness. Exploratory factor analysis with target rotations resulted in a three-factor model of burnout, consisting of Exhaustion, Mental Distance and Professional Efficacy. The scales showed acceptable internal consistencies and construct equivalence for two language groups. Practically significant differences were found in the burnout levels of academics with regard to their age, marital status and working hours. Exploratory factor analysis with target rotations resulted in a two-factor model of work engagement, consisting of Vigour/Dedication and Absorption. The scales showed acceptable construct equivalence for two language groups (Afrikaans and English). One scale, namely Vigour/Dedication showed acceptable internal consistency. Practically significant differences were found between the work engagement of academics with different job levels and qualifications. Compared to the normative data, academics reported significantly high levels of stress relating to pay and benefits, overload and work-life balance. Academics also reported high levels of psychological ill-health, but experienced high levels of commitment both from and towards their organisation. Organisational commitment did not moderate the effects of occupational stress on ill-health. Analysis of variance revealed differences between the levels of occupational stress and ill-health of demographic groups. Regarding a model of work wellness, the results showed that job demands contributed to burnout, while job resources contributed to work wellness (low burnout and high work engagement). Burnout mediated the relationship between job demands and ill-health; work wellness mediated the relationship between job resources and organisational commitment. Dispositional optimism moderated the effects of a lack of job resources on work engagement. Work wellness and health contributed to life satisfaction. Recommendations for future research were made.
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