Work wellness in a university of technology in South Africa
Viljoen, Jozua Petrus
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Change and transformation in higher education institutions worldwide are advancing at a rate that institutions and individual employees find hard to comprehend. During the past two decades, complex changes challenging institutions' mandates, traditional practices, authority and organisational structures have surfaced. It is widely acknowledged that stable and productive higher education institutions are vitally important to any country in order to ensure sustainable economic, social and political reconstruction and development. In the South African context, higher education institutions have an additional duty to contribute to the consolidation of democracy and social justice as well as the growth and development of the economy and redress the imbalances institutionalised by apartheid. The responsibility to execute the institutional strategies and plans to adapt to changes and to transform rests primarily with the staff of these institutions. However, the above-mentioned changes present major challenges for staff as it results in a multiplicity of roles, expectations to make paradigm shifts, implementation of new policies and practices as well as constant innovation. These challenges may be considered a healthy diversification leading to eustress and engagement, or a toll which may well be an important cause of distress and burnout. Consequently. staffs' experience of distress/burnout and eustress/engagement, i.e. their work-related well-being, is crucially important to the success of the institution. The general objective of this research was to assess the work wellness of staff at a university of technology, and to understand the relationships between factors contributing to the experience of distress/burnout and eustress / engagement and how these relate to employees' levels of commitment and ill health. Furthermore, the study aimed to develop and test a comprehensive structural model of work related well-being to determine the effect of job demands and (lack of) job resources on distress. eustress. ill health and commitment of employees at a university of technology in South Africa. The findings are presented in three research articles, each consisting of a brief literature review and an empirical study. A cross-sectional survey design was used. The study included 353 participants (132 academic staff members and 221 support staff members). The questionnaire used in the empirical study comprised the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey (MBI-GS), the Cognitive Weariness Scale (CWS). the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES). An Organizational Stress Screening Tool (ASSET), the Life Orientation Test-Revised (LOT-R), the Job Demands-Resources Scale (JDRS) and a biographical questionnaire. Structural equation modelling confirmed a four-factor structure of burnout, and a two-factor structure of work engagement. Principal component analysis indicated that work-related wellbeing consists of a dual bipolar structure namely Eustress / Engagement (vigour, dedication, professional efficacy) and Distress / Burnout (exhaustion. cynicism, cognitive weariness). It was found that language \vas the only reliable background variable to predict differences in levels of distress / burnout and eustress / engagement between subgroups. Different organisational stressors were found to contribute significantly to psychological and physical ill health and low organisational commitment. The comprehensive structural model that was tested showed that job demands lead to distress, which in turn leads to ill health. Furthermore. job resources contributed to work wellness and organisational commitment whilst dispositional optimism has a limited effect on staffs distress. Recommendations for the institution and future research are made.