Sense of coherence, coping and burnout in an electricity supply organisation
The relationships that people have with their work, and the difficulties that can arise when those relationships turn sour, have been long recognised as a significant phenomenon of the modem age. The use of the term burnout for this phenomenon began to appear with some regularity in the 1970s in the United States, especially among people working in the human services. Burnout can be expected amongst engineers, technicians and electricians, due to the integration of their work activities and the quality of support received from their supervisors or managers as well as from other departments. Front line staff can be expected to experience higher levels of burnout, because of their direct contact with difficult customers (cut-offs due to non-payments, for instance), certain job demands (restoration of power interruptions), staff shortages, training of new staff, and so on. The objective of this study was to determine the relationship between burnout, job stress, sense of coherence and coping of engineers, technicians and electricians in a South African electricity distribution organisation. A cross-sectional survey design was used. The study population consisted of 38 engineers, 86 technicians and 91 electricians. Four questionnaires were used, namely the Maslach Burnout Inventory - General Survey, a Job Stress Questionnaire, the Orientation to Life Questionnaire and COPE. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyse the results. The results showed that stress because of job demands, lack of support, supervision and transformation, as well as a weak sense of coherence predicted exhaustion. Exhaustion and avoidance predicted cynicism. A causal sequence was found between sense of coherence, job stress and exhaustion. Active coping moderated the effect of sense of coherence on professional efficacy. Employees with a lower job grade show higher levels of cynicism and lower levels of professional efficacy compared with those with a higher job grade. An explanation might be that the lower job grades lack the necessary coping skills. Therefore, it seems that employees who have a weak sense of coherence are inclined to suffer from job stress, which will lead to exhaustion. Sense of coherence and the use of active coping strategies seem to contribute to the professional efficacy of employees, which may lead to health-enhancing behaviours and better social adjustments. Job stress impacts on exhaustion and sense of coherence, and a strong sense of coherence moderates the effects of job stress on exhaustion. Sense of coherence also protects employees from developing low professional efficacy. Active coping strategies moderate the effects of sense of coherence on professional efficacy. Avoidance as a coping strategy mediated the relationship between sense of coherence and cynicism. Recommendations for future research were made.