Burnout and engagement of non-professional counsellors in South Africa
Fourie, Lukas Albertus
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Counselling services as provided by non-professional counsellors have been in place for a number of decades. Counselling traumatised people demands a significant amount of emotional investment from the counsellor. A neglected area as far as non-professional counsellors in South Africa is concerned, is the well-being of the counsellors. Burnout as well as its antithesis, work engagement, are two possible transactional outcomes impacting on the well-being of these counsellors. The measurement of burnout and work engagement requires valid and reliable measuring instruments. The dearth of research studies in the area of burnout and work engagement, together with the unique contribution of non-professional counsellors in organisational settings, has led to the primary focus of this study being the exploration of the experience of this group of counsellors doing trauma counselling in financial institutions in South Africa. A lack of norms for the Maslach Burnout Inventory - Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS), and the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES) for non-professional counsellors doing trauma counselling makes the identification of burnout and work engagement within this specialist environment difficult. Consequently, investigating the reliability and validity of the MBI-HSS and the UWES would result in the standardisation of these specific measuring instruments, therefore contributing to the identification of burnout and work engagement with non-professional trauma counsellors. Some of the factors that could play a role in the prevalence of burnout and work engagement are secondary traumatic stress, the demands of counselling, lack of resources, personal consequences, social support and sense of coherence. The objectives of this research were to standardise the MBI-HSS and UWES for non-professional counsellors as well as to develop and test a causal model of burnout and work engagement for this specialist group. The research method involved four separate articles, each consisting of a brief literature overview and an empirical study. A cross-sectional design, whereby a sample is drawn from a population at a particular point in time, was used. The data for this study was collected from 168 non-professional counsellors, employed by three of the major banks in South Africa. The MBI-HSS, UWES, Orientation to Life Questionnaire (OLQ) as well as a Self-Report Questionnaire (SRQ) and a biographical questionnaire were administered. Descriptive statistics, analysis of variance, correlations, canonical analysis, and structural equation modelling were used. Structural equation modelling confirmed a three-factor model of burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and personal accomplishment). In contrast with research findings confirming the three-factor model of the UWES (vigour, dedication and absorption), a one-factor model for the UWES was confirmed for non-professional counsellors. The internal consistency of the scales for the MBI-HSS and UWES was found to be satisfactory and in line with reported findings in the literature. Structural equation analysis showed that the lack of resources and job demands predicted the core of burnout, namely emotional exhaustion and depersonalisation. The conflicts and pressures that are already associated with the everyday work of non-professional counsellors are likely to be magnified by the counselling role. Non-professional counsellors continually face conflicts created by the fact that they are accountable to large organisations, but professionally, ethically and morally devoted to their clients (the victims of trauma who are being counselled by them). They must balance the competing, and sometimes opposing demands of several parties such as trauma victims, employees, families and communities. To add to these circumstances it is important to remember that counselling is not the main job objective of the non-professional counsellors. Counselling is seen as an "add-on" to their job description and is in most instances not part of their performance measurement/assessment. Work engagement was related to low burnout scores, while personal accomplishment was associated with work engagement. High sense of coherence had a mediating effect on burnout and a positive effect on work engagement. This study seems to emphasise that job demands have a more negative effect on engagement when sense of coherence is low than when sense of coherence is high. Conversely, it is assumed that sense of coherence provides functions such as increased perception of coping capacity or minimised stress appraised, which decreases the effects of stress on an individual. Recommendations for the organisations and future research were made.