A new study has found a link between the fear of terrorism and an increased incidence of job burnout over time.
The study, led by Dr. Sharon Toker of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Management, examines how the fear of terrorism can lead to insomnia, a major player in job burnout — a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.
“Terror brings the saliency of death into our awareness,” said Toker. “One tends not to be reminded of death on a daily basis, but terrorism every day drives home the idea that one can die at any moment. With terror attacks, there is nothing to be done, and that is really frightening.”
The study was conducted in Israel. The first measurements took place between 2003-2004, the peak of the Second Intifada, during which 550 attempted terrorist acts led to the deaths of 880 civilians.
The researchers defined terrorism as a “sudden, rare, violent, and destructive event capable of targeting anyone at any time,” and characterized job burnout according to physical exhaustion, cognitive weariness, and emotional lethargy.
A random sample of 670 Israeli employees underwent routine checkups at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center as part of the Tel Aviv Medical Center Inflammation Survey led by Drs. Itzhak Shapira and Shlomo Berliner.
The employees also completed questionnaires to assess the incidence of insomnia, fear of terror, fear for personal safety, tension experienced in public places, level of workplace support and signs of job burnout.
Employees were followed from 2003 to 2009, completing two additional questionnaires through the duration of the study.
“We found that the higher your levels of fear of terror at baseline, the higher your risk of developing insomnia — and those who were more likely to develop insomnia were also most likely to experience job burnout several years later,” Toker said.
“Burnout is a direct outcome of depleted resources, so those who consistently don’t get enough sleep report job burnout. Interestingly, we found that those who reported support from colleagues, but not managers, developed significantly less insomnia and little incidence of job burnout after several years.”
But the research still bears a take-home message for managers, according to Toker.
“A workplace environment that is conducive to a strong social support network has the power to substantially alleviate the effects of fear of terror,” she said.
“Managers can promote interventions for healthy sleep habits, initiate retreats, and launch employee assistance programs, particularly in peak periods of terrorism. We believe these measures are very productive in alleviating symptoms of worker burnout.”
Toker reports she is working on developing interventions aimed at reducing burnout and enhancing well-being, as well as identifying barriers to participating in such interventions.
The study was published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.