Boosting workforce resilience: How organisation-wide training in psychological flexibility can tackle job burnout

Executive summary

This field study investigated the impact of delivering brief Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)-informed training to an entire regional workforce of an innovation and manufacturing organisation. The training aimed to increase employees’ psychological flexibility, which the researchers hypothesised could serve as a resilience factor against job burnout. The study found that the training resulted in a small but statistically significant increase in work-related psychological flexibility over a 3-month period. Increased psychological flexibility was associated with improved stress resilience, reduced exhaustion, and increased personal accomplishment. The findings suggest that cultivating psychological flexibility through organisation-wide training initiatives could be a promising approach to addressing the growing concern around burnout in the workplace.

Research summary

Burnout has become a major global concern, with severe consequences for both employees and employers. From increased risk of depression and cardiovascular problems to absenteeism and reduced productivity, burnout takes a heavy toll. Addressing this challenge requires innovative solutions that can be scaled across entire organisations.

A recent study published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science by Archer et al. (2024) offers an intriguing approach: harnessing the power of psychological flexibility to build workforce resilience against burnout.

The researchers, conducted a field study with a regional workforce of an innovation and manufacturing organisation. They delivered brief Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)-informed training to all 504 employees, with 281 of them completing pre- and post-training assessments.

The key finding? Over the 3-month study period, participants reported a small but statistically significant increase in their work-related psychological flexibility. And this boost in psychological flexibility was associated with tangible benefits:

  • Improved stress resilience
  • Reduced exhaustion
  • Increased sense of personal accomplishment

Importantly, the researchers found that the positive impact of psychological flexibility was most pronounced among those with higher baseline levels of exhaustion. This suggests that cultivating psychological flexibility may be particularly beneficial for employees at higher risk of burnout.

Recommendations for practice

These results have important implications for organisations looking to proactively address burnout:

  1. Adopt organisation-wide training in psychological flexibility. Rather than targeting only high-risk individuals, the study demonstrates the potential for scalable, workforce-wide initiatives to build resilience.
    2. Pair psychological flexibility training with other burnout interventions. While the training showed promise in reducing exhaustion and boosting personal accomplishment, it did not impact the depersonalisation aspect of burnout. A multifaceted approach combining various evidence-based strategies may be most effective.
    3. Tailor support based on employee needs. The findings indicate that those with higher baseline exhaustion may benefit the most from psychological flexibility training. Organisations should consider conducting needs assessments to identify and prioritise support for at-risk groups.

As the workplace continues to evolve, fostering psychological flexibility could be a vital tool in the fight against burnout. By empowering employees to navigate stressors with openness and purpose, organisations can unlock the potential for a more resilient, engaged, and high-performing workforce.

Further training

If you’re interested in learning more about using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) within work contexts, consider reviewing our on-demand workshop: ACT in the workplace: Enhancing workplace well-being with the Train-the-Trainer program with Ross McIntosh

This program is designed for people working in organisations, with a focus on improving well-being, resilience, job satisfaction, and performance. The train-the-trainer format equips participants to bring these evidence-based ACT principles and practices back to their own workplaces.

Whether you’re in a HR, L&D, or organisational psychology role, or simply looking to enhance workplace well-being, this workshop could be a valuable resource.

Reference

Archer, R., Lewis, R., Yarker, J., Zernerova, L., & Flaxman, P. E. (2024). Increasing workforce psychological flexibility through organization-wide training: Influence on stress resilience, job burnout, and performance. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 33, 100799.

 

Download paper here

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