Embitterment in the Workplace: How Does It Associate with Burnout and What Triggers It?

Evie Michailidis
Informing Science: The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline  •  Volume 26  •  2023  •  pp. 135-147

Embitterment comprises a stress-related response to unjust life experiences. Studies have found that it can have a toll on employees’ well-being. However, research on this matter is still in its infancy.

Within the scope of the present study, Ι sought to investigate how embitterment relates to burnout – the prolonged consequence of stress. This study further explored whether breaches of psychological contracts can trigger embitterment.

The study employed a cross-sectional design where two hundred and eight (N = 208) participants from the general population completed an online survey.

Findings suggest that the toll of embitterment might be much more than what research has suggested so far. Those who experience embitterment can become emotionally exhausted and cynical and these findings can be especially useful when identifying embitterment.

It was found that embitterment related to higher burnout levels and more specifically emotional exhaustion and cynicism. No significant findings were revealed for the relationship between professional inefficacy and embitterment. Also, psychological contract breach was found to be a significant predictor of embitterment, supporting further the notion that perceptions of injustice can trigger feelings of embitterment. Results also showed that embitterment mediated the relationship between psychological contract breach and burnout.

The study highlights the notion that fairness is a key precursor of embitterment, and this finding is essential when developing interventions to prevent embitterment from arising.

Future research could use a longitudinal study design to unravel whether burnout represents a precondition or the consequence of embitterment. Future research should also include more objective measures. For example, it would be useful to pair self-report data with more objective measures on embitterment (e.g. clinical interviews).

posttraumatic embitterment disorder, embitterment, burnout, psychological contract
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