Personal demands; on the role of dysfunctional cognitions

Personal Demands: On the Role of Dysfunctional Cognitions in Well-Being and Performance of Young Professionals
dr. Nicole Mastenbroek, i.c.m. dr. Veerle Brenninkmeijer, dr. Maria Peeters, prof. dr. Wim Kremer, prof. dr. Toon Taris

Burnout levels of 10-20 percent among young veterinary and health care professionals indicate that the first years in practice are challenging (e.g., Mastenbroek et al., 2013). New settings, new colleagues, changed work-roles, a private life that is completely turned upside down are challenges that must be faced and handled. How can these young professionals deal with these challenges and how can we promote a smooth and healthy transfer from education to practice?

The Job Demands–Resources Model (JD-R Model; Bakker & Demerouti, 2007) is an occupational stress and motivation model that is relevant for examining the well-being and performance of veterinary professionals (Mastenbroek et al., 2014). The model posits that, although specific work characteristics of various occupations may differ, they can be modelled in two broad categories: job demands and job resources. These job demands and job resources determine well-being by two processes: an energy depletion process, potentially leading to a breakdown (or burnout) and health impairment, and a motivational process, which can promote work engagement and performance. The JD-R model can be tailored to specific occupational settings.

Personal characteristics may influence how job demands and job resources affect individuals’ well-being. A category of personal characteristics that has received quite some interest pertains to personal resources (Mastenbroek et al., 2014). Personal resources are referred to as systems of positive beliefs about one’s self and the world, i.e. people’s sense of being in control and able to influence their environment successfully. These personal resources can to some extent be developed and trained. Personal resources are negatively related to burnout and positively and reciprocally to work engagement and performance. They have been integrated into the JD-R model in various ways, mostly in in relation to the motivational process of the model.

Until now, less attention has been paid to the question whether we could also define personal demands that hinder individuals in dealing with the challenges in their work. Personal demands would refer to dysfunctional cognitions about one’s self or the (work) environment. Examples of these dysfunctional cognitions encompass feelings of victimization, helplessness, (negative) perfectionism, and (excessive) need of approval of others. We expect that personal demands can affect how the work environment is perceived, and therefore can contribute to the explanation and prediction of work outcomes like burnout, workaholism, work disability, malfunctioning, malpractice or unprofessional behaviour, and career shifts.

The proposed study will (1) identify relevant personal demands (literature review, interview study, survey), (2) examine whether these personal demands are related to perceived job/study demands and job/study resources, mental well-being, performance of students and professionals in their first years after graduation, (3) examine whether these personal demands are related to early career shifts of professionals, (4) examine the incremental value of personal demands in comparison with the concept of personal resources and (5) conduct a pilot intervention study to challenge and change personal demands.

Results of this study might have implications for educational practice in the sense that empowering students could also include interventions aimed at challenging or replacing dysfunctional cognitions. For example, dysfunctional cognitions could be addressed during intervision / peer group sessions in the bachelor or master education, or in post-graduate education. In this way, we may deliver professionals who not only are competent but also feel competent and efficacious.