Poor work ethic at uni predicts burnout 17 years later

If you're a university student, you'll be all too familiar with the looming coursework deadline. You'll know how tempting it is to keep putting the essay off until tomorrow, but then tomorrow comes and Jeremy Kyle has a guest on who's in love with her neighbour's dog, so you put it off again. Perhaps you fear receiving a bad mark, but you also reason to yourself that it doesn't matter. Your plan, once you graduate and get a job, is to change gears, really show what you can do.

If this sounds like you, it could be time to take note. A new study, rare for its longitudinal design, has shown that students who found reason to avoid work-related tasks at university, and who were pessimistic about their chances of success, were more likely, 10, 14 and 17 years later, to report feeling disengaged from their job, and were more likely to report experiencing work-related burnout.

Katariina Salmela-Aro and colleagues recruited 292 students and had them complete the "success expectation scale" and the "task-avoidance scale" and then followed them many years later and asked them to fill in measures of work burnout and work engagement.

Turning the results the other way around, students who were optimistic and focused at university tended to be more engaged in their working lives and to avoid burnout. The researchers said that so-called "achievement strategies" are more modifiable than personality traits and that there could therefore be value in university interventions that promote optimistic strategies and reduction in task avoidance.

"No previous study has examined how achievement strategies contribute over longer time periods or examined the consequences they have for people's working life and career adaptation," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgSalmela-Aro, K., Tolvanen, A., & Nurmi, J. (2009). Achievement strategies during university studies predict early career burnout and engagement Journal of Vocational Behavior, 75 (2), 162-172 DOI: 10.1016/j.jvb.2009.03.009

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