ORIENTATION : Whilst the limited investigations into the relationship between identity and
burnout have made an important contribution to our understanding of the development of
burnout, further research is required to gain a deeper understanding of how the processes
associated with the construction and enactment of a specific identity could contribute to
burnout amongst client service employees.
RESEARCH PURPOSE : The purpose of this research was to explore whether levels of burnout
amongst client service employees are associated with the manner in which they define and
enact the client service role identity.
MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY : The negative effects of burnout amongst client service employees
can be particularly devastating for client service organisations. A deeper understanding of the
causes of burnout amongst client service employees is therefore essential if we wish to reduce
the significant costs associated with burnout in this environment.
RESEARCH APPROACH, DESIGN AND METHOD : The research strategy comprised a qualitative design
consisting of semi-structured interviews.
MAIN FINDINGS : The results of the study indicate that the role identities of higher burnout client
service employees differ from the role identities of lower burnout client service employees.
Lower burnout employees view the client relationship as a partnership and experience a high level of self-verification when dealing with their clients. Higher burnout employees, on the
other hand, describe themselves as subordinate to the client and exhibit strong feelings of
defeat and failure when interacting with their clients.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS : The study shows that if client service
organisations wish to reduce the detrimental effects of burnout in the workplace, they
need to pay careful attention to the way in which their client service employees perceive
themselves in relation to the client. Since client service employees construct role identities in
response to the dominant discourse of the organisation, client service organisations should
exercise caution in how they define and refer to the client-employee interaction through this
CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD : The article makes a number of practical recommendations, which,
if implemented by client service organisations, should result in lower levels of burnout,
increased productivity and improved client relations. One such recommendation requires
client service organisations to reframe their client discourses in such a way that client service
employees are referred to as knowledge experts that are valued by their organisations.