Extending the empathic communication model of burnout: A search for alternative ways to reduce caregiver burnout

Date of Completion

January 2007


Speech Communication




Caregiver-client interactions in the human services context are high stakes exchanges in which the caregiver must use highly specialized communication skills to try to improve the client either physically or psychologically. Often caregivers have one opportunity to provide adequate care because when inappropriate or inadequate care is provided, there may be no action that can fully correct for the failure (Dollard, et al., 2003). The demands placed on caregivers can result in a high degree of emotional labor (Hochschild, 1983), which can lead to caregiver burnout (Maslach, 1982). The goal of this project was to extend Katherine Miller's empathic communication model of burnout in an effort to increase caregiver communicative responsiveness, reduce the negative consequences of contagion of negative affect, and help prevent caregiver burnout. To this end, two studies in two different human service organizations were conducted. Study one (N = 112) was conducted with the goal of offering alternate routes to reduced burnout by examining workplace social support. Study two (N = 159) was conducted in order to further explore alternate routes to better care and reduced burnout by examining self-monitoring and emotional intelligence. The results indicate: that human services organizations can focus employee selection on natural predispositions; that caregivers and clients can both benefit from spending more time together; that a supportive atmosphere can enhance client care and ward off employee burnout; and, that training and organizational structures designed to help caregivers maintain high levels of optimism may increase caregiver performance and feelings of self-worth on the job.^