Conservation of Resources Theory

Conservation of Resources Theory (CRT) provides yet another comprehensive lens used to explain burnout (Hobfoll & Shirom, 1993).

In the CRT model, burnout Opens in new window is viewed as the psychosocial strain that results from depletion of personal coping resources in the workplace.

This psychosocial strain is most likely to occur in situations where there is either an actual or perceived loss of resources.

Ultimately, individuals are motivated to acquire and protect resources, which can include anything individuals’ find personally valuable in their work environment.

These resources typically fall into four different categories:

  • object,
  • conditions,
  • personal, or
  • energy (Wright & Hobfoll, 2004).
  1. Object resources are usually tangible items, such as a home or automobile that a worker uses to facilitate work activity.
  2. Condition resources are less tangible, often described as status in the community or organization.
  3. Personal resources describe subjective work-related experiences, such as feelings of achievement and self-efficacy, that help motivate an individual to work.
  4. And finally, energy resources can include various resources that may be expended in service to work completion, like time or money.

Resources are believed to function in a personal economy whereby, once resources are acquired, an individual invests them to obtain additional resources (Hobfoll, 2001).

For example, an individual may develop skills at work, which are then transferred into improved work performance in the hopes of acquiring more resources (such as increased pay or promotion).

If resources are threatened, lost, or if demands exceed resources, individuals are likely to experience negative consequences and distress leading to emotional exhaustion, the key component of burnout  Opens in new window(Harris, Harvey, & Kacmar, 2009).

Once employees become emotionally exhausted, they are less likely to reinvest their limited resources and instead become defensive to protect remaining resources (Hobfoll, 2001).

It is likely that, once an employee experiences a loss in resources, the quality of their work declines because they become focused on only engaging in the most necessary of tasks or parts of their jobs that have typically provided the best return in the past (Baltes, 1997).

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    Research data for this work have been adapted from the manual:
  1. Handbook of Occupational Health and Wellness By Robert J. Gatchel, Izabela Z. Schultz.