Reducing Burnout and Resignations among Frontline Workers: A Field Experiment

Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, forthcoming

53 Pages Posted: 19 May 2021 Last revised: 20 Jul 2021

See all articles by Elizabeth Linos

Elizabeth Linos

University of California, Berkeley - The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy

Krista Ruffini

University of California, Berkeley - The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy; Georgetown University

Stephanie Wilcoxen

Cabinet Office (UK) - Behavioural Insights Team

Date Written: July 5, 2021

Abstract

Government agencies around the world struggle to retain frontline workers, as high job demands
and low job resources contribute to persistently high rates of employee burnout. Although four
decades of research have documented the predictors and potential costs of frontline worker
burnout, we have limited causal evidence on strategies that reduce it. In this article, we report on
a multi-city field experiment (n=536) aimed at increasing perceived social support and affirming
belonging among 911 dispatchers. We find that a six-week intervention that prompts dispatchers
to share advice anonymously and asynchronously with their peers in other cities reduces burnout
by 8 points (0.4 SD) and cuts resignations by more than half (3.6 percentage points) four months
after the intervention ended. We provide supporting evidence that the intervention operates by
increasing perceived social support and belonging in an online laboratory experiment (n=497).
These findings suggest that low-cost belonging affirmation techniques can reduce frontline
worker burnout and help agencies retain workers, saving a mid-sized city at least $400,000 in
personnel costs.

Keywords: belonging affirmation, field experiment, burnout, turnover

Suggested Citation

Linos, Elizabeth and Ruffini, Krista and Wilcoxen, Stephanie, Reducing Burnout and Resignations among Frontline Workers: A Field Experiment (July 5, 2021). Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3846860 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3846860

Elizabeth Linos (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy ( email )

2607 Hearst Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720-7320
United States

Krista Ruffini

University of California, Berkeley - The Richard & Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy ( email )

2607 Hearst Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720-7320
United States

Georgetown University ( email )

Washington, DC 20057
United States

Stephanie Wilcoxen

Cabinet Office (UK) - Behavioural Insights Team ( email )

London, SW1A 2AS
United Kingdom

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