What is it about?

The pandemic's dramatic changes increased healthcare workers' boundary violations—undesired disruptions between work and other important life domains such as personal and family life. Intrusion events (when work intrudes into nonwork boundaries) are associated with increased job-related demands and greater emotional exhaustion. Distancing events (when boundaries are strengthened) are associated with reduced job-related resources and greater worker detachment and cynicism. Healthcare workers often responded in specific ways to specific types of boundary violations to prevent or effectively reduce burnout.

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Why is it important?

Previously, burnout and boundary theory literature were largely studied independently. This publication details how burnout can impact the worker's entire lived experience. In addition, this publication offers several theoretical and practical contributions to understanding how boundary-related events impact worker burnout differently. Simply distancing oneself from work through vacation or time-off may reduce emotional exhaustion, but to reduce detachment, what is most effective may be to dive deeper into work by integrating the self further into work. This nuance about the specifics of boundary violations, boundary work tactics, and burnout dimensions enhances our understanding of important work dynamics that impact most workers.


As researchers, we were often in awe of the healthcare workers we interviewed. We believe it is important to understand how work and nonwork matters are related, impact each other, and can be more effectively managed. Understanding how intrusion events and distancing events impact specific burnout dimensions through demands and resources is important to offer concrete practical implications to organizations that go beyond obvious and uninspiring solutions to increase the distance from work. This work offers nuance, theory, and pragmatic lessons to learn from a powerful and inspirational context: healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Devin Rapp
University of Utah

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Boundary work as a buffer against burnout: Evidence from healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic., Journal of Applied Psychology, August 2021, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/apl0000951.
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