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The job demands-resources model

Author: Dr Simon Moss


The job demands-resources model has been applied to explain the benefits and drawbacks of many initiatives and policies at work (see Bakker & Demerouti, 2007& Bakker, Demerouti, de Boer, & Schaufeli, 2003& Bakker, Demerouti, & Verbeke, 2004). This model evolved from the demand-control model, proposed by Karasek (1979). According to this model, demanding work environments, such as an extensive workload, will often provoke stress and undermine intrinsic motivation if coupled with limited autonomy. In contrast, demanding environments can translate into positive consequences when autonomy is elevated.

Similarly, the job demands-resources model assumes that job demands, such as elevated levels of pressure, undue expectations, and conflicting requirements, tend to provoke burnout. In this context, job demands represent any facets of a role that demands sustained effort to accommodate or withstand difficulties. The effort that needs to be applied to accommodate these demands depletes energy, culminating in exhaustion (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007& Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004& see also ego depletion).

In contrast, job resources, including autonomy, support, and feedback, can all foster engagement as well as mitigate the adverse consequences of undue job demands (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007& Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004). By definition, resources facilitate work goals, curb job demands, or stimulate growth. Specifically, these resources can facilitate learning or elevate effort, which can temper the exhaustion that demands tend to provoke.

Empirical evidence

Burnout and engagement

Many studies have demonstrated that job resources promote engagement. As Schaufeli and Bakker (2004) demonstrated, constructive feedback, social support, and coaching from supervisors--all exemplars of job resources--were positively associated with three dimensions of engagement: vigor, dedication, and absorption (see work engagement). Similarly, in another study, supervisor support, appreciation, information, job control, innovation, and climate--six potential resources--were also related to engagement (Bakker, Hakanen, Demerouti, & Xanthopoulou, 2007).

Other studies have also shown that job resources temper the effect of job demands on burnout. Specifically, as Bakker, Demerouti, & Euwema (2005) showed, job demands, such as work overload, emotional demands, and conflict between work and home responsibilities, usually culminate in exhaustion and cynicism. This relationship, however, diminished when resources, like autonomy, feedback, and support, were available. Thus, resources seemed to mitigate the deleterious consequences of demanding environments.

Mauno, Kinnunen, and Ruokolainen (2007) demonstrated that resources at one time predict subsequent improvements in engagement. Resources such as current levels of job control predicted future engagement after controlling current engagement. This study verified that resources can affect subsequent engagement rather than merely represent the reverse direction of causality.

Nevertheless, as de Lange, De Witte, and Notelaer (2008) argued, a cycle often ensues in which job resources promote engagement, which in turn attracts resources. Job autonomy, for example, at one time predicts subsequent engagement. Nevertheless, engagement at one time also predicts subsequent support from colleagues.

Mental illness

The job resources-demands model has also been applied to predict other outcomes, such as mental illness. Consistent with this theory, some changes in the workplaces--changes that elevate the demands of employees--subsequently increase the likelihood of mental illness. In contrast, other changes in the workplaces--changes that increase a sense of control in employees--subsequently decrease the likelihood of mental illness.

Lerotto, Platt, and Popham (2010) conducted a compelling study that vindicated these propositions. In this study, undertaken in a hospital setting, mental health was examined at three times over the course of two years& that is, participants completed the general health questionnaire. Furthermore, the extent to which participants experienced change at work was assessed. In particular, change in a variety of domains was assessed: ownership, restructuring, management, conditions of employment, consultation, trade unions, customer pressure, quality, market conditions, government policy, and technology. These changes were reduced to four facets: training and development, work content, peer context, and patient contact.

Changes in training and development tended to curb mental illness over time. In contrast, changes in the amount of work tended to exacerbate mental illness.

Factors that moderate the effects of job demands and resources

Regulatory focus

Some individuals tend to orient their attention to their more immediate duties and obligations, called a prevention focus. Other individuals tend to orient their attention to future hopes and aspirations instead, called a promotion focus (for a discussion, see regulatory focus theory). As Brenninkmeijer, Demerouti, le Blanc, and van Emmerik (2010) showed, when individuals experience a prevention focus, the effect of job demands on emotional exhaustion is amplified.

Specifically, in this study, participants completed a questionnaire that assesses the extent to which they experience various demands at work, such as an extensive workload and interpersonal conflict. They also answered questions that determine the degree to which various resources, like autonomy and social support, are available. Finally, they completed questions that assess prevention focus, promotion focus, and emotional exhaustion.

If individuals reported elevated levels of prevention focus, job demands, like extensive workload and interpersonal conflict, were especially likely to provoke exhaustion. Individuals with a prevention focus orient their attention to potential complications and shortfalls. Demands, therefore, seem more salient. These demands, thus, are more likely to translate into exhaustion.

Although unexpected, when promotion focus was high rather than low, job resources, such as autonomy and social support, were not as likely to curb exhaustion. That is, as promotion focus diminished, resources were especially likely to contain exhaustion. Perhaps, when promotion focus is elevated, individuals can readily accumulate or distill their own resources.

Underlying mechanisms

Self determination and need fulfillment

The job demands-resources model does not clarify the mechanisms that translate resources or demands to engagement. Van den Broeck, Vansteenkiste, De Witte, and Lens (2008) developed and validated a model, derived from self determination theory, to redress this shortfall. They argued and showed that job resources enable individuals to fulfill their key fundamental needs--autonomy, competence, and relationships. Once these needs are fulfilled, engagement is more likely to flourish and burnout is more likely to diminish. In other words, motivation flourishes because individuals can engage in roles that align with their inclinations and depletion of energy dissipates because problems do not have to be circumvented.

Refinements to the job demands-resources model

Examples of job demands

Role ambiguity, role conflict, and role overload are often regarded as the most common measures of job demand. In addition, Dobreva-Martinova et al. (2002) identified two other prevalent sources of stress at work: role insufficiency and role responsibility for others. Role insufficiency refers to an incongruence between the demands of a job and the qualities of employees, such as the knowledge and abilities. Role responsibility for others refers to the degree to which individuals are responsible for the safety and performance of other people in the workplace. All of these sources of stress have been shown to evoke feelings of strain and compromise the job satisfaction and workplace commitment of individuals.

Illegitimate tasks

A variety of studies have shown that tasks or activities that employees feel are illegitimate--tasks or activities that employees perceive as meaningless or unrelated to their role--also provoke stress and job dissatisfaction (Bjork, Bejerot, Jacobshagen, & Harenstam, 2013& Semmer, Jacobshagen, Meier, & Elfering, 2007& Semmer, Tschan, Meier, Facchin, & Jacobshagen, 2010) and, therefore, may be regarded as a job demand. In particular, according to Semmer et al. (2010), illegitimate tasks can be divided into two clusters: unnecessary tasks, including meaningless or redundant activities, and unreasonable tasks, including activities that should be assigned to someone else, usually more junior in position.

Bjork, Bejerot, Jacobshagen, and Harenstam (2013) showed that illegitimate tasks are associated with negative consequences. In this study, participants completed the Bern Illegitimate Tasks Scale, comprising eight items. Four of the items reflect unnecessary tasks, such as "Do you have work tasks to take care of, which keep you wondering if they have to be done at all", and four of the items reflect unreasonable tasks, such as "Do you have work tasks to take care of that you believe are going too far and should not be expected of you". In addition, the participants completed questions that gauge the degree to which they experience stress and feel satisfied with their work performance. Illegitimate tasks were positively related to stress but inversely related to satisfaction with work performance.

Presumably, when individuals engage in illegitimate tasks, they feel their psychological contract or expectations have been violated (Semmer, Jacobshagen, Meier, & Elfering, 2007). They feel their needs, roles, and capabilities have not been respected, undermining their self-esteem or perception of themselves and evoking negative emotions (Semmer, Jacobshagen, Meier, & Elfering, 2007).

As Bjork, Bejerot, Jacobshagen, and Harenstam (2013) also demonstrated, in some organizations, employees are especially likely to complete illegitimate tasks. That is, when resources are scarce or inadequate, decisions are unfair or unfeasible, and responsibilities of managers are uncertain, illegitimate tasks are prevalent. Presumably, in these environments, managers may need to complete tasks that are usually allocated to someone else. Also, employees will feel that some of the tasks they need to undertake are unnecessary, because the decisions to continue these tasks were either flawed or not justified well.

Communication to employees outside work hours

Employees often receive telephone calls, emails, and texts from colleagues and managers--or send these telephone calls, emails, and texts--outside work hours. This level of communication outside work hours is called work contact (Schieman & Young, 2013). As Schieman and Young (2013) showed, work contact is positively associated with distress, problems with sleep, and a feeling that work responsibilities impinge on family life.

Specifically, in this study, participants indicated the extent to which they communicate to colleagues and managers outside work hours. In addition, these individuals completed measures that assess symptoms of distress, such as anxiety, worry, and sadness, problems with sleep, and feeling too busy to fulfil family responsibilities--as well as autonomy in the job, a challenging job, and pressure at work.

Work contact was positively associated with the feeling that work obligations impinge on family responsibilities. When autonomy is low and pressure is high, this relationship was especially pronounced. Furthermore, work contact was positively related to problems with sleep, particularly when the job dis not seem challenging--involving creativity, learning, meaning, variety, and utilization of strengths.

Presumably, when people do not feel their job provides autonomy and challenge--regarded as job resources--they perceive the additional demands of work contact as a hassle, evoking stress and anxiety, compromising sleep. In contrast, when people feel their job provides autonomy and challenge, these demands of work contact are, at least sometimes, perceived as an opportunity, curbing stress and anxiety.


Interruptions while working, such as requests for help, can be regarded as a job demand. These interruptions have been shown to provoke irritation as well as diminish the degree to which individuals are satisfied with their performance and remember to complete their plans or intentions (Baethge & Rigotti, 2013). In particular, when individuals are interrupted, they perceive their role as more draining or mentally demanding as well as more rushed, both of which provoke these complications.

Specifically, in one study, conducted by Baethge and Rigotti (2013), 133 nurses completed a questionnaire three times a day over 5 days. The questions related to the degree to which the nurses had been interrupted during the last half an hour, perceived their tasks as mentally demanding, and felt rushed. During the evening, they also answered questions on whether they felt irritated and grumpy, forgot to complete a task they had started, and were satisfied with their performance that day. As predicted, work interruptions were positively associated with irritation, forgetting to complete tasks, and dissatisfaction with performance. These relationships were mediated by mental demands and time pressure.

Accordingly, when people are interrupted at work, they often need to shift their attention between goals, maintain these goals in memory, adjust their goals, and so forth. These responses are perceived as mentally demanding. Furthermore, the interruptions increase workload, culminating in time pressure.

Categories of job demands

Crawford, LePine, and Rich (2010) as well as Van den Broeck, De Cuyper, De Witte, and Vansteenkiste (2010) differentiated two categories of job demands: job challenges and job hindrances. Job challenges represent demands that do deplete limited resources but, nevertheless, offer the opportunity to secure more rewards and gains. This prospect of gains partly replenishes mental energy, curbing the deleterious effect of these demanding tasks. A heavy workload, for example, might enhance skills and ultimately increase the likelihood of a promotion and the achievement of other needs.

In contrast, job hindrances deplete resources without attracting additional gains. They obstruct other needs and thus evoke negative emotions. Examples might include role ambiguity, job insecurity, and interpersonal conflict. These job hindrances are more likely than job challenges to undermine vigor and perhaps elicit exhaustion, manifesting as burnout rather than engagement.

Van den Broeck, De Cuyper, De Witte, and Vansteenkiste (2010) conducted a study that vindicates this distinction between job challenges and job hindrances. In this study, participants completed a measure that assesses the extent to which they experience various demands at work. Some of these demands were putatively job challenges, like workload and concentration. Other demands were putatively job hindrances, like interference between work and home as well as emotional labor. In addition, participants completed questions that assess availability of resources, like autonomy and social support. Finally, levels of vigor and emotional exhaustion were assessed.

As hypothesized, job challenges, as well as job resources, were positively associated with vigor but not exhaustion. Job hindrances were negatively associated with vigor but positively associated with exhaustion, as shown by structural equation modeling.


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Last Update: 7/17/2016