Emotional intelligence as a moderator in the stress-burnout relationship: a questionnaire study on nurses

J Clin Nurs. 2012 Aug;21(15-16):2275-85. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2012.04171.x.


Aims and objectives: To investigate inter-relationships between emotional intelligence (EI), work stress and burnout in a group of nurses in the Western Cape Province, South Africa. The moderating effect of EI in the stress-burnout relationship and group differences (nurses working in different wards) in burnout were also investigated.

Background: Stress and subsequent burnout commonly threaten the occupational health and well-being of nurses in South Africa and elsewhere. Developing EI in nurses may increase individual stress resistance and combat burnout.

Design: A cross-sectional research design with anonymous questionnaires was conducted. Self-report data were used.

Methods: Survey data were collected from 122 nurses working in different wards at four hospitals from a private hospital group. The Swinburne University Emotional Intelligence Test, Sources of Work Stress Inventory and Maslach Burnout Inventory were used to measure EI, stress and burnout, respectively.

Results: Consistent inverse relationships between emotional control and management as dimensions of EI, and stress and burnout emerged. A differential effect of high vs. low EI on the stress-burnout relationship was evident. Workload and the work/family interface emerged as significant predictors of burnout. Respondents working in maternity, paediatric and ER wards reported more feelings of personal accomplishment than those working in general wards.

Conclusions: Higher EI is significantly related with lower stress and burnout in a sample of South African nurses. The moderator effect of EI in the stress-burnout relationship suggests that enhanced EI may help diminish burnout development when chronic stress is experienced.

Relevance to clinical practice: EI developmental interventions, if introduced in nursing curricula, may increase emotional coping resources and enhanced social skills, which may benefit the long-term occupational health of nurses. This may be relevant in developing countries, where environmental stressors related to the organisational context (budget constraints) and wider social factors (shortage of qualified nurses) are difficult to address.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional*
  • Emotional Intelligence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • South Africa
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires