The interactive effects of personality and burnout on knowledge sharing among teachers

Main Article Content

Jinfeng Zhang
Mingjie Zhou
Jianxin Zhang
Cite this article:  Zhang, J., Zhou, M., & Zhang, J. (2016). The interactive effects of personality and burnout on knowledge sharing among teachers. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 44(8), 1267-1280.


Abstract
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References
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Knowledge sharing is an important organizational resource and should be encouraged in the field of teaching. We used a cross-sectional design, and 796 teachers in primary or secondary schools completed measures of the Big Five personality traits, burnout, and knowledge sharing. The results showed that (a) in the regression model, the traits of extraversion and agreeableness were positively associated with knowledge sharing, but conscientiousness, openness, and neuroticism were not significant in predicting knowledge sharing; (b) burnout was negatively associated with knowledge sharing after controlling for personality; and (c) burnout moderated the relationship between personality and knowledge sharing; that is, compared with those with a high score for burnout symptoms, the relationship between personality and knowledge sharing was stronger for those with a low score for burnout symptoms. The results suggest that interventions aimed at reducing teachers’ burnout might be helpful for improving their knowledge sharing.

Knowledge is a valuable resource that contributes to the development of organizations (Lin, Lin, & Ye, 2015). Managers encourage their employees to increase their knowledge, especially implicit knowledge of how to enhance work efficiency (Yu, Yu, & Yu, 2013). Besides knowledge creation, knowledge sharing among colleagues is another effective way to add to an individual’s knowledge (Witherspoon, Bergner, Cockrell, & Stone, 2013). In addition, knowledge sharing involves the learning process and mutual assistance among colleagues (Z. Chen, 2011), both of which are encouraged in all organizations. However, the main focus in previous studies about knowledge sharing has been on commercial enterprises (e.g., Song, Park, & Kang, 2015; Su, Wang, Lei, & Ye, 2013). Knowledge sharing in the field of teaching has received little attention from researchers. The quality of teaching is important because of its great significance for student achievement (Pietarinen, Pyhältö, Soini, & Salmela-Aro, 2013). To be an excellent teacher, knowing the theory of teaching is not enough. Skills that cannot easily be acquired from a book and pedagogical experience play key roles in the teaching profession (C.-C. Chen, 2011). Acquisition of practical knowledge mainly depends on teachers sharing their knowledge with their colleagues. In addition, the benefits of knowledge sharing may extend to reducing teachers’ work-related stress, promoting their career advancement, and enhancing the development of schools (Hew & Hara, 2007). Thus, in this study we examined the factors that are essential for teachers to share their knowledge.

Mostly personal and situational factors have been reported to be associated with an individual’s knowledge sharing (e.g., Lin et al., 2015; Wang & Noe, 2010; Witherspoon et al., 2013). Among personal factors, personality, which describes one’s behavior pattern across different situations, influences a lot of workplace behaviors, such as job performance, engagement, and turnover (Huang, Ryan, Zabel, & Palmer, 2014; Woods, Lievens, De Fruyt, & Wille, 2013). Extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness (the “Big Five” personality factors) have been the most widely studied personality traits in psychology and management research (Woods et al., 2013). According to the definitions of these five personality traits, extraverted individuals are generally sociable, active, energetic, adventuresome, and expressive; agreeable individuals are responsive to other’s needs, and they show helping behaviors in the workplace; conscientious individuals are responsible for their work; neurotic individuals are characterized by emotional instability, and are sensitive to environmental stimuli, easily experiencing negative emotions; and open individuals tend to accept various opinions and demonstrate novelty-seeking behaviors (Chiaburu, Oh, Berry, Li, & Gardner, 2011). Although the effects of some personality traits on knowledge sharing have been reported in previous studies (e.g., Jadin, Gnambs, & Batinic, 2013; Lin et al., 2015; Matzler, Renzl, Mooradian, von Krogh, & Mueller, 2011), these effects have not been examined in teachers. From the definitions of these personality traits, we expected that extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness would promote teachers’ knowledge sharing, whereas neuroticism would not.

Burnout, which can be viewed as a work-related situational factor, reflects people’s work-related stress response in terms of emotions, relationships, and self-evaluation (Pietarinen et al., 2013). Extreme fatigue, indifference about work, and feelings of incompetence about oneself are the main symptoms of burnout, which usually comes from excessive use of psychological and physical resources (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Teaching is an occupation with a high risk of burnout because of the work pressure and the demands of the relationship with students (Khan, Yusoff, & Khan, 2014). Previous researchers have reported the adverse impact of teacher burnout on a variety of outcomes, such as teacher health, student achievement, and school development (e.g., Brunsting, Sreckovic, & Lane, 2014; Moon & Hur, 2011). However, the effect of burnout on knowledge sharing has yet to be made clear. Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), which is the voluntary helping behavior of an employee in the workplace beyond the work tasks, is encouraged in all organizations (Somech, 2016). Findings reported in previous studies indicate that teachers with a high score for burnout symptoms are less likely to engage in OCB than are those with a low score (e.g., Cheung & Lun, 2015; Salehi & Gholtash, 2011). When the aim of knowledge sharing is to help others solve problems then the sharing behavior possesses the characteristics of OCB. From this perspective, the fatigue of burnout decreases an individual’s enthusiasm for work; indifference about the job leads to ignoring colleagues’ needs, perhaps even to unfriendliness toward, or conflict with, colleagues; and the feeling of incompetence diminishes the confidence needed to share knowledge with others (Chiu & Tsai, 2006; Hakanen, Bakker, & Schaufeli, 2006). Thus, we reasoned that burnout would have a negative impact on knowledge sharing for teachers.

According to personality–situation interaction theory (Endler & Magnusson, 1976), personality and situation interact to influence individuals’ behavior. Although some effects of personality on knowledge sharing have been reported in previous research (e.g., Jadin et al., 2013; Lin et al., 2015; Matzler et al., 2011), the combined effects of personality and situational factors have seldom been considered. Unlike personality, burnout that reflects individuals’ feeling about their work is a psychological state rather than a trait. This state may serve as an impediment that lessens individuals’ motivation for knowledge sharing. Thus, personality and burnout will not only independently contribute to knowledge sharing but will also have an interactive effect in predicting knowledge sharing. Therefore, we formed the following hypothesis:
Hypothesis 1: Extraversion (H1a), agreeableness (H1b), conscientiousness (H1c), and openness (H1d) will be positively associated with knowledge sharing; neuroticism will be negatively associated with knowledge sharing (H1e).
Hypothesis 2: Burnout will be negatively associated with knowledge sharing after controlling for personality.
Hypothesis 3: Burnout will moderate the relationship between personality and knowledge sharing. That is, compared with those with a high score for symptoms of burnout, the relationship between personality and knowledge sharing will be stronger for those with a low score for burnout symptoms.

Method

Participants and Procedure

Participants were 401 (50.4%) primary school teachers and 395 (49.6%) secondary school teachers (N = 796). The mean age was 31.66 years (SD = 7.64, range = 19–57). Participants had a mean of 11.20 years (SD = 9.07, range = 1–38) of teaching experience. Other demographic information is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of the Participants

Table/Figure

Note. US$1 = 6.5RMB

For the survey we were assisted by a nongovernmental organization concerned with teachers’ vocational development and mental health. The schools where teaching staff would participate were determined according to the organization’s convenience. We contacted the head teachers of these schools to ask if we could carry out a study with their teaching staff. Despite receiving a few rejections, there were 19 schools located in seven provinces in Mainland China whose head teachers agreed to participate; nine of these were primary schools and 10 were secondary schools. After obtaining the head teachers’ agreement, we went to each of the schools and distributed survey forms to the teachers at a faculty meeting. Usually all teachers would attend the faculty meeting, but as we could not guarantee that this was so we calculated the ratio of our participants to the total number of teachers in these schools to be 78.7%. Participants completed a standard self-administered survey and we assured them of the confidentiality of their responses. Survey forms were collected immediately after completion. After we had analyzed the survey data, we provided each of the head teachers with a brief report on the level of teacher burnout symptoms at their school.

Measures

The survey contained items on participants’ demographic information, including gender, age, level of education, income, and years of teaching.

Personality was measured with the 44-item Big Five Inventory (John & Srivastava, 1999), which consists of items on five dimensions: extraversion (eight items), agreeableness (nine items), conscientiousness (nine items), neuroticism (eight items), and openness (10 items). Each item consists of a short statement, such as “I am talkative,” and respondents are required to rate the degree to which they agree with the statements on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (extremely disagree) to 5 (extremely agree). In this study, the Cronbach’s α coefficients for extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness were .75, .69, .82, .82, and .76, respectively.

Knowledge sharing was measured with seven items derived from van den Hooff, Elving, Meeuwsen, and Dumoulin (2003), comprising four items for knowledge-collecting behaviors and three items for knowledge-donating behaviors. The items were revised specifically for teachers in our study, as in the following example: “Whenever I’ve learned something new, I tell the other teachers in this school about it.” The measure has a 5-point rating scale ranging from 0 (extremely disagree) to 4 (extremely agree), with higher values representing more frequent knowledge-sharing behaviors. The Cronbach’s α coefficient for this scale was .74 in this study.

Burnout was measured with a Chinese version of the Burnout Inventory for Educators (Wang, Zhang, Gan, & Zhang, 2005). This instrument consists of 28 items modified from the Maslach Burnout Inventory for Educators (Maslach, Jackson, & Leiter, 1996). It contains three dimensions: emotional exhaustion (13 items), depersonalization (10 items), and lack of a sense of personal accomplishment (five items). This measure has been widely used with Chinese educators, and has shown good psychometric properties. A sample item is “I feel frustrated by spending the whole day with students.” Items are rated on a 5-point scale ranging from 0 (extremely disagree) to 4 (extremely agree), with higher values representing a higher score for symptoms of burnout (at higher risk of burnout). In this study, the Cronbach’s α coefficient for this scale was .94.

Statistical Analysis

We used z scores of the independent variables and the mean of the dependent variable in the data analysis. Pearson correlations were computed to determine the bivariate associations among the study variables.

In China, age is highly positively correlated with years of teaching (r = .82) because primary or secondary school teachers usually start their career at 20 years old. Thus, to avoid multicollinearity, either age or years of teaching should be included as a control variable in our analysis; in the multivariate regression to predict knowledge sharing we controlled for the demographic characteristics of gender, level of education, income, and years of teaching. We then assessed the effects of (a) the five personality traits; (b) burnout after controlling for the five personality traits; and (c) two-way interactions of each personality trait and burnout, separately. To interpret further the interaction results (Dawson, 2014), personality was figured as an independent variable (x-axis) and burnout was figured as a moderator (plotted values) to predict knowledge sharing (y-axis). Simple slopes tests were used for high and low values of burnout, which were defined as one standard deviation above and below the mean, respectively. SPSS version 22.0 for Windows was used for the data analyses, and p < .05 was considered statistically significant.

Results

The correlation results in Table 2 showed that extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness were all positively associated with knowledge sharing, and neuroticism was negatively associated with knowledge sharing. In the regression results in Table 3 (Model 1), knowledge sharing was positively related to extraversion and agreeableness, which supported H1a and H1b. The relationships between knowledge sharing and conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness were not significant in the regression model (Table 3, Model 1); thus, H1c, H1d, and H1e were not supported. Burnout was negatively associated with knowledge sharing in the correlation analysis (Table 2) and the regression analysis after controlling for personality traits (Table 3, Model 2), which supported H2.

The interaction of each of the five personality traits and burnout were tested separately (Table 3, Models 3–7). The results showed that, except for the interaction of openness and burnout, the interaction of each of the other four personality traits and burnout was significant in predicting knowledge sharing. These interaction effects were then graphed for high and low values of symptoms of burnout (Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4). Simple slopes analyses of these graphs revealed that the positive relationships between the personality traits of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness and knowledge sharing were stronger for persons with a low score for burnout symptoms than for those with a high score (slopes for low burnout s1 and high burnout s2 in Figure 1, s1 = .11, s2= .03; in Figure 2, s1 = .21, s2 = .10; in Figure 3, s1 = .15, s2 = .04). Similarly, the negative relationship between neuroticism and knowledge sharing was stronger for persons with a low score for burnout symptoms than for those with a high score (in Figure 4, s1 = -.11, s2 = -.01). These results indicate that the relationship between personality and knowledge sharing depended on the individual’s level of burnout symptoms supporting H3.

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations of the Study Variables

Table/Figure

Note. N = 796; ** p < .01.

Table 3. Multiple Regression Models of Factors Associated With Knowledge Sharing

Table/Figure

Note. β = standardized coefficient; N = 796, * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.

Table/Figure

Figure 1. The moderating effect of burnout on the relationship between extraversion and knowledge sharing.

Table/Figure

Figure 2. The moderating effect of burnout on the relationship between agreeableness and knowledge sharing.

Table/Figure

Figure 3. The moderating effect of burnout on the relationship between conscientiousness and knowledge sharing.

Table/Figure

Figure 4. The moderating effect of burnout on the relationship between neuroticism and knowledge sharing.

Discussion

Given the importance of knowledge sharing in teaching practice, our aim was to understand the factors that contribute to teachers’ knowledge sharing. We examined personality characteristics and work-related stress, and focused on the influence of personality and burnout on knowledge sharing among primary and secondary school teachers. Our results showed that not only did personality and burnout independently contribute to knowledge sharing but they also had an interactive effect in predicting knowledge sharing. These results indicated that interventions to reduce the incidence of teachers’ symptoms of burnout would be beneficial for enhancing their knowledge sharing.

Our findings show the effect of personality on knowledge sharing and provide additional evidence about the role of personality on work-related behaviors (Huang et al., 2014; Woods et al., 2013). Consistent with our hypotheses and with findings in previous studies (e.g., Lin et al., 2015), extraversion and agreeableness had a beneficial impact on knowledge sharing. Inconsistent with our hypotheses, the effect of conscientiousness on knowledge sharing was not significant in the regression model, but other researchers have found that there was a significant effect of conscientiousness on knowledge sharing (e.g., Cabrera, Collins, & Salgado, 2006; Lin et al., 2015; Matzler et al., 2011). Previous researchers have also reported similar results to those we found about the nonsignificant effects of neuroticism and openness (e.g., Wang & Yang, 2007). These results suggest that each of the five personality traits makes a different contribution to knowledge sharing, with agreeableness having the strongest positive association with knowledge sharing. Agreeableness is mainly associated with cooperative behavior (Chiaburu et al., 2011; Guay et al., 2016), indicating that knowledge sharing is an element of OCB. The reason for the nonsignificant effects of conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness on knowledge sharing, and the significant effects of extraversion and agreeableness on knowledge sharing that we found—or the reason for the different effects of five personality traits on knowledge sharing—may be that conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness are more associated with work-related outcomes for the individual, such as job performance (Bakker, Demerouti, & ten Brummelhuis, 2012); whereas extraversion and agreeableness are more associated with interpersonal behaviors, such as knowledge sharing. Our results suggest that, compared with teachers who score high for extraversion and agreeableness, interventions aiming to encourage knowledge sharing should be more focused on teachers with low scores for extraversion and agreeableness.

In addition to personality traits, we found that burnout was another important work-related variable associated with knowledge sharing. In previous studies, the main focus has been on how individual and organizational characteristics promote knowledge sharing (e.g., Jadin et al., 2013; Lin et al., 2015). Burnout reflects the relationship between an individual and his or her work, the individual’s response to work-related stress, and the overall working conditions. In our study, the effect of burnout on knowledge sharing was significant, even after controlling for personality traits. These results highlight the importance of situational factors in the workplace in the study of knowledge sharing. In addition, previous researchers have demonstrated the adverse impact of burnout on a variety of outcomes, such as OCB, employee health, and job satisfaction (Brunsting et al., 2014). In this study, we have expanded the negative outcomes of burnout that have previously been identified, to include knowledge sharing. As the individual’s personality cannot easily be changed, interventions to promote knowledge sharing should focus on reducing burnout, especially for teachers at high risk of burnout. For example, those responsible for teacher training in schools could provide high-quality instruction for teachers in how to cope with stress and how to develop and maintain good relationships with students and their parents, and with their teaching colleagues.

We found it interesting that the interaction of teacher personality and the level of burnout affected knowledge sharing, which is consistent with personality–situation interaction theory. Although previous researchers have inferred the influence of personality on knowledge sharing (e.g., Lin et al., 2015), the immutability of personality poses challenges for intervention. Our findings suggest that the effect of personality on knowledge sharing depends on the level of burnout. That is, teachers with high extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness and low neuroticism combined with a low level of burnout showed the most knowledge sharing with colleagues; teachers with low extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness and high neuroticism combined with a high level of burnout showed the least knowledge sharing with colleagues. These results indicate that the effects of personality on knowledge sharing become weaker, or even disappear, as the score level of burnout symptoms increases. We did not find an interaction with respect to the effect of openness and burnout on knowledge sharing, indicating that the relationship between openness and knowledge sharing did not depend on burnout, but, rather, openness and burnout affect knowledge sharing independently. Thus, interventions aiming to reduce burnout may not only have direct benefits for knowledge sharing, but may also enhance the effects of personality on knowledge sharing. Our findings suggest that interventions to promote knowledge sharing should shift from addressing personal characteristics to addressing work-related situational factors.

There are several limitations to this study. First, the causal relationship among the study variables cannot be inferred from these cross-sectional data. Particularly, the causal link between burnout and knowledge sharing should be tested in further longitudinal studies. Second, in this study we used a modified burnout inventory; thus we cannot compare the burnout scores obtained our study with those recorded in other studies dealing with educators. Third, the relationship among personality, burnout, and knowledge sharing was based on an investigation of primary and secondary teachers; in future studies, researchers should test whether or not these results can be applied to other groups. Fourth, we used a convenience sample rather than a random sample, and so the generalizability of our findings is limited.

Despite these limitations, our findings in this study highlight the roles of personality and burnout in knowledge sharing among primary and secondary school teachers in China. In addition to their independent effects, personality and burnout had a joint effect on knowledge sharing. That is, the relationship between personality and knowledge sharing depends on the level of burnout. As personality cannot easily be changed, tailored interventions should be designed to reduce burnout among teachers in order to increase their knowledge sharing.

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Brunsting, N. C., Sreckovic, M. A., & Lane, K. L. (2014). Special education teacher burnout: A synthesis of research from 1979 to 2013. Education and Treatment of Children, 37, 681–711. http://doi.org/bb9p

Cabrera, A., Collins, W. C., & Salgado, J. F. (2006). Determinants of individual engagement in knowledge sharing. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 17, 245–264. http://doi.org/bmn9sq

Chen, C.-C. (2011). Factors affecting high school teachers’ knowledge-sharing behaviors. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 39, 993–1008. http://doi.org/fpnv8t

Chen, Z. (2011). The interactive effects of relationship conflict, reward, and reputation on knowledge sharing. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 39, 1387–1394. http://doi.org/d4h8rp

Cheung, F. Y. L., & Lun, V. M.-C. (2015). Relation between emotional labor and organizational citizenship behavior: An investigation among Chinese teaching professionals. The Journal of General Psychology, 142, 253–272. http://doi.org/bb9q

Chiaburu, D. S., Oh, I.-S., Berry, C. M., Li, N., & Gardner, R. G. (2011). The five-factor model of personality traits and organizational citizenship behaviors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 1140–1166. http://doi.org/fnfd2q

Chiu, S.-F., & Tsai, M.-C. (2006). Relationships among burnout, job involvement, and organizational citizenship behavior. The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied, 140, 517–530. http://doi.org/cxvq5j

Dawson, J. F. (2014). Moderation in management research: What, why, when, and how. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29, 1–19. http://doi.org/sjv

Endler, N. S., & Magnusson, D. (1976). Toward an interactional psychology of personality. Psychological Bulletin, 83, 956–974. http://doi.org/cb6k3x

Guay, R. P., Choi, D., Oh, I.-S., Mitchell, M. S., Mount, M. K., & Shin, K.-H. (2016). Why people harm the organization and its members: Relationships among personality, organizational commitment, and workplace deviance. Human Performance, 29, 1–15. http://doi.org/bcn3

Hakanen, J. J., Bakker, A. B., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2006). Burnout and work engagement among teachers. Journal of School Psychology, 43, 495–513. http://doi.org/bbvw5s

Hew, K. F., & Hara, N. (2007). Empirical study of motivators and barriers of teacher online knowledge sharing. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55, 573–595. http://doi.org/cbrfvg

Huang, J. L., Ryan, A. M., Zabel, K. L., & Palmer, A. (2014). Personality and adaptive performance at work: A meta-analytic investigation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99, 162–179. http://doi.org/bb9r

Jadin, T., Gnambs, T., & Batinic, B. (2013). Personality traits and knowledge sharing in online communities. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 210–216. http://doi.org/bb9s

John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 102–138). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Khan, F., Yusoff, R. M. D., & Khan, A. (2014). Job demands, burnout and resources in teaching; A conceptual review. World Applied Sciences Journal, 30, 20–28.

Lin, Q., Lin, L., & Ye, D. (2015). Factors influencing knowledge-sharing behaviors and learning effect: A multilevel investigation. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 43, 1683–1698. http://doi.org/bb9t

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Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of the Participants

Table/Figure

Note. US$1 = 6.5RMB


Table 2. Descriptive Statistics and Bivariate Correlations of the Study Variables

Table/Figure

Note. N = 796; ** p < .01.


Table 3. Multiple Regression Models of Factors Associated With Knowledge Sharing

Table/Figure

Note. β = standardized coefficient; N = 796, * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.


Table/Figure

Figure 1. The moderating effect of burnout on the relationship between extraversion and knowledge sharing.


Table/Figure

Figure 2. The moderating effect of burnout on the relationship between agreeableness and knowledge sharing.


Table/Figure

Figure 3. The moderating effect of burnout on the relationship between conscientiousness and knowledge sharing.


Table/Figure

Figure 4. The moderating effect of burnout on the relationship between neuroticism and knowledge sharing.


This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (70801060 and 70971126)

and from Science and Technology basic work (2009FY110100). Ethical approval was obtained from the Ethical Review Board of the Institute of Psychology

Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Mingjie Zhou, Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 16 Lincui Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100101, People’s Republic of China. Email: [email protected]

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