Organisational justice causes feelings of embitterment and burn-out at work

New findings suggest the role of organisational justice in causing feelings of embitterment and burn-out at work. Professor Tom Sensky (Imperial College, London, UK) analyzes these data in the current issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Post-traumatic embitterment syndrome is a response to perceived injustice or unfairness, characterised by intrusive thoughts and memories, expressed perceptions of injustice, negative mood, and embitterment itself. This paper argues that chronic embitterment is a more appropriate name for this disorder. In clinical practice, the condition is frequently seen by occupational health clinicians, and is probably widely prevalent in work settings (although it also occurs in other settings). It is likely that a proportion of cases of work-related stress should be classified as cases of chronic embitterment. It is important to recognise and manage because it leads to impaired work performance and increased sickness absence.

In addition, employees who show chronic embitterment sometimes demand a disproportionately large share of time and resources from managers and employers.  From the organisational perspective, one factor which might contribute to the development or maintenance of chronic embitterment is organisational justice. This term embraces not only the achievement of  just outcomes to events like disciplinary or grievance hearings and processes of promotion, but also confidence in the fairness and transparency of the procedures and people involved in such events.  At an individual level, chronic embitterment may follow perceived breaches of the psychological work contract.

This refers to the values the employee has about his or her own contribution to the workplace and the assumptions made about the employer's values and expectations.  Because the psychological work contract is seldom made explicit, there are opportunities for misunderstandings to arise. The combination of features seen in chronic embitterment help to distinguish it from other mental health problems seen in the workplace, notably depression and anxiety.  Rumination (thinking over and over again about the events which caused the embitterment, and their unfairness, without reaching any resolution) is a very prominent feature of the condition. 

Managing chronic embitterment is somewhat different from managing other mental health problems. For example, an employer responding in detail to a long letter from an embittered employee usually reinforces the rumination, rather than resolving the problem. On the other hand, not responding offers the embittered employee evidence that the employer is indeed uncaring and unfair. Particularly in cases where embitterment appears to be a response to real workplace injustice, it would seem to add insult to injury to then give the embittered person a psychiatric diagnosis. Nevertheless, a case can be made for considering chronic embitterment as a new psychiatric diagnosis, because of its distinct profile of symptoms, and because its management is requires some considerations that are different from those applied to other mental health conditions. This can be clarified by further research into the causal contributors and nature of chronic embitterment, and effective interventions for the condition.


Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics


  1. Dr Rohen Kapur Dr Rohen Kapur United Kingdom says:

    I have never seen such a load of complete and utter twaddle being used as some sort of quasi-syndrome to punish those who have already been bullied by the system.  This is complete and utter bovine faecal matter designed to further squash those whom the system does not want. Frankly Im appalled that it could be published and even more appalled that someone actually made it up and wrote about it.  They must live in Cloud-cuckoo Land.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
You might also like... ×
COVID-19 lockdowns and young people's mental health