Journal of Abnormal Psychology2015-01-12 2:50 PM

Don't fear the reaper: trait death anxiety, mortality salience, and occupational health.

Sliter MT1, Sinclair RR2, Yuan Z1, Mohr CD3.


Despite multiple calls for research, there has been little effort to incorporate topics regarding mortality salience and death anxiety into workplace literature. As such, the goals of the current study were to (a) examine how trait differences in death anxiety relate to employee occupational health outcomes and (b) examine how death anxiety might exacerbate the negative effects of mortality salience cues experienced at work. In Study 1, we examined how death anxiety affected nurses in a multitime point survey. These results showed that trait death anxiety was associated with increased burnout and reduced engagement and that death anxiety further exacerbated the relationship between mortality salience cues (e.g., dealing with injured and dying patients) and burnout. These results were replicated and extended in Study 2, which examined the impact of death anxiety in firefighters. In this multitime point study, death anxiety related to burnout, engagement, and absenteeism. The results further showed that death anxiety moderated the relationship between mortality cues and burnout, where people high in trait death anxiety experience higher levels of burnout as a result of mortality cues than people lower in death anxiety. Across the 2 studies, despite differences in the methods (e.g., time lag; measures), the effect sizes and the form of the significant interactions were quite similar. Overall, these results highlight the importance of understanding death anxiety in the workplace, particularly in occupations where mortality salience cues are common. We discuss recommendations, such as death education and vocational counseling, and provide some avenues for future research.

J Appl Psychol. 2014 Jul;99(4):759-69. doi: 10.1037/a0035729. Epub 2014 Feb 3.

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Journal of Abnormal Psychology

The Journal of Abnormal Psychology publishes articles on basic research and theory in the broad field of abnormal behavior, its determinants, and its correlates.

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