The results showed that 37.5% of HR managers experienced different levels of job burnout, and 3.0% had severe job burnout. China has undergone a rapid economic growth and radical social change over the past decades, which bring with them great psychological pressures that may translate into burnout . In addition, the interview results showed that some organizations combine personnel and administration into one department in China, which results in a large work overload. HR managers are mostly engaged in transactional work; their work responsibilities are vague, and role stress becomes a common phenomenon. Existing studies have shown that role stress has a significant effect on job burnout [6, 55]. Fundamentally, HR managers themselves are also employees, so they can better understand the needs and difficulties of employees in work. Therefore, HR managers are easier to produce empathy fatigue, which can lead to job burnout . As a result, HR managers are facing a severe crisis of job burnout. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, China’s social and economic development level has increased rapidly. However, the basic situation that China is still in the primary stage of Socialism has not changed. Therefore, the job burnout of HR managers in China is still at a low level.
Similar to previous studies [32, 57], we found that demographic variables are related to job burnout. The one-way ANOVA results showed that female HR managers have a higher level of job burnout and a lower sense of personal accomplishment than male HR managers, which was consistent with the results of Xie et al. (2020) . And according to the Chinese tradition, women need to take more family responsibilities than their husbands. Bu & Mckeen (2000)  have found that Chinese women spend an average of 3.7 h on housework every day, while men only spend 2 h. In addition, Pinto et al. (2014)  found that women suffer a higher risk of burnout due to work-life imbalance, occupational discrimination and multiple social roles. Therefore, under the dual pressure and conflict between work and family, female HR managers are more prone to suffer job burnout. From the perspective of age, HR managers aged between 21 and 30 years have a significantly higher level of job burnout than those aged between 31 and 40 years, which was consistent with the results of (Chambers, 2016; Lu et al., 2020) [61, 62]. And was not consistent with the results of Karatepe and Uludag (2008) , which indicated that age and education have positive relationships with job burnout. First, this can be explained by the classical JD-R model, most HR managers aged between 21 and 30 years are university graduates, they work in the society for a short time and lack of experience and resources to cope with demanding situations at work, which was associated with depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment. Second, traditional Chinese parents generally believed that “A man should get married on coming of age, and so should a girl”. University graduates face their parents’ forced marriage immediately after entering the workplace. Also, HR managers aged 31–40 years have longer working time and a stable family, as they are in the rising stage of their career. Therefore, HR managers aged 21–30 years have a higher level of job burnout than those aged 31–40 years. The same reason can also explain the higher levels of job burnout among unmarried HR managers and those with shorter working hours. From the perspective of educational background, when the education level increases, the job burnout level of HR managers tends to decrease. The highly educated HR managers have higher professional skills, can better deal with various job problems, and have higher work efficiency. This was consistent with the results of Rashkovits and Livne (2013) , they indicated that highly educated employees may be more rational and calmer, which may help them manage burnout. Second, education level often has a positive correlation with their salary in China. According to the Effort–Reward model [55, 65], HR managers with a lower income level are more likely to feel that they are not fairly paid for their efforts, and thus more likely to get a job burnout. The interview results showed that small organizations always lacked professional HR management teams, resulting in heavy work overload of HR managers and excessive consumption of personal resources. According to the JD-R model, when HR managers fail to meet excessive work requirements, job burnout occurs. Finally, a lower-level position means more work tasks and lower salary in China. Meanwhile, most HR managers with a lower position are college students who have just graduated from university and have fewer work resources, so they are more likely to suffer a job burnout.
Correlation analysis and regression analysis confirmed the Hypothesis 1 that HR managers who are good at listening were more likely to avoid job burnout. Listening competency is a special skill . Ames et al. (2012)  found that HR managers who are good at listening were more influential, and listening skills were also an important factor that motivated people to achieve the desired behavioral results . Therefore, HR managers who are good at listening not only gain advantages in developing relationship but also have increased self-confidence and respect . Moreover, effective listening is a prerequisite for good service and interaction. It is also conducive to creating a communication atmosphere of mutual understanding and support between HR managers and their leaders or employees to improve work performance. Studies have shown that individual-oriented interventions are more effective than organization-oriented interventions, and that interventions tailored to employees’ preferences and abilities may help prevent job burnout. Through job shaping, employees optimize their work needs and resources, and increase their personal resources [69, 70]. According to the JD-R model , HR managers who are good at listening can easily establish a good interpersonal relationship with employees, accumulate rich network interpersonal resources, improve work efficiency, and optimize the quality of HR management, thereby reducing their level of job burnout [5, 6, 71].
The results also confirmed that role stress and job burnout are significantly and positively related. Thus, the higher the degree of role stress, the higher the incidence of burnout, which was also observed in previous studies [6, 25, 32, 72]. However, not every dimensions of role stress have a significant correlation with job burnout of HR managers. Among which, role conflict had no significant effect on job burnout, as well as role ambiguity had a significant positive effect on job burnout, and this was not consistent with the previous studies [32, 72]. On the one hand, as HR managers said in the interview, role conflict is one of the unavoidable aspects of their work. Under this circumstance, HR managers might not have had negative self-evaluations when they had received incompatible demands form multiple sources such as leaders and employees. On the other hand, when HR managers are ambiguous about his or her various roles–whether due to their own or external factors – they lack a clear understanding of their roles, work content and purpose. Therefore, the ambiguity of their roles will lead to the uncertainty of their own work. This uncertainty makes HR managers constantly spend their own resources on seeking and obtaining related information. When HR managers do not receive additional resources, there will be an imbalance between resources and needs, which in turn can easily lead to job burnout . These findings indicate that leaders should attempt to reduce role stress in HR managers and prevent job burnout, such as reducing HR managers’ work overload and improving their working conditions.
In addition, the results of mediating effect analysis showed that role stress played a significant mediating role in the correlation between listening competency and job burnout, and it was partially mediating. This can be explained by two mechanisms. On the one hand, as HR managers said in the interview, their role stress mainly comes from their contradictory work expectations and excessive work responsibilities. Kazu and Demiralp (2015)  suggested that people acquire most their knowledge by listening, that is to say, HR managers can acquire more knowledge and skills of HR management through listening, thus improving work efficiency, reducing role stress and ultimately reducing the risk of job burnout. In addition, listening was also a method to solve psychological distress. Active listening was also regarded as an important factor to reduce anxiety and pain. Effective listening can reduce HR managers’ psychological conflicts caused by role stress, and ultimately reduce role stress and job burnout. On the other hand, good listening competency can help HR managers grasp the real needs and expectations of leaders and employees, so as to better balance the interests between enterprises and employees, management and service, and institution and human relationship. Good listening competency also helps HR managers to clarify their responsibilities and decrease unnecessary resource consumption, which also can reduce their role stress and job burnout. In other words, HR managers with good listening competency can reduce their job burnout by reducing their role stress. Hence, Hypothesis 3 was verified.
A strong point of this study is that Chinese HR managers’ job burnout has been surveyed, which has extended the knowledge in burnout research. Moreover, to our knowledge, this was the first study to introduce listening competency into the field of job burnout research. With the correlation analysis, regression analysis and mediating effect analysis, the relationships among listening competency, role stress and job burnout were explored. Furthermore, this study also has several limitations. First, convenience sampling, use of Internet for survey distribution, and the number of survey items may have impacted response rates. And data were collected by self-report questionnaire, the self-report nature of the measures leaves open the possibility that reported information may not accurately reflect the underlying values of each variable, which would have biased the data. Second, this study was a cross-sectional design, however, job burnout changes over one’s employment period . Thus, a longitudinal study is necessary for future research. Third, although a representative sample was selected, sample weight calculation was not considered in this study and therefore the extrapolation of conclusions would be limited to some extent. Finally, there may be numerous important aspects related to burnout that were not measured in this study, such as geographic and industry factors, there is a need for ongoing studies to explore these factors in practice. Despite these limitations, this study provides a glimpse into the listening competency and job burnout of HR managers in China for future research.