Published in El Pais, 22 de Febrero 2020.
Many people experience continuous stress every day. More and more people are becoming exhausted and collapse. They have a burnout. How do we solve this growing problem?
The dictionary defines burnout as: “state of mental exhaustion due to long-term stress”. For example, long-term stress arises in our work. Due to a lack of autonomy and appreciation, people experience an empty feeling. With more and more standardized activities there is increasing pressure on performance. The work is never finished and technological developments make it easy to continue working in our free time. Moreover, our future is often uncertain due to temporary employment contracts.
Many managers owe their position to education or work experience. However, there is often a lack of talent to guide employees in such a way that they make optimum use of their strengths. Instead, delegation occurs without consultation and employees are evaluated for their less good points that still need to be developed. This is a major responsibility for employers.
Are working conditions always the main cause of a burnout? Certainly not. We can also experience stress privately. Think of relationship problems, care for dependent parents or children, the household and poverty.
People in poverty can also suffer burnout due to a lack of control over their lives. The core problem here is also mental exhaustion due to a long-term lack of autonomy, future uncertainty and continuous pressure on performance (survival).Mental exhaustion is therefore caused by the fact that work or private life, or a combination thereof, imposes long-term high demands.
Personal beliefs also determine whether someone becomes exhausted. For example, I recently heard a friend with burnout complaints say that her work is her life. More and more people derive their identity from their work. Dutch writer and philosopher Joke J. Hermsen wrote in her book “Stil de Tijd” in 2009: “Emptiness, tranquility and idleness are no longer sources of inspiration, but frightening forerunners of a doomed existence in the margins of society.” This is a major personal responsibility.
In education, more attention should be paid to personal finances. In addition, the fight against poverty deserves more attention. Poverty is often not clearly visible and the conviction of part of the prosperous population that poverty is caused by their own fault does not help. Don’t leave poverty alleviation to a single official and a handful of volunteers!
Workers union CNV in the Netherlands has proposed to shorten the working week to 30 hours in 4 days. The annual economic damage caused by burnout in the Netherlands is calculated at € 2.8 billion. A better balance between work, home and care leads to fitter and healthier employees. That is expected to save society billions in healthcare costs. This is a major responsibility for the government.