The battle against burnouts

Stress continues to cause problems for companies all across Europe. In 2014, over one million workers experienced some form of ‘burnout’ in the Netherlands alone.

This term describes employees who are so overwhelmed by the demands of their careers that they become ill mentally and/or physically. Burnouts lead to an average of six million days of absenteeism every year in the Netherlands and companies are struggling to come up with ways to combat these occupational hazards. This is why Industrial Design Engineering student Maaike de Koning decided to focus on the problem for her MSc thesis.

Employees commonly face two different types of stressors that can lead to a burnout. Physical stressors include everything from noisy coworkers to bad lighting. Psychosocial stressors can involve things like heavy workloads, mismanagement and a lack of upward mobility. A heavy combination of these factors can lead to an employee succumbing to a burnout.

Currently, companies are experimenting with solutions like hosting relaxing yoga classes and offering flexible programmes that enable their employees to work from home a few days every week. But De Koning discovered that many workers in the Netherlands tend to avoid these solutions due to a general fear of change or the possibility that it might give their colleagues and managers the impression that they can’t handle their jobs. “Not everyone uses these interventions and because people feel that they’re obliged to use them it might increase their stress,” De Koning explained during her defence on 28 April.

This creates a bit of a paradox for employees and managers alike. What do you do when the solution to a problem only seems to make it worse? While conducting her research, De Koning staged a week-long experiment at a local office. She set up a large pad of paper that employees could use to anonymously air their concerns or leave positive messages for their colleagues. De Koning dubbed it ‘2link’ and thinks that it could be improved with the incorporation of an interactive digital screen. She hopes that the concept, if adopted by other companies, might one day prove more successful at combating burnout than similar programmes.

De Koning, M.S., Coping With Stress in the Work Environment, Supervisors: Romero Herrera, N.A., Defence: April 28, 2016

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