Burnout at work

18/08/2017 HR Services

Mental stress in the workplace

Inner emptiness, exhaustion, fatigue - burned out. This is how many burnout sufferers describe their state of mind. The year 2019 reached a new peak in terms of burnout, depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Although the topic has already been extensively discussed and analysed in the media, companies still pay too little attention to the topic of "mental stress at work". Many companies deliberately close themselves off from it and deliberately do not deal with it.

Often the connection between the work situation that is causing the illness and the mental illness is not recognised, suppressed or denied. Various independent tests and reports from leading health insurance companies clearly show that the number of sick days due to mental disorders has more than doubled since the 1990s. Last year, employees were on sick leave for 2.89 working days due to a mental illness. For companies, employee illness can cause other problems in addition to sick leave, such as a complete withdrawal from the company. Very often, mental illness leads to early retirement, which in turn has an impact on companies' costs.

The increasing number of mental illnesses poses a particular challenge for companies. The annual costs of illness amount to billions. The duration of the illness is also three times as high as for other types of sick leave.

Burnout and psychological stress

The term burnout was coined by the psychoanalyst Herbert Freudenberger. Freudenberg "often worked 16 hours a day". Until he collapsed - and then wrote a book in which he described and defined his "burnout". How burnout manifests itself varies. Frequently mentioned are declining performance, persistent fatigue and exhaustion, but other signs can also occur in the burnout syndrome.

So far there is no uniform definition for the term burnout. The clinical picture is not clearly defined and the term burnout is also not listed in the globally recognized diagnostic classification system of medicine, the International Statistical Classification of Diseases - ICD. Despite the lack of a uniform definition, we use the term burnout because, on the one hand, it is often used in the media and, on the other hand, it clearly illustrates how those affected can feel.

In the context of burnout, other terms are often used, such as mental stress or psychological strain. The term mental stress, marked with the standard DIN EN ISO 10075, is understood to mean the totality of all recordable influences that come from outside and have a mental effect on a person. Every activity is thus associated with mental stress, which can have both positive and negative effects. Negative effects are often referred to as psychological stress. There are four different triggers in the workplace, including:

  • the work task,
  • the organisation of work,
  • the working environment and
  • the social relationships.

The term mental stress is also often mentioned in this context. Mental stress is the individual, immediate and not long-term effect of the psychological strain on a person.

The stress is, so to speak, the result of the load, and here too there are negative and positive stresses. Positive mental stress can promote health and professional competence, whereas negative stress can impair well-being and health.

Increase in mental stress

If you ask me what the cause of the increase in burnout is, I can tell you the following points without much thought. In my opinion, these are also the biggest and most serious problems: on the one hand, changes in working conditions, such as the increase in time and performance pressure, the flooding of digital impressions and the increasing competition due to the ongoing process of globalisation. Often, the employee is expected to have a boundless willingness to be mobile. Overtime and weekend assignments are also not uncommon for many employees. Due to the general fear of the future and the fear of losing their job, employees submit to this stress without thinking about the consequences. On the other hand, it is the employees themselves who perceive a change in themselves and consciously deal with their inner self. Furthermore, mental illnesses are more often discovered or correctly diagnosed by family doctors.

Take active steps against burnout

If mental stress at the workplace increases, action is needed. The employer or the human resources manager or the company health management officer should recognize a change in his or her employees and actively approach the employee. The employee himself or herself is also required to question his or her psychological stress and to change the work situation if the stress is not right. Particularly in the initial phase of mental stress, small changes to the workplace can improve the situation and help the employee to get out of his or her false burden.

Don't look away any longer! If you notice that your employee, your colleague or you notice a change in yourself, take action. If it concerns a colleague, employee, talk to him or her and also involve the person you trust and personnel managers. You can actively change the situation and reduce the psychological stress at work, and it also helps to engage an external partner. He or she looks at the work situation in a value-neutral way and can point out fields of action. The external consultant will work with you to develop solutions and will support you in complying with them. Especially in the case of long-term psychological stress, it is important that the person affected receives medical care so that he or she can once again face the working day in a positive light. Even with slight signs of burnout, the employee should consult a doctor to change and improve the situation in time.take care of yourself and your colleagues. Address problems immediately and be open to the topic of burnout and mental illness.another blog article will be devoted to the topic of work-life balance and show how company measures can counteract mental stress.

Sources: BKK health report 2014 Techniker Krankenkasse Health Report 2015 | Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists | German statutory pension insurance scheme | Mental health in the workplace focus.de | The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health | Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, Familie und Integration | Wirtschaftswoche

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