Tackling burnout, managing psychosocial risks

According to Eurofound, between 15 to 25% of Europeans reported to suffer from moderate forms of burnout, while 2-3% were subject to severe forms of burnout. The self-reported prevalence of burnout measured in these surveys stands in contrast to the official numbers if recognised and diagnosed at all, by public health authorities. These figures, although indicative and calling upon more systematic investigation at EU-level, point to a serious public health concern to be dealt with both by administrations and companies.   

Managers share a double burden when it comes to burnout. On the one hand, they are those who are most at risk for developing it and on the other hand, they are responsible for diminishing psychosocial health risks (PSHR) in the workplace in order to prevent burnouts of team members.

As a European social partner and representative of managers, CEC takes a comprehensive stance on how to tackle burnout.

At individual level, the management of psycho-social risks is one of the components of leadership that CEC European Managers is advocating for. As explained in CEC’s Sustainable Leadership Guidelines, support, mentoring, appreciation and trust from supervisors play a positive role in mitigating burnout and maintaining or restoring motivation to work. To better understand the role double role of managers, CEC takes part in a European project on psychosocial risks (led by Eurocadres) in the workplace. Politically, CEC advocates for better occupational health and prevention policies.

Burnout classifications across Europe 

In Europe, several, sometimes contradicting, conceptions of burnout are used, according to the Eurofound report. Burnout is mainly tackled under three angles: work-related stress, mental health and overtime. In diagnosis, most countries classify burnout as over-exhaustion and do not associate burnout with work and its conditions, except for Italy and Latvia. Some studies have demonstrated that an important number of persons suffering from burnout is also affected by depression, anxiety or other forms of mental health issues. This would support the claim burnout is not an occupational disease. Many studies have highlighted the conceptual difficulties of clearly identifying burnout and differentiating it from other diseases.

However, confounding depression or other forms of mental diseases with burnout can lead to taking insufficiently into account the specificities of both clinical pictures. This can lead to an undersupply of help structures (Eurofound 2018: 12). Furthermore, it is important not to understand burnout as a form of depression of “strong” performers as this would stigmatise depressed people and cultivate an acceptation of burnout as a normal phenomenon in a performance-oriented working environment. Rather, a differentiated picture is needed to account to both depression and burnout. This includes a thorough medical diagnosis of individual (psychical and somatic) and occupational risk factors for the development of burnout.

If the question of considering burnout as an occupational disease or not remains difficult to answer, the imperative to preventing psychosocial risks in the workplace is clear. Taking a preventive approach helps to avoid stress, burnout and poor mental health. Employees exposed to high work intensity, long working hours, emotional pressure, little autonomy, poor leadership and/or conflictions relationships at work were found to be at higher risk of burnout or more likely to already suffer from it (Eurofound 2018: 15). In a study on the relation of burnout and a stressful working environment, the incidence of burnout was 17% among those who reported that their job was stressful, compared to 4.3% among those who believed it was not stressful.

Guide on burnout

The French CEC member organisation, CFE-CGC, has published a practical guide (in French) on the identification and prevention of the syndrome d’épuisement professionnel (professional exhaustion syndrome), including proposals to facilitate the recognition of burnout in work-related negotiations and the financial implications for social security. CFE-CGC calls for recognising burnout as an occupational disease to be covered by the occupational injuries and diseases branch of the French social security, financed by employers and not by the general health insurance.

Today in France, employers can be held accountable for their employees’ health, if no preventive measures were taken. Among the obligations are a collaboratively created risk analysis of psychosocial health risks at the workplace, a prevention plan and the provision of information and/or training on PSHR. In 2016, the professional origin of 516 person’s psychic disturbances has been recognised in France by official authorities.

Read more:
Eurofound 2018:
Burnout in the workplace: A review of data and policy responses in the EU