Is Employee Burnout Fatal To The Workplace?

Bruno Kindt

Psycho-social risks and work-related stress are among the most challenging issues in occupational safety and health, significantly impacting the health of individuals and organizations. According to EU-OSHA, about half of European workers consider stress common in their workplace; it contributes to roughly half of all working days lost. Like many other issues surrounding mental health, stress is often misunderstood or stigmatized. However, when viewed as an organizational rather than an individual issue, psychosocial risks and stress can be just as manageable as any other workplace safety and health risk.

Conditions that can lead to stress, burnout, and depression include excessive workloads; conflicting demands and lack of role clarity; lack of involvement in making decisions that affect the worker; lack of influence over the way the job is done; poorly managed organizational change; job insecurity; ineffective communication; and lack of support from management or colleagues.

Even if we could effectively determine the number of employees impacted by burnout, this would measure only its economic impact. The real priority is to understand if there is a problem, who are the colleagues impacted and why.

According to Securex, our partner in health and well-being management, two out of three Belgian employees from all industries suffer (negative) stress at work. Around 10% have or will develop real burnout. This number is increasing as the causes of stress at work multiply.

The good news is that the causes of stress and burnout are increasingly recognized, and by addressing them, we can reduce their impact.

At the same time, identifying stress or burnout early benefits both employee and employer: Employees benefit from support and coaching, and employers are made more aware of their responsibility.

This is why, after several managerial training sessions on this topic, SAP BeLux decided to organize workshops to train its managers to identify and react at an early stage to those critical situations. Simultaneously, the training provided an opportunity for leaders to evaluate their own stress level and act to protect themselves.

How to introduce the problems

  • (Re-)define stress, burnout, depression: How does it occur, and why does recovery take so long?
  • Identify the level of risk: look at the balance between stressors (workload, work intensity, work environment, changes, disruptive behavior) and energy sources (values, culture, team, direct management, autonomous work, purpose) in your own organization.
  • Let participants work on their own situation, and enable leaders to evaluate whether they are presenting signs of burnout.

From experience to an action plan

We shared the concrete actions and decisions we were making to keep our organization as healthy as possible (keep the aquarium water transparent), and we discussed our ability to react as leaders on three levels:

  • Primary prevention: preventing risks
  • Secondary prevention: preventing damages
  • Tertiary prevention: limiting damages

We worked on identifying our own skill gaps and experimented with being able to effectively address the three stages listed above. We did not come up with any big theories, but focused on practical aspects—this is where the sharing experience was fruitful.

During our discussions, we learned about how to focus on the desired situation, using the DESC method:

Description: Focus on facts, name what you see, gain acceptance, do not forget positive aspects

Emotion: Express your evaluation and concerns with regards to the facts

(Desired) Situation: What are the specific expectations for changes

Consequences: Be specific about the impact for the work environment and the person itself

The type of support and engagement required varies, depending on the employee and their specific situation. It ranges from prevention discussions while employees are in the workplace, keeping in contact, and preparing follow-up to support an employee’s return to work.

Tips for leaders

  • Be a role model
  • Create space for dialogue
  • Pay attention to colleagues’ signals (emotions, behavioral and social relationships changes, use of and reliance on substances)
  • Give positive feedback
  • Make workload a subject of discussion
  • Stimulate self-motivation
  • Use people for their talents

In conclusion, treating the training sessions as “real-life” workshops was an effective approach.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.


About Bruno Kindt

Bruno Kindt is Human Resources Director for the Belgium Luxembourg region at SAP. After studying information technology, he started his career developing HR-related software. He joined SAP in 1995 as a human capital management (HCM) consultant, implementing SAP solutions for the first Belgian and Luxemburgish customers. After having been HCM presales and head of the training organization, he joined the HR department as a manager and later appointed HR Director for the Belux region, with additional responsibilities as regional board area HR business partner for analytics.