INTERVIEW – Marc Blom, psychiatrist and member of the board of directors of the Parnassia Groep (mental health care provider), discusses the subject of burnout. The statistics do not lie, 1 out of 7 Dutch workers experience burnout complaints. But, what is a burnout exactly? How do we recognize complaints? And, even more important, how can we prevent the complaints and thus a burnout?

“There are a lot of definitions for burnout. I describe it as a feeling of overload at work and caused by work. Feeling tired even though you slept well, not able to concentrate well, easily annoyed and having difficulty with handling pressure.The term ‘burnout’, the feeling of being burnt out, not having enough energy to do your work. The feeling of energy loss is the central definition.”

Sounds like a depression and a burnout have the same kind of complaints, how do you distinguish a burnout from a depression?
“Indeed, that is difficult, a depression is an official medical diagnosis and a burnout is not. In general a burnout is based on situational factors, which means you suffer from it at work, but not outside of work. That is the difference with a depression, a depression is everywhere. Because a burnout is work-related, it is not supported by everyone. People think: yeah, he is sick, but then why do I see him gardening?”  

There has been done a lot of research concerning burnout complaints in the Netherlands, outcomes suggest different levels of complaints per workfield. For example people in educational jobs suffer from complaints more often than people working in construction. Why is that?
“This is due to a multitude of things, but mostly because these are jobs where you work with people. This means that interactions are complex, especially for groups, which affects your concentration span. Next to that, it also involves the perceived workload and the difficulty to escape from that. People in work fields like education or health have double, or even triple work: they have a job, responsibility for their children and they sometimes take care of their parents. A lot of caring responsibilities and almost no time for themselves. It can not be a coincidence that these are fields that have to face changes from the government as well. An increasing regulatory pressure. The feeling of alienation, feeling you are not doing what is important, can also contribute to the feelings of a burnout. So for most people it is an interplay of different factors, individual and societal.”

Nowadays we hear a lot about burnouts: is it a buzzword?
“No, I do not think it is a buzzword, it has been used for 50 years already. However, its definition is poor. In history the same complaints, the same syndrome, gets another name. Now it is called burnout, but the complaints have always been there. So the definition is not a buzzword, but the name is a buzzword.”

So a burnout and burnout complaints are difficult to recognize. How can you recognize it in yourself?

“How much pleasure do you experience going to work? Do you feel tired when you just woke up? Or are you fresh and energized? Do you need the whole weekend to recover from your work? Can you concentrate well? It are small signals creeping in slowly. You carry on endlessly, realizing that calling sick is too late. Unfortunately it takes some time before you recover later…”

In part 2 Marc Blom discusses how you should react on symptoms of a burnout.

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Lisa den Boer

Content creator who believes in the power of content: breaking taboo, motivating and inspiring. Curious about new places, cultures and other people.

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