Is Switzerland Becoming The 'Burn-Out Nation'?

(MENAFN- Swissinfo) Deutsch (de) Ist die Schweiz das Burnout-Land schlechthin? (original)

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Worn out. Drained. Frustrated. Stressed out. Pushed to the limit. That is how more and more Swiss people are feeling at work.

These are symptoms that are typical for burn-out. It's an increasingly widespread diagnosis for a kind of exhaustion that takes over and can lead to states of depression.

There are numerous statistics which, directly or indirectly, back up the impression of an increase in burn-out in Switzerland in recent years.

According to the most recent Job Stress IndexExternal link , published by the foundation Health Promotion Switzerland, the University of Bern and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), 30.3% of working people in 2022 felt emotionally exhausted. That is more than ever. Emotional exhaustion is one of the characteristics of burn-out.

A studyExternal link commissioned in 2020 by SWICA, Switzerland's largest health insurer, found that 57% of absenteeism had to do with psychological effects of conflict in the workplace.

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Most recently, Swiss public broadcaster SBC, in its wide-ranging survey“How are you, Switzerland?”, asked whether people thought their workplace was putting them at risk of burn-out. A quarter of respondents said yes, while 17% reported they had already experienced burn-out.

Stressed-out sectors

“That should give us pause for thought,” says Regina Jensen of Health Promotion Switzerland, a co-author of the Job Stress Index. After all, burn-out inflicts suffering on those affected, and it also costs the economy money.

According to the study, those costs amount to some CHF6.5 billion ($7.4 billion) a year.“We should feel prompted to be doing something to head off this growing trend,” Jensen says.

The Job Stress Index is calculated by contrasting the stress on workers with the helping resources available to them. The question of which of these is more salient in the workplace results in the Stress Index. The industry sectors most affected by stress are, according to the study, (1) hospitality and (2) social services and healthcare.

More than the industry sector, however, it is the job role which contributes to burn-out risk. It's not managers who suffer the most from stress but frontline employees and low-paid workers.“They often have fewer resources at their disposal than managers, and they are less able to delegate work elsewhere so as to give themselves a break,” Jensen says.

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But what does it mean when a quarter of Swiss think they are at risk of burn-out?“To answer that, you would need to know what the respondents understand burn-out to be,” Jensen says. That may well vary. Even the experts are not in agreement about the criteria for a diagnosis.

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not regard burn-out as a medical condition but as an occupational phenomenonExternal link . In the January 2022 edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), burn-out is classified under“Problems associated with employment or unemployment”.

The WHO gives the following definition:“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: (1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; (2) increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and (3) reduced professional efficacy.”

Burn-out risk is on the increase in other Western societies, shows the Future Forum PulseExternal link survey, commissioned by firms including Boston Consulting and the office furniture manufacturer Miller Knoll. Switzerland was not included in this study. Participants were asked whether they would agree with the statement“I feel burnt out at work”.

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The definition of burn-out is unclear, but so is its cause. Jensen sees changed working conditions as one factor: always being reachable, higher intensity of work, and lack of qualified staff all increase the pressure on workers.

Fastest pace of work in Europe

According to a survey which the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) carried out in 2021 in association with a Europe-wide study, the pace of work and the pressure to meet deadlines is nowhere higher in Europe than in Switzerland.

At the same time, Jensen believes, in recent years the factors of war, the Covid pandemic and climate change have contributed to the feeling that even outside working hours people can't relax.

“Many people talk of burn-out when they can't carry on,” says Niklas Baer, a psychologist at WorkMed. This centre for work and mental health deals with psychological problems in the workplace.

About 400 people every year come to WorkMed for assessment.“Many of them tell us they are having a burn-out,” says Baer. But that is often not the only reason for the clients' difficulties.

“Sometimes conflict in the workplace is only a trigger, exacerbating problems that were there already,” he points out. So it is always important to look at the person's whole work history and their private life. Often enough, depression or anxiety may be at the back of it.

Respectable-sounding diagnosis

Baer emphasises that any burn-out needs to be taken seriously. But he also says:“Many people find it easier to talk in terms of burn-out rather than other mental health problems.”

Burn-out is a more respectable-sounding condition to suffer from, he says. Being“burnt out” suggests that the person is hardworking and conscientious. And then the blame can be laid at the employer's door.

Yet working conditions have not just deteriorated across the board, as Baer points out.“I think there have been improvements, too. Today there are more resources available to support employees, management style is less authoritarian than it once was, and executives are better trained. We work shorter hours, and there is the option of home office or flexible working hours.”

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What's more, not all those working under the same conditions“burn out”. The SBC survey also reports that 70% feel they are not at risk of burn-out.

“For me it's an over-simplification just to focus on working conditions,” Baer says. There is a risk of taking a one-sided approach to what is in fact a complex problem.

Every second case leads to quitting

Baer analysed in a study for SWICA on why the reintegration of mentally disturbed people after a period of illness and absence often fails. For half of them, it ends in them quitting the job.“That need not be,” he thinks.

Something that must not be forgotten is that“usually work is one of the most stabilising factors that exist”, he says. It would also be helpful if the medical staff doing the assessments were in touch with the employers to review the situation comprehensively. According to the study, that happens only in a fifth of cases.

In order to put a stop to the risk of burn-out, all parties need to take responsibility. The important thing is to respond to early warning signs. It often begins with some minor matter, an initial feeling of offence, frustration and withdrawal.

“Many of those conflict situations could be defused if they were dealt with early enough,” Baer says. That might mean having a discussion to clear things up with the boss, or seeking out resources that can help a person deal with the pressure.

Employers have a duty as well. The Workmed centre provides support both to line managers and personnel managers with workshops on dealing with psychological problems in the workplace. Together with the union Employees Switzerland, the Centre has developed an appExternal link to help employees.

Health Promotion Switzerland also offers several packagesExternal link for companies with tips about how employers can have a positive effect on the working environment.

Jensen and Baer are certainly agreed on one thing: it is good that in our society there is more open discussion of burn-out and the issue is no longer taboo.

For Baer there needs to be a further step:“We have to rethink our ways of perceiving and dealing with psychological problems in general.” For hardly a single individual is unaffected in their lifetime, he says, and work is not the only reason.

Edited by Marc Leutenegger. Translated from German by Terence MacNamee

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