Burnout & Work 4.0 – Solution or trigger?

It is certainly no coincidence that New Work has gained in importance in recent years. Generations Y and Z are demanding different ways of living and working from previous  generations. Among other things, the following seem to be of reduced importance to them than other generations in the world of work: less pressure and less concern with material rewards, with more self-fulfilment and meaning from their careers while at the same time keeping options open when it comes to decisions about their working life.

Burn-out as a result of overload and uncertainty

Companies demand entrepreneurial spirit from their employees. Moreover, demands for decision-making and creative powers are increasing with the new forms of work. Employees have more freedom of choice and there is the potential to balance different life interests and development opportunities. However, issues such as feeling you don’t have control, the need for constant attention, insecurity, fear and stress are becoming increasingly important. As a result, mental health conditions such as burn-out are becoming more frequent. Work can make you ill.

In 2006 Hillert & Marwitz come up with the following formula:

Continual productivity improvements x irregularity – certainty = burnout?

Burn-out has private and professional roots

The causes of burnout are to be found in personal, working and lifestyle factors and, along with the health consequences, are becoming increasingly important in our performance-oriented society. For the first time, the WHO has now also recognised burnout as a disease. The feeling of having to keep up, being driven and always going to the limit of what is possible is already part of everyday life for many people. Burn-out sometimes becomes a term for an “attitude to life”: the subjectively felt stress is increasingly perceived as a burden that cannot be overcome. In this respect, burn-out is usually triggered by stress.

The symptoms of a burn-out process are largely identical to the symptoms arising from stress. In this respect, it makes sense to take a closer look and differentiate what is actually at stake. Often it is those who take on responsibility with great dedication, feel committed to their task and are unable to clearly draw the line between leisure and work who are most at risk. Being tired, exhausted, cynical, negative or out of balance are some of the symptoms that can occur when we feel that we are no longer in control of our life or responsibilities.

Burn-out prevention through new work?

New Work seems to be a promise of salvation. Work should be organised in such a way that it fits into life and not vice versa; people working when and where they choose to. The office becomes a tool and it can be used for creating new freedom for creativity and development. Motivation for doing good work comes from the conviction that we can achieve self-realization through our work and contribute to the mutual good.

Or rather: Is New Work the main cause of burn-out?

But….doesn’t New Work particularly appeal to “those with dedication”, “those with responsibility”, “and those who feel obliged”?

However high workload does not in itself cause burnout. Rather, other organisational factors such as leadership behaviour, communication, work climate, work organisation, role conflicts and role ambiguity, a lack of fairness and non-transparent decisions that really contribute to high stress levels. So what can we do differently or better in New Work?

Better: New Work as an invitation to work together!

For organisations, it gets more and more important that employees are put in a position to collectively shape their working lives in such a way that the key points described above, such as freedom and self-determination, do not result in excessive demands and thus endanger their health.

Some important points that people in organisations can pay attention to:

  • Reliable structures,
  • flat hierarchies,
  • a team contract developed and lived together,
  • a clear and shared purpose,
  • good relationships within their team,
  • an open feedback culture and clear scope for action

It should also include a well-developed occupational health management system, such as information and education, further training and qualifications, advisory services and crisis intervention options.

It also helps to get support from colleagues, to balance effort and considerations (such as development opportunities, job security and salary) and to ensure that the job, person and environment are aligned when selecting team members.

New Work is a grey concept until each of us decide what we want it to be, or an organisation actively designs it. It is up to us to decide how we want to work, implicitly from  the culture we live in, but also actively in our interaction with each other.