Date: 11.01.2021

Author: Tomcho Tomov, Director, National Center for Competence Assessment

Readed: 675

In 2019, the new catalog of the World Health Organization, defined burnout as a syndrome which occurs "due to chronic stress at work, [which] has not been successfully managed." Is burnout an actual disease?

Burnout or the "burnout syndrome" is one of the ways people respond to the traumatic effects of work stress. This is not a disease, but a stable state of mind and psyche, which is expressed mainly in the severance of the emotional and value connection between a person and their work. Burnout lays between health and illness, and if it enters the last stage of its development, there is only one small step left to mental illness. Therefore, “Burnout” was introduced as a diagnosis in Sweden, the Netherlands and other countries at the end of the last century. The introduction of burnout in the qualification of diseases in these countries enables those affected to benefit from the financial mechanisms for compensation, counseling, psychotherapeutic treatment, rehabilitation.

Where is our country in the spread of this phenomenon?

Burnout is studied primarily in the context of workplace stress. The results from the international ones, incl. and European studies are extremely worrying. Over 37% of the employees in Europe are exposed to increased stress at work, and about 20% have mental health problems and other symptoms due to the onset and development of burnout. WHO and ILO forecasts outline a dramatic increase in mental health problems in the workplace over the next 10-15 years. In Bulgaria, partial studies have been conducted on the prevalence of Burnout, mainly among those employed in education, healthcare, social services and law enforcement and judicial officials. The results show that almost every third employee in these sectors is affected to one degree or another by Burnout.

Can we talk about the economic consequences of Burnout?

Some Western European countries report that Burnout has annual losses of billions of Euros and thousands of workers who have left or been redirected in their employment. In the Netherlands, for example, it is estimated that losses due to occupational stress and burnout amount to € 4 billion a year, which is 1.5% of gross domestic product. In the United States, they speak of $ 300 billion a year in spending and lost profits due to Burnout. In Bulgaria, about 30% of the reasons for staff turnover are related to Burnout. Annually, employers lose about BGN 200 million for the payment of benefits for temporary incapacity for work due to illnesses and conditions due to high occupational stress and burnout. The development of the Burnout syndrome has direct and indirect consequences for employers. The direct ones are the real measurable financial losses in the moment, and the indirect ones are long-term problems in business efficiency. Research shows that Burnout is also a collectively "contagious" condition that reproduces through informal relationships in the workplace and manifests itself not only in individual employees but also in the team and at an organizational level.

What are the typical symptoms of burnout?

Compared to stress, burnout has complex and clearly defined symptoms. The combination of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and dehumanization, as well as deteriorating performances are inherent only in those affected by Burnout. The effects of stress can be treated, while the effects of "Burnout" develop over time and affect the whole person and his life. If stress shortens life expectancy, then burnout destroys the enitre desire to live. Burnout is a state in which you can neither rejoice nor be sad. One feels indifference, emptiness, apathy and numbness. The affected feel that they have reached the critical threshold in communicating with people and want to escape from all experiences and emotions, from everything and everyone. They no longer trust themselves or others. They are overwhelmed by suspicion, resentment, indifference to the feelings of others, to the norms of living together, to ethics and collegiality. They become suspicious, harsh, and cynical in their relationships. People are disappointed by their false hopes at work. They feel that your situation is spiraling out of control, that failures are haunting them. They lose faith in their own abilities and professionalism. The affected think they have failed and lost their dignity. They lose interest and begin to feel negativity towards work and their profession, they do not find meaning, joy and satisfaction in life. They become pessimists, and leave all kinds of plans and dreams for the future behind. There are no hopes, only desperation, a feeling of helplessness and unhappiness haunts them. Gradually, they lose interest in their friendly environment, in the things they liked, in their usual entertainment, sports, hobbies, etc. They experience constant fatigue, complete exhaustion, unreasonable fear and tension, problem and with sleep and health, inability to rest, and increasingly difficult recovery. People feel "locked in a cage", while their life is reduced to some routinely repeating cycle from which there is no escape… This is what Burnout causes!

Which occupations are at highest risk, in which sectors of the economy is the Burnout syndrome most widespread?

The Burnout syndrome is characteristic of sectors such as education, health, trade, services, security, in general, for those in which the system of human-to-human relations prevails. The most vulnerable are the professional groups that work with people - doctors, teachers, social workers, educators, therapists, journalists, security and justice officials. But it is also expressed in professions for which there are typical pressing requirements for high achievements - managers, athletes, traders, students. The other group affected by the syndrome are people who set high standards without being able to meet them. The tragedy is that victims of burnout, as a rule, are well-trained professionals, who started their professional careers with high motivation and enthusiasm, and then eventually face reality, with the real restrictive conditions; the results do not meet their internal standards and expectations, and gradually fall into frustration, resignation and apathy. In other words, those who "burn" in their work "burn out".

Is there a "vaccine" against burnout?

There is no vaccine from the "outside". In the last stage of burnout, even the help of experienced doctors and therapists can come as delayed and useless. In our desire to be "useful" to everyone, at some point we come to a situation in which we have stopped being useful to ourselves. Antibodies against "burnout" are in our psyche. Mental health is harmony and balance. In this case we are talking about harmony and balance between work and personal life, between opportunities and ambitions, between personal suitability and requirements, between giving and receiving, between workload and recovery, between enthusiasm and recognition, between idealism and realism.

We must value our health and not make it hostage to workaholism, perfectionism and the pursuit of achievement. Work in itself is not a burden. The burden comes from wrong beliefs, painful feelings, thoughts and moods, from wrong attitudes, expectations and claims to work. We must learn to say no to ambitions, demands and claims that limit our privacy. We need to make sense of our priorities, because if work overwhelms us at the expense of our health, Burnout will play a bad trick on us - it will deprive us of the opportunity to enjoy what we have already achieved, the meaning and desire to live. Of course, employers' measures to prevent stress in the work environment are also important. But each of us needs to reconsider our approaches to dealing with stress and stress at work, especially. To think about the way we perceive and react to stimuli. Stress is not what happened to us, but how we perceived what has happened.

How about processing stress at work from our home environment? Are fewer people complaining from Burnout, or vice versa?

Remote work has its pros and cons. The problem is that stress can be exacerbated by the lack of social contacts, feelings of isolation, increased emotional self-control and attention in the realm of virtual communication, Internet addiction and social media addiction, detachment from reality, increased anxiety, faster fatigue and satiety. The problem with working from home is immobility, disturbed dynamic stereotype, the prerequisites for more frequent distraction, etc. Burnout has a downside, the so-called "Boreout" - a syndrome of occupational insufficiency, which leads to the same consequences. While burnout is a syndrome in people subjected to uncontrollable high and chronic stress in response to multiple demands that they cannot meet, Boreout affects those who do not have enough variety and challenges in their work, are not busy enough and perform routines, unimportant, superficial and uninteresting tasks, a "work boredom". And this can occue when working remotely.

In the MyCompetence system you have over 1300 developed competency profiles for positions. What new competencies do home workers need?

The requirements for digital competencies and, above all, the skills for working with specialized software and e-platforms for management and communications are increasing. Multifunctional and STEM skills, the ability for complex analysis, interpretation of complex data, forecasting, critical and lateral thinking, attention to detail, decision making and problem solving, project management, etc. are increasingly valued. Competencies such as independence, personal effectiveness, self-control, flexibility and adaptability to change, constant learning and improvement, emotional intelligence, coping with tension and stress.

In this issue there is an interview with teacher Teodosii Teodosiev. We asked him if the mouse would eat the book. We ask you, will robots eat people's jobs?

According to the report "The changing nature of work" prepared by the World Bank in 2019, automation and robotics threaten more than 40% of jobs. A person brings three main categories of abilities to the labor market - physical, cognitive and socio-behavioral. If in the past machines helped people mainly with physical abilities, nowadays digitalization and artificial intelligence are able in the field of the cognitive abilities as well. We are seeing the effect of "replacing man with technology", transforming and closing jobs with predominantly routine activities that can be coded and replaced with a software. But these processes do not "eat" employment, but lead to new in nature, smarter jobs and activities aimed at higher added value, non-routine work in unpredictable environments, requiring much higher qualifications, information skills, and non-traditional, analytical and innovative thinking. According to CEDEFOP, in the last few years, around 43% of EU workers have experienced changes in their workplace technology and 47% have experienced changes in their organization and working methods.

 Professions are also changing. We have already placed professions in the Museum of Labor, such as telephone operator, typist, video library salesman, stenographer, projectionist, calculator, librarian and others. Gradually, artificial intelligence and technology will replace other professions, such as lawyers, accountants, bank clerks, translators, collectors, cashiers, postal workers, hygienists, etc. According to some forecasts, about 35-40% of the existing professions will be replaced by brand new ones within the next 20 years. In the long run, there will be probably almost no profession that will remain unaffected by digitalization and automation. The professions of the future will be mostly related to digital technologies, collective intelligence - global data network, nano and meta technologies, mechatronics, biotechnology, neurotechnology, green technologies.

Your wishes to the working people in the early 2021

Above all, health, calmness, and a safe and profitable year!