Sick or Sick of Work?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016 | Published by

The burnout syndrome has been well known for several years now. An increasing number of employees have already felt its symptoms, such as ongoing or intense stress at work, chronic fatigue, anxiety, headaches, emotional upsets, etc.

This illness can be quite costly for both companies and the State. Indeed, when an employee cannot work anymore, his absence disorganizes the company and his colleagues have to assume his responsibilities/tasks in addition to their own, and in doing so, also risk being in a state of burnout. In some countries, the social insurance has to pay for treatment and replacement income. As such, burnout can also be recognized as an occupational disease and may give rise to the payment of a specific allowance.

In Japan, “karoshi” means the sudden death of executives or office employees caused by cardiac arrest as a result of a heavy workload or too much stress. Karoshi has been recognized as an occupational disease since 1970. In France, there have been several proposed laws in the same spirit. However, it remains extremely difficult to benefit from the occupational diseases regime as the employee has to prove that work directly and exclusively provoked their symptoms.

In reaction, companies started to take measures to prevent this pathology. The leadership team and staff members vigilantly monitor workloads and stress levels. They started to organize periodic interviews to make sure employees have the means to face the objectives fixed by their hierarchy and encourage doing sports or taking a nap just after lunch. Some companies even decided to cut out electricity and access to professional mailboxes at 10pm so that employees are forced to go home and rest.

Another disease that often appears in companies is the opposite of burnout: the bore-out. This time, the employee does not have enough work to be occupied all day long and grows more and more bored. It is not surprising that the lack of work provokes as much trouble as an overwhelming amount of work. Idle employees feel useless and become ashamed, as they cannot complain of being paid to do nothing, especially in times of high unemployment. As a consequence, bore-out has mental and physical repercussions such as an attack on self-esteem, which can quickly turn to questioning their role in society in general and the purpose of their career and livelihood.

HR departments face another issue – making sure that the right person is in the right place at the right time. However, it is also the employee’s responsibility to alert their hierarchy when they notice that their job no longer meets their expectations and that it may become necessary for them to resign.

Image credit: By Adam Jones Adam63, cropped/retouched by User:Dcoetzee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons