Burnout is a common condition that occurs in response to excessive stress at work and can gradually develop into a chronic condition that has an adverse effect on a person’s overall health and well-being (Montero-Marin et al., 2016). Burnout has also emerged as one of the most serious psychosocial occupational hazards, creating considerable costs for both individuals and organisations. Therefore, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized burnout as one of the major problems related to life management difficulties and included it in the International Classification of Diseases in 2019 (Edú-Valsania, et al., 2022).
Burnout in organisational settings
Burnout was once thought to just affect professionals in the care of people (Maslach & Jackson, 1981), but we now know that it can affect people in different kinds of occupations and professions (Schaufeli et al., 2009). Still, in many countries, burnout has not been recognized as a medical condition, which would give a person the right to e.g., sick leave. Thus, employees who experience burnout are often facing different challenges, related to treatments, support, and social benefits being dependent on medical diagnosis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have experienced significant stress, which has further exacerbated the importance of occupational healthcare and burnout management.
We argue that burnout is an employer problem and an organisational challenge. Some of the organisational factors or predictors of burnout are the following (see e.g., Edú-Valsania et al., 2022): job characteristics (work pressure and long working hours, work overload, emotional labor, role ambiguity and conflict, lack of autonomy); leadership (task allocations, inadequate team management, lack of support, deadline expectations, psychological safety); private life; long-term mental illness; socio-economic issues; interpersonal conflict between colleagues; work-related trends (e.g., quiet quitting, hybrid work, etc.); working during and post international crises; etc.
For the employee, job burnout is an extended response to chronic job stressors characterised by three main factors: (1) unrelenting exhaustion – individual factor, (2) cynicism about and detachment from the job – relational/social factor, and (3) a lack of accomplishment and self-efficacy – self-perception factor (e.g., Maslach et al., 2001). As such, an employee suffering from job burnout may (1) feel a level of individual stress that incapacitates them emotionally and physically, (2) behave callously due to their negative feelings about their job (for instance, an excessive level of detachment from the job may lead burned-out employees to relate to clients in impulsive and callous ways, which may lead to very negative organisational outcomes), and (3) fester deep feelings of incompetence as core to their self-concept.
Studies on burnout in Finnish organisational settings
In May 2021, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (n.d.) published a survey that has been answered by 44897 respondents, out of which 54.6% experienced fairly high or high levels of job burnout. 80% of them were female, with 43% being 36-50 years old. The highest percentage of experienced job burnout was found in health and social services (30%), followed by education (10%), which is in line with Maslach et al. (2001).
Another study, conducted by Ahola et al. (2009), on occupational burnout among Finnish forest industry workers, shows that burnout can lead to work disability among initially healthy employees. However, in Finland, burnout is not recognized as a medical condition and individuals suffering from it cannot get access to social benefits, sick leave, and other forms of support through the healthcare system. To navigate such situations, doctors frequently employ the strategy of diagnosing employees with alternative mental health conditions.
How to support an employee with burnout in returning to work?
One useful form of support for people experiencing burnout is partial sick leave. Partial sick leave, as well as partial sickness benefits, are used in the Nordic countries, such as Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway (see e.g., Kausto et al., 2008). Studies show that this legislation (introduced in Finland in 2007) may increase the work participation of employees with long-term sick leave. As such, partial sick leave may prove to be a helpful strategy in reducing the number of employees leaving their jobs for medical reasons (Kausto, et al., 2014). “The use of part-time sick leave during the first three months of sick absence enhances return to work and overall work participation during two years among persons with mental disorders… The prescription of part-time sick leave can be recommended at an early stage of work disability” (Viikari-Juntura et al., 2017, p. 447). In other words, the use of part-time sick leave enhances return to work, compared to full-time sick leave. To put it in perspective, each employee in Finland misses, on average, 5-7 days of work, due to illness each year, costing organisations approx. 350€ per day (Pohjola Insurance n.d.). This could be reduced by providing better working conditions, and more effective treatments, as well as allowing for self-certification procedures, which means that employees are allowed to miss a certain number of workdays without a medical certificate. Besides helping employees, these incentives are lowering organisational costs as well.
In June 2023, this paper was presented at the Conference on Business and Industrial Marketing (CBIM 2023). The conference brought together academics, professionals, and Ph.D. students from around the world, with the aim to discuss current hot topics in business marketing. One of the topics, currently being more and more critical in organisational settings, is the topic of mental health and wellbeing. This is something that every organisation, including Laurea, should take very seriously and include as a part of their overall business strategy.
About the authors
Dr. Nikolina Koporcic earned her Ph.D. in Economics and Business Administration in 2017, at the Åbo Akademi University. Currently, she is a Principal Researcher at Laurea University of Applied Sciences and an Academy Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland. Nikolina also holds the title of a Docent (Adjunct Professor) at the University of Turku and acts as an Associate Editor of Business Ethics, the Environment & Responsibility Journal. Her research areas include the co-creation of value, open innovation, corporate branding, entrepreneurship, business relationships and networks. In particular, she is studying the importance of Interactive Network Branding for small firms in business markets. Nikolina has published 16 peer-reviewed academic articles, 3 books, 8 book chapters, 22 conference proceedings, and 9 Laurea Journal articles. orcid.org/0000-0001-5050-3819
Dr. R. Elena Francu is an Assistant Professor in Marketing within the Department of Marketing at Nottingham University Business School, University of Nottingham (UK). Following her Ph.D. studies in marketing with a focus on B2B service innovation at Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (NL), she pursued research in social dynamics and prosocial behavior. Her work has been published in Research Policy, Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies, and Journal of Consumer Behaviour. orcid.org/0000-0001-5931-9997
Dr. Ilia Gugenishvili (Ph.D., Åbo Akademi University) is an Assistant Professor at Åbo Akademi University School of Business and Economics in Finland. His research interests include sustainability, mobile applications, consumer behavior, culture, Virtual Reality, and social psychology. Ilia has published in the Journal of Consumer Behavior, the International Journal of E-Services and Mobile Applications, and the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology, among others.
Dr. Miika Nietola is a medical doctor specialised in adult psychiatry who works at Turku University Hospital and also consults occupational health care physicians in treating different mental health conditions. He has a Ph.D. in medicine from the University of Turku and is a licensed psychotherapist.
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