Research

Burnout risks extend beyond long working hours

An experimental screening tool to identify workers suffering from burnout, based on the World Health Organisation's (WHO's) revised definition of the syndrome, has identified a range of risk factors aside from excessive work hours.

The WHO's 2019 definition of burnout is a "syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed", and "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". 

The tool was developed by occupational and environmental medicine researchers from Inha University Hospital and other South Korean institutions, and was applied to nearly 450 office, service and field workers in South Korea. Predictably it found that burnout was higher among those who worked more than 60 hours per week, affecting 20 per cent of these employees.

It also found young workers were far more likely than their older counterparts to have or be at risk of burnout. It affected 16.8 per cent of participating workers in their 30s, and 10.3 per cent of those in their 20s, compared to just 3.4 per cent of those in their 50s, and 4.4 per cent of workers aged between 40 and 49.

The authors said this could be explained by young workers’ limited work proficiency and experience, and greater exposure to the competition created by promotion and performance evaluations, factors much less likely to apply to workers in their 50s, with job tenures exceeding 10 years.

Burnout is increasingly recognised worldwide as an occupational disease, and attracts workers' compensation in a number of countries, particularly across Europe. In 2019, the WHO warned that inadequate workplace health and safety policies and poor communication and management practices can create or worsen burnout, stress, depression and anxiety disorders. Other exacerbating factors include inflexible working hours, limited participation in decision-making, low control over work, low levels of support, unclear tasks or organisational objectives, bullying, and harassment, it said. 
Read more: Hyung-DooKim, et al, Development of Korean version burnout syndrome scale (KBOSS) using WHO's definition of burnout syndrome.  Safety and Health at Work, online August 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.shaw.2021.08.001. Source: OHS Alert

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