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Levers for successful work resumption after burnout

Belgium is heading for half a million long-term sick people (DS Jan. 29, 2021). For one in three, the cause is mental health problems, including burnout. Of those who return to work, 25% have a relapse. No less than 50% fear relapse. Those are tough numbers. Antwerp Management School set out to investigate and returned with four levers for successful work resumption after burnout.
Geluk Eva web
by Eva Geluk | February 18, 2021
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Blog Burnout web

Why is it that more and more people are sick for long periods of time because of burnout? Despite all the attention to prevention and well-being, both privately and at work? Isn't it crazy that you can get sick from work? Why do so many people get sick again or are afraid to relapse when they return to work? How can you successfully resume work? These questions were the basis of the research project Reintegration after burnout: levers and success factors for successful work resumption.

Within this project we interviewed 1200 people: people who returned to work after burnout, managers and colleagues, HR professionals, general practitioners, occupational physicians, psychologists (career) coaches, friends, partners, family, etc.

Based on an analysis of success factors, we identified four levers for successful reintegration after burnout:

1. Reconfiguration is essential, in the workplace and at home

At work, the biggest lever is adjusting job content, context, and the way relationships and connections are shaped. Job reconfiguration is therefore important: create control options in job content, context, and work relationships. The better this reconfiguration suits the worker, the less the fear of relapse.

In addition, the attitude of the housemates is at least as important. If burnout is viewed negatively at home, the likelihood of relapse is greater.

2. Commit to executive coaching and growth prospects

By focusing on increasing resources such as executive coaching, you improve the feedback culture, both hierarchically and between colleagues. In addition, sufficient growth perspective is important: ensure that the employee can further develop his/her competencies and learn new things. Now, the focus is often on reducing task demands, such as quantity of tasks, difficulty level and available time. However, the study shows that focusing on increasing resources and growth gives better chances of success.

Both elements are essential, but the work environment must allow it. To succeed, there must be sufficient knowledge and skills in the organization. Today, this is often not the case.

3. Sensitize

Lack of knowledge and skills, poor communication and stigma are often limiting factors. More than 90% of managers feel responsible for resuming work, but only 45% say they actually have the knowledge and competencies to do so. This can lead to conflicts between the employee, the team and the organization.

A typical example of such a conflict is that both HR and the organization generally tend to focus on the comfort of the returning person rather than on growth prospects. While the latter is a great lever for a work resumption with less chance/anxiety of relapse.

4. Provide a clear approach and structure

Temporization, control options within a coordinated plan and customization are essential elements that bring structure to a reintegration plan. Temporization provides perspective: the employee determines when and how the reintegration proceeds. Currently, just under 30% experience little to no autonomy in his/her work reintegration, and more than 50% would have handled it differently.

So there must be good coordination between employer and employee. In practice, several people from different roles are often involved in the reintegration process. This is often perceived as an obstacle. It also increases the chances of the so-called "me versus them" feeling, where the employee comes to be pitted against the employer. Therefore, appoint a neutral coordinator to act as a bridge between employee and employer. This way you create a safe environment to write a "we" story.

A person of many talents

Reintegration after burnout is an often underexposed topic. Yet there is still much to be gained, despite the complexity and the many actors involved. We can conclude from our research that the role of the employer is not yet sufficiently highlighted in discussions about reintegration. There is much room for improvement there. Finally, the long-term burnout sufferer is a person with many talents. By focusing on growth and development instead of adaptation or reduction, employees can find their drive again. This is a win-win for both employee, employer and society.

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