How to treat Germany's workplace blues

Jörg Luyken
Jörg Luyken - [email protected]
How to treat Germany's workplace blues
Burnout is a rising problem in the German workplace. Photo:DPA

There is widespread agreement that “burn-out” is a major issue affecting Germans in the workplace. A new research project is looking into how workers can be better protected from its effects.


Vast differences exist between individuals in terms of how they cope with the stresses of the workplace. Some can work a 60-hour week without showing much sign of stress. others can be doing a part time job and still show the effects of “burn-out” - lack of motivation, fatigue, sleeplessness, and poor levels of concentration.

The causes of this problem are debated between some experts who attribute it to genetics and others who say that environmental factors are at play.

What is beyond question is that it is a growing problem.

According to a study by the AOK scientific institute, the number of work days lost to psychological problems since 1999 has risen by 80 percent.

By 2010 every 10th work day lost to illness was due to acute fatigue or depression.

"We need to act much sooner and in a much more targeted fashion," said Professor Martin Keck from the Max-Plack Institute for Psychology at a discussion titled "the stressed society' held in Berlin in May.

"At the moment only ten percent of patients are receiving adequate therapy."

Work 4.0

Politicians and researchers are united on the need to act.

On Sunday, Labour Minister Andrea Nahles announced she was taking measures to fight against it.

“Job satisfaction in Germany is way lower than it should be in a developed country. There are too many burn-out victims,” Nahles told Spiegel on Sunday.

“In the last decade the number of days missed for psychological reasons has doubled,” she added.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician has therefore announced an initiative called “work 4.0” through which she aims to help people cope better with the stresses of the work place.

The Labour Minister believes that the reasons for high rates of burnout are to be found in the swift speed of digitization in the German workplace.

“Primarily I see it as my role to look after people who entered the workplace before the digital age and still haven’t been able to come to terms with it.”

Not medically recognized

But despite the concerns of the labour minister, burn-out is still not a recognized medical condition, demonstrating the lack of clear awareness of what it entails and what exactly causes it.

Patients suspecting to be suffering under it are attributed other psychological ailments in order to be entitled to health insurance payments.

Now the Daimler and Benz Institute is carrying out an innovative project which aims to clarify what makes people resistant to burn-out and hopefully point to solutions those less able to do so.

The project, which is to take two years at a cost of €100,000 per year, will look specifically at psychological and genetic variables which could lead to stress resistance and is to involve 1,500 participants.

"The good news is that we know now that our genes do not fatalistically influence outcomes," said project coordinator Martin Reuter.

"Sizeable differences exist between individuals in terms of their ability to cope with stress,” said Reuter.

"It is therefore of the utmost importance to recognise the factors which protect our health and to use these prophylactically as well as therapeutically.”

"Although our study is aimed at clarifying causes it will also provide results which are relevant for the therapy of stress related illnesses," the University of Bonn professor said.

With DPA



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