During one of last lesson’s presentation about work-life balance, we also very briefly touched on the burnout syndrome. More specifically, we discussed that a lack of work-life balance might lead to burnout in the long-term. However, I feel that burnout is a very vague concept that everyone keeps talking about. It seems almost like a trend, it is responsible for all sorts of sorrow and now apparently even students have to be careful not to suffer from it. To be honest, I feel like burnout is often used as an excuse but as I did not know exactly what burnout was, I decided to research its definition and to find evidence of whether cases of burnout had risen or fallen over the last few years.
First, I decided to find out whether people over the years had gotten more or less interested in burnout by looking at the data from Google Trends.
I was very surprised to find that according to Google, the search volume for the term “burnout” had actually fallen over the past few years. I thought that the search volume might be a good indicator for people’s interest in a subject. Looking at the search terms that people used, it became clear why the search volume had been decreasing:
When people searched for “burnout”, they were not looking for the syndrome, but rather for the computer/console game. This meant that I had to refine my search term.
The above graph shows the search volume for the term “burnout syndrome”. Unfortunately, Google does not provide absolute numbers, but it can be seen that before 2007, there were almost no searches for “burnout syndrome”. This either meant that since then, work has gotten a lot more stressful, or it undermines my theory that burnout is just a trend and not actually the cause of problems. To find out which explanation was right, I decided to look further.
The German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung” recently ran a special report concerning burnout. The first thing that I came across is that burnout is not an illness but rather a state of risk that in the long-term can lead to permanent illness.
More interestingly, however, the article also said that in most cases, burnout is not actually primarily caused by work, but rather by our desire to be happy and our tendency to think about issues too much and too often. This somehow validated my hypothesis. I feel that especially us Germans (and the article also primarily focused on Germany) are never satisfied with anything and tend to complain about even the smallest issues. This is where we waste our energy and what ultimately has the potential to make us permanently sick.
Still, I don’t want to seem ignorant and given the evidence, I do appreciate that many people do actually suffer from the burnout syndrome. The article talked about many case studies. It portrayed people from different levels of the organization, be it blue collar workers or high ranked executives. II was still curious to find out why a lot of publicity and search queries for the burnout syndrome had only occurred quite recently.
The first reason that I came across was the financial crisis. Apparently the significant layoffs that occurred in 2008 and afterwards had a significant impact on stress levels, which is understandable. Furthermore, at least in Germany, the term burnout syndrome was not used before 2004. Before that, it was known under the name of the individual illnesses that it could consequently cause. This explains why it seems as if it was a trend. The fact is that burnout has existed for decades if not centuries, only the term used to describe it is relatively new.