According to a 2011 study by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), one in four employees in Finland has suffered from burnout. A small proportion of the workforce has experienced serious burnout, where the symptoms occur weekly.
Does this mean that work-related burnout is the new normal?
Ulla Kinnunen, professor of psychology at Tampere University, points out that according to the latest statistics – for the 2000–2011 period – the proportion of burnout sufferers in Finland has remained surprisingly stable.
Indeed, European-wide comparisons show that Finnish working life is actually in good shape. The 2015 Burnout in Europe report notes that there is less burnout in Finland and the other Nordic countries than elsewhere in Europe. The situation is worst in Spain, France, Turkey and the former Yugoslavian countries.
Statistics Finland gathered data on trends in working life in 2018, but the results are yet to be published.
“It will be interesting to see whether burnout has increased from 2011 to 2018. In that time period, working life developed so much that aspects that predispose employees to burnout increased, and these aspects also affect more people,” Kinnunen says.
Such factors include multitasking and work seeping into free time. Brain researchers are concerned about the frequent breaks in concentration that have become an everyday occurrence in the life of knowledge workers. These include email, chat and social media alerts, as well as various matters that require immediate action.
“Experts in knowledge-intensive work constantly need to make choices and complicated decisions. At the same time, the speed of change in the workplace is accelerating. You need to keep learning new things – you have to keep running in order to stay where you are,” Kinnunen explains.
Demands to learn new things and develop oneself are no longer restricted to the workplace. For many, free time also requires top performance: you need to know how to exercise and eat correctly, not to mention maintaining an interesting social media presence.
“If life consists of self-branding 24/7 and developing oneself and one’s brand, it increases the burden. Sometimes people really should take time off and just rest,” Kinnunen says.
Are today’s toiling employees unavoidably stuck in the rat race? Was everything better before?
If you look at working life from the 1970s to the 2010s, many aspects have improved. Work is less monotonous and more versatile. Opportunities for development at work have also increased. Additionally, more people have the opportunity to influence the work they are doing.
“In the long run, there have been more positive than negative developments,” Kinnunen argues.
However, Kinnunen notes that the insecurity of work and the problems caused by busy schedules have increased.
“It is also likely that there is more competition and conflicts than, let’s say, in the 1980s,” she points out.
One positive aspect is that people are now willing to discuss problems in working life more openly than before. Burnout is no longer regarded as an individual weakness but a general problem of working life that need not be hidden; instead, one can learn from incidences of burnout and prevent it happening in the future.