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Can one avoid burnout in today’s workplace?

In recent months, the Finnish media has been flooded with stories of work-related burnout. Those opening up about this problem include ministers and members of Parliament as well as performing artists, athletes and lifestyle bloggers. It seems that increasingly, many push themselves to the limit at work, regardless of branch or status.
3 min
Hanna Hyvärinen

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. 

Risks have increased 

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. 

Stress follows people into their free time 

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. 

Were things better in the “good old days”? 

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.

How to prevent burnout 

  • The symptoms of work-related burnout include exhaustion, cynicism and low professional morale. 
  • Both quantitative and qualitative work-related demands cause burnout. Too much work, unknown and contradictory expectations, and even personal relationships in the workplace can cause burnout. 
  • On the other hand, a good work community is a resource that may protect workers from risk factors that cause burnout. 


As an employee: 

  • Recognise your symptoms in a timely manner. 
  • Check your workload. Could you prioritise the tasks differently or delegate them to other people? Could something be left undone or done less perfectly? 
  • Set time limits for your work and ensure that there is also time for recovery. 
  • In your free time, do things that you really enjoy. Do not fill your free time with things that you “should” be doing. Sometimes it is good just to stop doing anything. 
  • If you are worried about coping, do not struggle on alone or blame yourself. Talk to your co-workers and immediate supervisor. For example, you may raise the issue of coping in development discussions. 


If you are an employer or supervisor: 

  • Check that the preconditions for work are in good order. Ensure that the working conditions can be reliably evaluated and developed. 
  • Create action plans for when there are problems. Ensure that employees know what to do if they feel that they cannot cope. 
  • Ensure that only reasonable demands are made of employees: they should not have too little to do, but also not too much. 
  • Lead the workplace consistently and ensure that employees can have an impact on their work. 
  • Encourage employees to start talking about the problems they have encountered.