After the investigation of a firm specialized in the prevention of stress and psychosocial risks ( RPS ), one wonders about the “boxes” in which to rank the burn out: occupational disease? Major depressive state disguised? Overload pathology?
While it is clear to industry professionals that this syndrome needs to be recognized as an occupational disease, classifying it in one category rather than another seems more complex.
Indeed, today we speak of burnout as a “pathology of overload”, a name already used to categorize several issues related to physical or mental health:
Burnout would thus be a pathology of psychological overload to the extent that according to Freudenberger , it would be “a state cause? by the excessive use of one’s energy, one’s resources, which causes a feeling of having failed, being exhausted or being exhausted “.
However, when we observe the cocktail of organizational risk factors that precipitate burn out ( Maslach ), these are the six following factors:
If we look closely at these six factors, we find that they share a common characteristic: the precipitation of meaninglessness at work.
Thus, the excessive use of its energy and resources would indeed be present but would have a role, a function: to maintain the sense of what is achieved in the work situation, despite the degradation of the meaning of what is produced and the lack of shared management in which this leads the employee (the double definition of meaning as meaning and direction).
It would therefore appear that burnout is certainly a pathology of overload but an overload due to a need to restore the meaning of work.
In order to illustrate this point, let’s take a closer look at what can be played out for a company occupational physician with regard to the six Maslach factors.
As Professor Levy Leboyer explains , the vocational choices of individuals respond to certain influences external to the individual, but also to his or her personality characteristics. This is why we find mostly in a profession individuals who share similar characteristics of personality and values.
For an occupational physician, the dimensions of caring for others, of caring, of protecting employees in their physical and mental health, but also of regulating stress and conflicts at work, are generally elements that make sense for him, insofar as it recognizes itself and is defined by / in the latter.
In recent years, however, occupational health physicians have been faced with rising daily demands. It’s no longer just about annual medical check-ups and meeting the employer’s obligations. It is also necessary to support the company in the prevention of psychosocial risks, to participate in the ergonomic studies of the positions, to answer the requests of the employees on the issues of suffering at work and to report very regularly on its activity like a traditional framework.
Agnes [the names have been changed] explains it with a strong emotional charge in her voice:
The lack of control over the activity is linked to the increase in the workload. With the economic crisis, the intensification of work rhythms and issues related to psychosocial risks, the company’s occupational physician is sometimes over-solicited, without being able to predict what his day will be.
In companies experiencing reorganizations or downsizing, the volume of appointments outside traditional medical visits is exploding and deeply disrupts schedules:
The recognition of the occupational physician in the workplace is also subject to questioning. Function of the shadow, it is often requested only when it malfunctions. Just like maintenance services in the industry, it is considered that if all goes well, it is not for nothing but, when the machine jams, he did not do his job.
Often alone to dispose of his competence, he does not have access to the recognition that makes the most sense for the employee: the judgment of beauty by peers. Agnes testifies:
The support of colleagues involves the creation of a collective work. Collectives of work are built above all by sharing a single profession. Only to have its competence in the majority of companies that have a salaried doctor, the doctor is difficult to assimilate to other functions even “support” (HR, quality, management control …).
While his profession still has a “esprit de corps” but it exists especially outside the company and not at the heart of it, and therefore not everyday.
Moreover, individualization at work through the individual assessment of performance does not facilitate the emergence or durability of strong work collectives as explained by Nicolas:
In salaried salaried doctors, the feeling of injustice is sometimes polymorphic. Beyond the feeling of injustice generated by the lack of recognition, it is the so-called procedural injustice which is the most important (we know today that it is the form of injustice that makes the most “bad” to health) as Catherine says:
The last factor of Maslach is certainly the most deleterious for health: the conflict of values.
One does not become a job doctor by chance, the coherence between his activity and his values is paramount. As Agnes testifies:
To take a closer look, the six accelerating factors of burn-out may be present for salaried occupational physicians. These six factors clash with the need to find a meaning that allows the individual to be consistent with himself in the exercise of his profession.
This situation quickly becoming painful for him, he will mobilize his internal and external resources to restore the meaning of his job. It will produce more and more effort to defeat what consumes the meaning of what it does, but the “system” in which it strives to adapt seems too complex and to evolve quickly and too far from his concerns to take note of it.
It is there that exhaustion is born, when he tries to over-adapt himself to preserve the meaning of what he does on a daily basis and the direction in which his job takes him: how to sustain without having enough time to to listen? How to maintain motivation with little recognition? How to support without feeling supported? How to maintain the good posture when one is myself in a delicate situation? How to find meaning in his work when his content no longer resonates with his own values?
The example of the occupational physician is an illustration but it could be just as suitable for other professions: caregiver, teacher, business leaders, executives, farmers … Yes, burnout is a pathology of psychological overload, but it is a pathology of overload by search of meaning.