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Psychological burdens

Psychological burdens influence everyday life

In everyday parlance, we usually use the word "burden" in a negative context. The stress at work, conflicts with a colleague or the 14-year-old daughter at home are perceived as burdens. In the actual sense of the word, a burden is a thing that has weight, which is perceptible. And that applies to all influences to which we are exposed in our lives – with greater or lesser clarity. Burdens are part of life and we are naturally equipped to deal well with them.

Our working world too is unimaginable without burdens. It is not always possible to find a solution for time pressure, workload, monotony or lasting change. But what should we do when these things cause such stress that our health and capability suffer as a consequence?

In this situation, the sufferer asks himself how he can live well with the situation in the long term, whether it can be balanced out in his private life, whether the burden he feels can be reduced or what possible alternatives might look like. In this process, advice from a neutral or professionally competent person can be useful.

Stress and burnout

If people are confronted with work demands which over-exert them in the long term, a chronic (persistent) state of stress emerges.

What are the causes of stress at the workplace?

Possible causes of stress at the workplace:

  • Work tasks (e.g. time pressure and deadline pressure, demands to make decisions without a sufficient basis of information)
  • Environmental conditions (e.g. noise, inadequate ergonomic conditions, dangers)
  • Operational organisation (e.g. structural changes, unclear competence regulations)
  • Interpersonal relationships (e.g. conflict-laden work relationships with superiors and colleagues, poor working climate)
  • Difficulties reconciling work and family

What is burnout?

Burnout is a state of mental-physical exhaustion, in which the lust for life, enthusiasm, motivation and creativity are reduced.
Warning signs of a burnout include:

  • A lot of work with little rest and variety
  • Disregard of physical warning signs (e.g. high blood pressure, shallow breathing, muscular tension or poor sleep)
  • A changed personality (e.g. irritability, exhaustion, cynicism, depression or aggressiveness)
  • Stunted social behaviour
  • Perfectionism
  • Neglect of one's own needs (e.g. going beyond one's limitations or difficulties saying no)

Change

Nowadays, changes are a constant companion in working life: Sometimes it is new colleagues, sometimes a new boss, sometimes a new or changed work area. But change always also means uncertainty: Business as usual no longer works and we have to depart from the familiar.

How can one deal constructively with changes?

A restructuring process in companies challenges employees to engage themselves in workplace changes and job relocations. Such deep-rooted change processes trigger uncertainties, fears and opposition in many employees. They find it difficult to engage themselves in the changes, to see them as a positive challenge and to depart from the "old days" which they perceive to have been better.

The company leadership must recognise when and with what speed changes are necessary. But they can only create this together with the employees. Only if managers and employees are convinced of the necessity to change will it be successful.

To achieve this, several basic rules apply, for example:

  • Informing in good time
  • Explaining the necessity
  • Including those affected
  • Dealing fairly with those who lose out
  • Qualifying employees for new tasks
  • Exemplifying the readiness to change
  • Celebrating successes along the way

Conflicts

Conflicts can have very different causes. As there is no "panacea" for solving conflicts, the development of one's own strategies and procedures is important.

How does a conflict emerge?

A conflict can emerge when interests, opinions, expectations or actions collide which are not reconcilable with one another.

What responsibility does the individual carry?

A conflict is never only to do with the "other person", but is also always to do with oneself. One should start from this premise at the beginning of the conflict management and assume responsibility for one's own feelings and needs. Thus, one should also accept that the conflict partner can have feelings and interests that deviate from one's own.

The personal ability to deal with conflicts includes the fundamental readiness to settle the conflict. The most important thing in conflict management is always an open dialogue. If one repeatedly comes unstuck in decisive situations, for example due to an irascible temperament, practising communication techniques can be helpful for the person affected. A helpful communication technique can be to pay conscious attention to letting the other person finish speaking and to ask open questions in order to learn as much as possible about the conflict from the perspective of the other person.

In apparently unsolvable situations, it can be useful to use a mediator. The mediator does not take any position in the conversations, but will merely moderate and help to work out a solution.

With a constructive procedure (which leads to a solution), conflicts can, however, have positive effects. They can change the perspective on the existing situation, trigger creativity, and foster communication within a team. Generally speaking, the earlier a conflict is perceived and addressed, the better.

Leading a balanced life means knowing one's own possibilities and limitations and living accordingly. Due to modern media, many workers can be reached by the boss, the colleagues or the customers after work or on holiday. Communication has become faster. Large amounts of quickly retrievable information are out our disposal. In many companies, restructuring is regularly on the agenda and requires a high degree of flexibility from the employees. In view of this, it is important to consciously steer one's own life balance – in order to remain healthy and capable in the long term.

Important questions which one should ask oneself on the road to more balance between work and private life (work-life balance) include the following:

  • What priorities do I set in my life? What is fundamental and important?
  • Which people are close to me?
  • How satisfied am I with my time management?
  • Am I satisfied with my nutrition, fitness and relaxation?

Rules of thumb for a healthy work-life balance

  • An evening off once a week
  • Time with your partner or a loved one twice a week
  • Sports or other physical activity three times a week (at least 20 minutes)
  • Deliberately enjoying yourself four times a week
  • Sleeping well five times a week
  • Eating healthily six times a week
  • Laughing heartily seven times a week

Boreout

Experts speak of boreout when an employee is not over-challenged but under-challenged. This happens when a job does not correspond to the strengths and preferences of the person carrying it out. As a consequence, many employees withdraw, resign themselves, and no longer place any demands on themselves and the work outcome. As with the better known burnout, tensions, sleep disorders, and even the loss of zest for life can result.

A person who feels under-occupied usually tries first of all to change this through a conversation with his superior. If, in spite of this, the work volume or the demands of the work task still do not increase, it becomes problematic. Indeed, the employee cannot allow himself to sit at his desk staring into space. Therefore, strategies are developed to appear busy without actually being so. He spreads the workload, for example, over a longer time period than would be necessary. Often, he always has a presentation open on the screen while in reality he is playing sudoku or looking at cooking recipes.

What possibilities are there to escape being under-challenged?

To escape being under-challenged at work, many people affected look, for example, for alternatives in the company, look around for a new job or consider a part-time job in order to find more satisfaction in their private lives.

Written by:

Melanie Brauck (Psychologist), Fürstenberg Institute
Dr. Marko Toska, Fürstenberg Institute

Date of creation: 22.08.2011
Date of last editing of content: 04.09.2017
Date of next editing of content: 04.09.2018