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Business Journal

The High Cost of Worker Burnout in Germany

The High Cost of Worker Burnout in Germany
by Marco Nink

Story Highlights

  • Burnout costs German workplaces 9 billion euros annually in lost productivity
  • Focusing on three workplace elements reduces and staves off burnout
  • Symptoms of burnout are broader than many people understand

A substantial portion of the German workforce is burned out or nearing it, and this is costing Germany billions of euros in lost productivity each year.

According to a recent Gallup survey, among German workers:

  • 31% felt stressed yesterday
  • 24% felt tired or burned out yesterday
  • 22% reported that they have behaved poorly with their family or friends on three or more days in the past 30 days due to stress
  • 12% reported that they have had mental or emotional distress such as burnout, depression or anxiety disorders in the last 12 months

These results suggest that more than 4.1 million German workers have experienced mental or emotional distress. Workers who answered "yes" to the question, "In the past 12 months, have you had mental illness such as burnout, depression or anxiety disorders?" missed 15.8 days of work per year due to illness, while workers who responded "no" missed 7.1 days, according to self-reported data.

Overall, workers in Germany who report mental or emotional distress miss 35.4 million more days of work each year than their counterparts who have not been mentally or emotionally distressed. Gallup estimates that every workday lost to illness, on average, costs a German company 254.40 euros -- resulting in an estimated cost of more than 9 billion euros in lost productivity annually to German employers.

Employee Well-Being Is a Serious Business Issue

It's in a company's best interest to keep its employees healthy, and employee well-being is a serious business issue. Employees who say that their employer shows interest in their overall well-being feel less stressed and feel less tired or burned out; they report less trouble in their family and social lives; and they are less likely to report mental or emotional distress such as burnout, depression or anxiety disorders.

But only 29% of German workers strongly agree with the statement, "My company cares about my overall well-being." The result has not changed in recent years; in 2012, the same percentage strongly agreed that their company cared.

"My company cares about my overall well-being."
Employees in Germany were asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement, "My company cares about my overall well-being" from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Smaller percentages of employees who strongly agreed with this statement reported feeling stressed, tired or burned out than employees who reported lower levels of agreement with this statement.
5 Rating (strongly agree)% 4 Rating (agree)% 3, 2 or 1 Rating (disagree)%
Did you feel stressed yesterday? (yes) 20 26 43
Did you feel tired or burned out yesterday? (yes) 15 17 36
During the last 30 days, did you feel mentally burned out because of work stress? (yes) 11 19 32
In the past 12 months, have you had mental illness such as burnout, depression or anxiety disorders? (yes) 5 14 16
Gallup

German companies need to recognize the impact that leaders and managers have on the well-being of their employees. They can help minimize risk by focusing on three workplace elements that are vital to reducing workplace burnout:

  • receiving recognition or praise for doing good work
  • having the materials and equipment to do work right
  • feeling that at work, one's opinions seem to count

According to previously published Gallup findings, workers who gave low ratings to these three aspects were more likely than workers who gave high ratings to say they felt burned out because of stress in the last 30 days (57% vs. 24%).

Furthermore, only 3% of employees who gave low ratings on "recognition and praise," "materials and equipment" and "opinions count" strongly agree with the statement, "My company cares about my overall well-being." In contrast, 49% of German employees who gave high ratings on these three statements strongly agree that their company is interested in their general well-being.

"My company cares about my overall well-being."
Employees in Germany were asked to rate their level of agreement with whether they had received recognition or praise for doing good work, had the materials and equipment to do work right and felt that, at work, their opinions seem to count from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). They were also asked to rate their agreement with the statement, "My company cares about my overall well-being," using the same scale.
Strongly agree "my company cares
about my overall well-being"%
Employees overall 29
Employees giving low ratings on:
None of the three items 49
One of the three items 26
Two of the three items 6
All three of the items 3
Gallup

Defining Burnout More Precisely

Part of the problem with confronting burnout is many people aren't sure how to define it. Most people have heard the term burnout and understand that it means employee exhaustion and disengagement. That characterization is accurate, but the symptoms of burnout are broader than that -- and more debilitating.

Though burnout is currently not recognized as a disease, it includes mental illnesses such as depression, a state of emotional exhaustion, aversion to the current activity and decreased energy. Uniformly defined diagnostic criteria are still missing.

However, there is general agreement that burnout begins gradually and develops in phases. In the beginning, employees who are affected -- often highly committed people -- feel stressed by their work and are unable to find mental and emotional satisfaction from it. This feeling is followed by a period of exhaustion, coupled with profound fatigue, mood swings, irritability and restlessness. Finally, affected employees enter a state of resignation and despondency. They are barely able to work, and they also suffer from physical ailments.

It's entirely possible that Germans understand what burnout is even if they don't know the full scope of what burnout does. Even those who are suffering the most may not be aware that burnout is what causes their insomnia, their shortness with friends and family or their anxiety and exhaustion.

There are things workers can do to reduce the impact of burnout on their lives, but leaders are responsible for fixing the causes of burnout. And if German leaders believe burnout is unfixable, they need to remember that not seeking a solution costs 9 billion euros a year.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Nov. 2-Dec. 4, 2015, with a random sample of 1,000 employed adults. All respondents were living in Germany and selected using random-digit-dial sampling. Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline and cellular phones. Samples are weighted by gender, age, region, profession (job type and role), employment status (full time and part time), and adults in the household. Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recently published data from the German Statistics Office.


Gallup http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/190049/high-cost-worker-burnout-germany.aspx
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