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1 December 2016

Belgium: worrying rise in burnout among thirtysomethings

According to Securex, which manages the human resources of over 80 000 Belgian companies, the number of thirtysomethings on sick leave for at least 12 months has risen by 20% in the past year. Securex attributes this to an increase in burnout. The publication of these findings in the press comes just days after the Federal Government announced its intention to take measures to get the long-term sick back into work.

These figures show an increase in the number of long-term sick in all age ranges between 2015 and 2016, but the greatest rise is among 30- to 40-year-olds. “This significant rise is undoubtedly due to burnout,” claims Heidi Verlinden, a Securex human resources expert. “This is probably due to a lack of work-life balance,” she explained.

According to the Securex figures, around 1% of thirtysomething employees have been off work for at least a year due to illness, though this is much lower than the older age ranges. Employees in the 60 to 64 age group are the most badly affected, accounting for 17% of those concerned.

In 2001, Securex estimated that 1% of employees were off work for at least a year due to illness, a figure that exceeded 3% in 2016.

This remarkable increase is a cause for concern for the authorities. Incapacity benefits amount to €8 billion a year, which according to the Flemish financial daily De Tijd exceeds unemployment allowances.

On 27 November, the Federal Public Health Minister, Maggie De Block, announced on Flemish TV that burnout was to be recognised as a “work-related illness”. According to the liberal De Block, this will allow the recently created Federal Agency for Occupational Risks (Fedris) to promote prevention initiatives in workplaces and to take ancillary measures to facilitate return to work.

Recognition of the link between burnout and work does not mean that these health problems can be classified as occupational illnesses and thus provide entitlement to compensation. Psychosocial illnesses do not figure on the Belgian list of conditions considered to be occupational diseases. To have burnout recognised as such a disease, Belgian sufferers must prove a direct and decisive link of causality between the illness and exposure to the occupational hazard. In practice, this is extremely problematic, particularly for psychosocial health issues.

According to INAMI, the Belgian sickness and invalidity insurance institute, 80 000 Belgians suffer from burnout every year.

Since a law on the prevention of psychosocial risks at work came into force in September 2014, employers have had to take preventive measures to protect their labour force from burnout and other work-related psychosocial risks (stress, violence, harassment, etc.).

Sources: De Tijd, De Standaard, RTBF

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