Mindfulness and Burnout
Mindfulness and Burnout
In the last decades, the world of work has changed dramatically due to globalization, digitalization and societal transformations, this resulted in a complex and intense work processes that require more flexibility and mobility from the employees. The changes in the world of work has led to the increased work-related stress which is the main cause of burnout.
Given the high prevalence of burnout in Belgium, as stress and burnout are responsible for one-third of all sickness absences from work in the country (European Trade Union Institute, 2019), this master thesis focused on the employees with burnout history in Belgium to investigate their experiences of returning to work after burnout and to examine how mindfulness practices can support them during the reintegration period. This study linked mindfulness practices with the factors associated with return to work after burnout by investigating the experiences of the individuals with burnout history. The aim of this study was to understand the Return to Work (RTW) process after sick leave due to burnout and explain how mindfulness practices can support the employees that are undergoing through this process by conducting qualitative study and giving voice to the employees with burnout experience in Belgium.
This study contributes to the scare literature linking RTW after burnout and mindfulness as only few studies have linked mindfulness with the factors associated with RTW after sick leave due to burnout. This study addressed this gap in the literature by conducting qualitative research on the employees of various professions that took sick leave due to burnout and have returned to work after this experience.
Since only few studies have linked mindfulness with the factors associated with RTW after sick leave due to burnout and all of these studies used quantitative methods, it was decided to adopt a qualitative research design. The study used the online qualitative survey method as it has been recently identified as a qualitative research tool which prioritizes qualitative research values and harnesses the rich potential of qualitative data (Braun, Clarke, Boulton, Davey, & McEvoy, 2020). The basis for the study were open-ended questions in multiple languages (English, Dutch, French) referring to the period after recognized burnout..
Ten individuals of various professions that have experienced burnout have participated in the study in April and May 2021. The participants’ average age was 44 years (ranging from 30–58 years). The sample included 8 women and 2 men that took sick leaves due to burnout and returned back to work. 9 participants have practiced mindfulness after burnout and 1 participant has never practiced mindfulness.
The current study found that the recovery from burnout is a complex and long-term process that continuous after returning back to work. Moreover, the employees encounter changes in their view of work, since as demonstrated in this study work engagement and motivation of the employees decreases after experiencing burnout.
Hence RTW after burnout is a complex process and it is of high importance to support the employees during this period. However, this study demonstrated that the employees in Belgium do not receive the appropriate support from their workplaces. The findings of the present study suggest that as the participants lacked the support from their workplaces during the recovery and RTW process, organizations should support them more during this challenging process, given the difficulties recovering from burnout and the changes that they encounter upon returning which is decreased work engagement and motivation. This study suggests mindfulness practices as one of the support mechanisms for the workplaces, since all of the participants of this study indicated the positive influence of mindfulness practices on their wellbeing.
This study demonstrated the importance of the organizational support of the employees that return to work after burnout in Belgium. Given the high prevalence of burnout in the country (European Trade Union Institute, 2019) and the growing number of long-term sickness absences due to burnout (RIZIV, 2021) organizations should pay more attention on supporting the employees for a successful return to work by implementing various support mechanisms including mindfulness practices, as it has been demonstrated in this study, mindfulness practices are not commonly used at the organizations in Belgium since all of the participants of this study have practiced mindfulness during recovery process independently from their workplaces, as their workplaces did not offer mindfulness practices.
Given the benefits of mindfulness on the overall wellbeing of the employees, organizational leaders can incorporate mindfulness practices in their work cultures and programs to help increase their employees’ wellbeing, help them recover from burnout and fully reintegrate back to work so that they can thrive inside and outside the organization.
The results of this study revealed that employers need to have greater awareness about burnout, its causes, consequences and about the ways to support and assist their employees during the recovery process. Since this study only explored the experiences of the employees with burnout history, it would be interesting for further studies to also explore the perspectives of Belgian employers about the extent of their awareness of causes and consequences of burnout, the challenges that they encounter when employees return to work after burnout, what organizational support factors they use and how open they are to integrate the mindfulness practices within their organizations.
The present study has also demonstrated the positive influence of mindfulness practices on the wellbeing of the employees that return to work after burnout, however the participants of this study practiced mindfulness independently from their workplaces, as their workplaces did not offer mindfulness practices, hence it would be interesting to study the possible impact of mindfulness practices within certain organizations that offer mindfulness practices to their employees, to better understand the value and influence of the mindfulness practices within the organizational context.
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