Burn-out considered a work-related illness: a good thing

Health Minister Maggie De Block wants to get burn-out recognised as a work-related illness. The politician believes that this will enable prevention campaigns and facilitate the reintegration of sufferers. But this recognition also has consequences for you as an employer. Marie-Noëlle Schmickler, Director of Medical Research and R&D at Mensura, sheds light on the issue.

When exactly will burn-out be recognised as an occupational illness is still unclear. But Minister De Block seems determined. Which consequences can we expect? Marie-Noëlle Schmickler: “Employers will receive better support in the prevention of burn-out as a result. Moreover, this recognition will undoubtedly ensure that both companies and employees are more alert to the signs of burn-out.”

“Work-related illnesses – the category to which burn-out will soon belong – should not be confused with occupational diseases. In occupational diseases, there is a clear, indisputable causal relationship between the work and the employee’s illness. Such conditions are also officially recognised and included in the law on occupational diseases. Affected employees receive benefits and financial support for their treatment, retraining and so on.

In a work-related illness, however, the causal link between the work and the disorder is less pronounced. Usually, other factors are also involved, like in burn-out, for example. Even though a work-related illness does not entitle suferers to benefits, it does receive the necessary attention, especially in the form of prevention programmes.”

Support for burn-out prevention

“The number of burn-outs in Belgium keeps increasing. That’s because we have to do more and more with fewer people. On top of that, our modern society wants us to be contactable at all times. By recognising burn-out as a work-related illness, employers and employees have to face the facts: we cannot stretch the (work) load endlessly.

Specifically, the acknowledgment will allow employers to invest more in the prevention of burn-out. For this, they will be able to rely on support from the Fund for occupational diseases. But it is up to the organisation itself to inform its employees about the prevention programme and encourage them to sound the alarm on time.” 

A shared responsibility

“On the one hand, companies need to be vigilant and encourage employees to slow down before it’s too late. And on the other, only the employees themselves can tell when the pressure becomes too much for them. And this may be due in part to an undermining personal situation, for example. The recognition of the ailment as a work-related illness – and not as an occupational disease – also implies this shared responsibility. 

Consequently, the measure proposed by Minister De Block may already be a good thing. In addition to offering both employers and employees improved assistance in preventing burn-out, De Block is providing ‘guidance in the reintegration of employees’. And thanks to the new Royal Decree on re-integration (Dutch or French), the return of employees to the workplace after a long-term illness is also a lot faster.”