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Burnout in the Netherlands: Where are the challenges?

posted May 24, 2015, 4:01 PM by Sanja Djordjevic   [ updated Jan 9, 2016, 2:11 AM ]
At least 900.000 Dutch employees struggle with burnout, with some sectors being more affected than others. A first step in overcoming this threat is to find out where the problem is most likely to occur, and then deal with it head on.

In 2013, the Netherlands ranked as the fourth happiest country in the world, and one of the reasons for this is its flexible work structure. Yet, CBS reports show that a boggling 13% of Dutch employees experience burnout. This manifests itself in feeling exhausted, cynical, and hopeless to the extent that the cherished happiness amongst the Dutch becomes seriously jeopardized. To overcome this challenge, the first step is to recognize where the problem exist. Below you will see few graphs, based on data by CBS and TNO. These graphs show which sectors are affected most, and which burnout-related problems employees most commonly report. 


Burnout is a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life. Once it settles, it becomes a threat to people’s happiness, health, and efficiency, and it interferes with the company’s overall productivity. 

Recent data by CBS identifies six sectors that are at the highest risk of burnout. Here, approximately 12% to 18% of employees report feeling caught by it, with the educational sector taking the lead.

High workload 

High workload is perceived as an important prerequisite for burnout, and the percentages of employees who work more than expected may tell us where this problem is common. 

Remarkably, almost half of the employees in the top-risk sectors report working more than expected. If they don’t enjoy their work and get satisfaction from it, they may easily become exhausted and demotivated, both of which are indicative of burnout.

Emotional exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion is a main symptom of burnout. Once it kicks in, employees feel drained by work and the interaction with their colleagues. 

The education sector seems to be at highest risk, although other sectors follow closely. The percentage of 13-14% may not appear too high, but when converted to frequencies, it indicates that a stunning 1 out of every 8 employees feels emotionally drained.


Burnout also leaves people feeling empty, as if there is a void in their life. Once they feel this way, employees lose all enthusiasm and become highly unproductive. 

The percentage of employees who report feeling empty is moderately high in all listed sectors. This means that some employees often feel unhappy and unfulfilled, and this void relates to a higher risk for burnout.


If people feel tired after waking up and thinking about work, this means that their job is either highly demanding or that they feel completely demotivated by it. 

In all these high-risk sectors, at least one sixth of the employees report feeling tired when they wake up. These employees are likely to feel worn-out while working, and they perform worse than their motivated colleagues.

Lack of preventive measures 

Many companies in the Netherlands focus on preventing work stress, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment provides tools that aid the process. Still, many employees feel that more measures should be taken. 

In the sectors listed on the graph, almost a full half of employees report that insufficient measures for workload and stress exists. In other words: Employees want change.

Thus, burnout is common 

It is clear that burnout is a common problem in many sectors, and these problems feature most prominently in the educational, ICT, public administration, financial, industry, and business sectors. This is not something that managers should fear of or feel defensive about. Instead, it is a chance that will allow them to make immense improvements – and which manager would not want their employees to become happier, experience more meaning, be energized, and be productive?

In this post, I identified particular challenges employees report, and in the next posts, I will look at science-based explanations and how these help build interventions for increasing engagement. 

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