Leadership in the Corona crisis: Burnout or boreout danger?
Five million Germans suffer from depression – before the Corona pandemic. The German Depression League (DDL) is now warning of an increase in mental health problems as a result of the crisis. Factors such as social isolation, the increase in unemployment and short-time work, bankruptcies and the associated existential fears are likely to be a stress test for many people. But what impact does the Corona crisis have on work and the associated psychological stress?
A separation of society into systemically and non-systemically relevant professions
The measures adopted by the German government to slow down the spread of the Corona virus not only change the working conditions of almost every professional group, but also their workload. While in many organizations work processes and thus areas of responsibility are temporarily ceased and employees are being converted to short-time work contracts, work load in other areas is increasing. The so-called systemically relevant professional groups, including medical staff, caregivers, police officers, firefighters and all workers who ensure the food supply, must now provide high performance. Hospitals and nursing homes are working overtime, employees of large supermarket chains now also work on Sundays.
Are systemically relevant occupational groups at risk of burnout?
Statistics show that social and helping occupational groups are particularly affected by the burnout syndrome. According to burnout research, intrapsychic personality variables appear to play an important role in addition to the workload. According to this, people who have a high intrinsic motivation and are highly identified with their work suffer particularly frequently from burnout. From a psychodynamic point of view, work here is the central source for regulating self-esteem. The desire to change something important or to help other people, accompanied by the idea of grandeur and rescue fantasies, stabilizes self-esteem. Due to an increased workload, own, often excessive demands cannot be met and the regulation begins to falter. Those affected perceive a discrepancy between the ideal and real self, which often leads to a massive feeling of disappointment. This in turn really gets the cycle going. Now an attempt is being made to work even more to maintain functionality – which in the end often leads to a state of exhaustion.
And what about the employees of non-systemically relevant professional groups?
In the Berlin metropolitan area, which is considered a pioneer of mobile work, many employees of non-system-relevant professional groups are encouraged to work from their home office. This is to minimize contact points in local transport and at the workplace. In addition to the loss of real social contacts with colleagues, there is less work for many employees. Others have to take on tasks that according to the job description would belong to a structurally lower function. It comes to underchallenge and boredom – “Diagnosis Boreout” as Werder and Rothlin called it in their book published in 2007. But not every person who is underchallenged suffers from boreout. The authors list other factors that can lead to the appearance of boreout. This includes a sensory crisis associated with the under-demanding as well as the lack of clarity about one’s own professional development. In times of Corona, many employees of non-systemically relevant professional groups could ask themselves questions of meaning. Every minute there is new information with new findings on Covid-19 and the possible effects of the corona crisis. Employees of non-systemically relevant professional groups are at the mercy of this flood of information without fulfilling an immediate purpose for society in the fight against Covid-19. A condition that can lead to feelings of powerlessness and senselessness. Added to this is the uncertainty about the development of one’s own activities and the possible changes in the workplace caused by the crisis.
Good leadership through the Corona crisis
Managers of system and non-system-relevant professions face different challenges in the Corona crisis. While on the one hand it is about enabling recovery phases of the employees on the other hand it is important to talk about development potentials of the employees. The crisis of meaning can be counteracted by placing current activities in a temporal context and developing future perspectives. On both sides it is the task of the manager to convey hope and optimism, because the emotional contagion potential is also of great importance in Corona times. Maintaining regular, virtual team meetings as well as promoting individual social contacts can be important building blocks in this context.
Psychologist (B.Sc., M.Sc.) Leonie Derwahl
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