Burnt out?

Work Stress
Image by GDS Infographics via Flickr

How do you use the term burn-out in a sentence?  Is it more like, I worked so hard I’m getting burnt out, I’m at the end of my ropes and feel kind of burnt out, or is it more like, another one of my colleague is burnt-out and going on disability leave?

If you are in western and northern Europe, it is likely that the latter is the case.

Are you surprised that countries with five weeks of vacations, solid job security, ample social security on all levels of life, can somehow also cause a significant portion of its working population to claim long-term medical disability because they’ve short-circuited themselves on the treadmill of life?

Must be nice to have a lifeline to cop out from.  Divorce getting to you, adolescent children raking havoc, running a household while working and can’t get your leisurely evening walks in, or just simply not liking your job and want to take some paid leave once in a while?  There’s always “burn-out”.

So it’s probably no wonder that in the Netherlands, a country of just under 16.5 million people, and a working population of around 7 million people (although this data’s from 1990, so the number might be slightly higher, around 8 million or so), at any given point in time, 950,000 of the working population is on long-term benefits.

A more extreme case?  Denmark. The highest-taxed country in the world with the fluffiest welfare schemes also has the highest percentage of its work force on long-term income transfer schemes.  Because those unemployed are always undergoing some kind of government-mandated “training”, they are not accounted for in the dreaded unemployment figures.

In a country with 5 million people, approximately half of which are capable of working, 850,000 people are on some kind of government benefit at any given point in time.  At its peak in 1995, that number was 963,000.  That’s to say, at its worst, just under 40% of the working adults are effectively not working, but subsidized by the other 60% of the population that is.  Approximately 1/5 of those in the group picks up and starts to work again.  That means 4/5 of the 850,000 are stuck in limbo either getting retrained in another profession, or just want to take it easy.

This peeves me in two ways.

One, figures like these are not taken into account when measuring unemployment figures.  So on paper, Scandinavia always has a miniscule percentage of unemployment, while in reality, something like 1 in 3 or 4 ably-bodied labour market participants are not active in the work force.  This is even taking into account the poor female labour market participation – because they are not even interested and looking, which is something like 55% in the Netherlands, and this accounts for both full and part-time work, with part-time work being the most prevalent case.  This is for another day.

Two, Denmark flaunts its flexible work scheme, which in theory, means companies can hire and fire people as much as they like, with the government picking up the pieces in providing those out of work with welfare and retraining.  But in practice, the idea centres on a highly collectivist mentality, which is say, everyone is replaceable because we can always retrain this person to do something else, and we can always hire someone else to do the same job.  That’s highly cynical and corporatist, and a rather pessimist way of looking at human potential, no?

No shocker that the system is starting to reform.

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