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What Actually Prevents Burnout? 🛑 (Part 4 of 4)

Why Works Councils and workplace democracy will truly stop the burnout epidemic



"Burnout is a problem created by the workplace, and changes to the workplace are the best way to fix it.” 

But those changes to the workplace?


They shouldn’t always be decided by a small, homogeneous group of people - i.e. bosses, leadership teams, executive boards, etc.


Employees should also be active participants in making and governing the decisions in their workplaces.


Workplace democracy solves burnout
There, I fixed it.

Let’s start with a metaphor. If a life-threatening mold was growing on the walls of your office, and your company wasn’t doing anything to remove it, would you go into that office building? You wouldn't.


Burnout is a life-threatening condition


Employees who experience burnout are 23% more likely to visit the emergency roomAnd the distinct link between burnout and medical issues has also been well-established. According to several studies by the APA,


Employees who experience workplace burnout have a 180% increased risk of developing depressive disorders, an 84% increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, and a 40% increased risk of hypertension.

High blood pressure? Visits to the emergency room? Depression?! 


No thank you.


Going back to my mold analogy, it would be absurd if your company told you the reason you contracted the mold-related disease was because you “just couldn’t stop breathing the air” in the office so much. 


So why do we accept that the solution to burnout, a health problem caused by decisions made beyond our control, is on us to stop getting "so stressed" about work and do a better job taking care of ourselves?


Companies be like "stop burning out" Paris Hilton
Companies be like

Preventing burnout is not an individualized problem. 


It’s not just about replacing bad leaders, or finding a more colorful management board, it’s about completely reimagining the institutions of power and decision-making in our workplaces to begin with. 

According to Coworker.org, workplace democracy is the principle that employees should have a voice in determining their working conditions and wages. That ‘voice’ can take many forms — informal employee committees, ERG’s, Works Councils, company-wide surveys, peer networks, unions, petitions, collective bargaining, and even worker-ownership. 


You: But politics don’t belong in the workplace!!

Me: Sure, you could say that.


But don’t you find it a little ironic that this amazing thing we call democracy (as imperfect as it can be) rarely extends to the place we spend most of our waking hours? Perhaps this made sense when most of our businesses were the size of mom and pop shops… 


But today, these big companies employ people at higher rates than the populations of small countries and make profits that far outpace their GDP - Apple’s market cap, for example, is bigger than that of Australia

Maybe the best way to mitigate the lack of control, support and fairness in our workplaces, as well as the insufficient rewards and mismatched values between employees and leadership (i.e. the root causes of burnout), is to give employees a more formal voice in the decision-making process.


I’m not talking about sounding board sessions or annual surveys. 


I’m talking about Works Councils. 


If we link what we can do to prevent burnout directly to its root causes, then the solutions for stopping this epidemic aren’t individual, they're collective.  Nor are they rocket science.


Here, I made us a handy chart:

Burnout Prevention Measure:

Burnout Root-Cause:

Minimize Layoffs & Properly Staff the Workforce

✅ Mismatch in values

✅ Lack of control

✅ Unsustainable workload

Formalize More Flexible Working Conditions (Hybrid/Remote Work, 4-Day Workweek, Flexible Working Hours, etc.)

✅ Lack of support

Introduce Fair & Equitable Performance Reviews, Promotion Processes, & Salary Increases

✅ Insufficient rewards for effort

✅ Lack of fairness


What we really need to prevent burnout is a formal employee body, backed by the legal system, that actually has some bargaining power with leadership to implement these changes.


Thank god we already have Works Councils here in The Netherlands.



Dutch Works Councils Solve Burnout
Praise Be

A Works Council is an elected group of employees that any company in The Netherlands with more than 50 people is required to have, by law - even if that’s a multinational company with headquarters somewhere else in the world.

 

Works Council are responsible for two main things:


  1. Promoting and protecting the interests of the employees 

  2. Ensuring the proper functioning of the business   


Luckily, Works Councils have several legal rights through which they can influence (or completely affirm or deny) decisions made around things like:


  1. Hybrid/Remote Work

  2. Performance Evaluations

  3. 4-day Workweeks

  4. Sustainability

  5. And Pay Equity, to name a few


And those layoffs that keep happening at big tech companies here in The Netherlands? 


Works Council must be consulted on any sort of “collective dismissal” that the company plans on carrying out (i.e. if they want to fire more than 20 people at any given time). Even if the parent company is an American one.


Did you know that your Works Council is also responsible for protecting the health and safety of its employees?


If burnout is running rampant in your organization, there are strategies your Works Council can use to make sure preventative, and not just reactive, measures like the ones listed above are actually being implemented in your workplace.


As Anand Giridharadas pointed out in his infamous keynote address at the 2015 Aspen Action Forum,


“Are we using our collective strength to challenge power or are we helping to make an unjust, unpalatable system feel a little more digestible?”

In The Netherlands, the avenues for workplace democracy and burnout prevention are already here.


We just need to walk them.


Want to Learn More? 💬

Let’s keep these good vibes going!


Are you a Works Council member in a Dutch company who’s curious to learn how to strengthen your WoCo to a point where it can make big, impactful change (that will also prevent worker burnout)? Then come to our masterclass!






Written by Kelly Mullins

Kelly Mullins is an experienced worker organizer with a track record for building strategic campaigns that facilitate effective, employee-led change at large, multinational companies. In 2020, she led the Works Council committee that negotiated the biggest restructuring in Booking.com history - saving hundreds of jobs, implementing a competitive voluntary leave scheme, and the company’s first-ever social plan. Her 10+ year career in the tech industry has laid the foundation for her to effectively empathize with employees, equip them with information, and inspire them to take action. She is passionate about the opportunity she sees for workplace democracy to intersect with important topics such as burnout prevention, climate justice, job security, and DE&I. In her free time, Kelly likes to write and runs an online poetry magazine. She is currently based in Amsterdam.

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