Burnout Is Hot

Sooner or later 25% of the population has to deal with psychological problems. According to a recent Belgian study 2 out of 3 employees deal with lots of stress and even 1 out of 10 gets totally exhausted.

Blame The Bosses

It seems to be a fashion trend to blame the employers for everything that goes wrong. All fingers point at them as the cause for the burnout epidemic as well. This responsibility is not new however. In Belgium for example, a pioneering when it comes to legislation on burnout, companies have to implement a prevention policy since 1996 and since 2014 there’s even a law to prevent psychosocial risks. Hence, Belgian employers have forceful reasons to take burnout seriously. It is well known that burnout kills productivity by decreased engagement and motivation and leads to absenteeism in the end. The total cost of burnout for Belgium is estimated on €10.6 billion annually, in the US up to €300 billion.

Table Football

Working Is Out

It’s a proven fact that people spent a lot of time on the work floor and that the working circumstances have a major influence on the general wellbeing of the employees. A healthy working atmosphere is already part of the solution.

Do we have to — just like the Facebooks and Ubers — hire masseuses and organize table football tournaments during office hours?

Studies have proven that happy employees score about 12% to 20% better on the productivity scale compared to unhappy ones. Table football, fancy office furniture, free breakfast and other incentives enhancing “workplace happiness” are a good investment up to a certain point, but they don’t totally solve the problem of the unhappy employee.

Burnout as a Service

Fortunately for employers the solutions are popping up like mushrooms and enable them to invest their money in all kinds of creative solutions that fight burnout enthusiastically.

Psychotherapeutic professionals offer their services for about €2000 a person with the slogan that a burnout easily costs about €35000 to the employer. This makes the €2000 really look like a bargain.

Fire WalkingIn the same prevention category, we find companies trying to steal each other’s clients by coming up with original activities to entertain employees on the expense of employers. This varies from quite stressing physical activities such as climbing the Stelvio by bike (sport can cause stress as well) to walking over red hot coals and more peaceful activities such as barefoot walking at dawn and sleeping in tipis. All good and well, but how do you measure the effect of these kind of activities and what’s the ROI? How do you assess stress anyway?

You can definitely measure the results of “one person companies” trying to activate employees with high tech activity trackers. They can’t do any harm seen everything involving the quantified self has a positive impact on people. Temporarily at least. Offer people a free wrist band and they’ll be happy. Until it becomes dull leading to 80% of the wearables disappearing in a closet, together with the investment made.

ColruytStress in the Supermarket

At the counters of a Belgian supermarket they are taking it one step further. Cashiers are wearing an expensive Mio smart watch to assess their stress level by means of their heart beat. If they have sufficient stress, they can take a break. Nice initiative, but again, what’s stress? And how do you assess it? Heart rhythm is associated with so many different factors. How can you be sure that you’re monitoring stress and not something completely else? For example, the instant impact of that pretty lady or that cool guy just passing by.

So What Do We Have To Measure?

Fatigue shows up as soon as you experience a certain stress during a certain period of time. Stress can really be everything. Cold, but heat as well. Noise can cause stress, such as the sound of heavy machinery, but silence as well (the isolation cell in jail). Stress can be a heavy physical job, but also sitting a whole day at a desk concentrating on a computer screen. The necessary concentration, the repetitive nature of the job, the working circumstances, etcetera can make a desk job very stressful and lead to exhaustion at the end of the day. The recuperation need is the time people need to recover from their office day and some people are recovering poorly at home.

“Fatigue has a negative effect on the working atmosphere: those who are constantly fatigued, will spent less energy in the interaction with colleagues” says Belgian professor Elke Van Hoof recently in an interview.

By monitoring the alertness or mental fatigue of employees — as an effect of all kinds of stress — one can let them have a break at the right moment. Each individual is unique and the coffee break or lunch break comes too early for some and too late for others. Anno 2016 we are perfectly capable to monitor alertness/fatigue in a personalized way in order to neutralize it with the appropriate countermeasure.

A Power Nap a Day, Keeps the Doctor Away

What’s the value for the employer when employees are sitting exhausted behind their screens or are at risk of falling asleep behind the wheel?

A 15 minute power nap is the ideal way to tank some energy for the next hours.

A MetroNaps EnergyPod as it would be set up in an office. Pods have already been ordered by Cisco, Google, and Procter and Gamble.

A power nap works better than caffeine and the combination of caffeine followed by a power nap even has a double effect. Sleeping at the office seems quite bizarre, but if it’s stimulating productivity, it sounds logical. This is definitely the case at a number of progressive enterprises like Hubspot, that installed special rooms for employees to take a nap, and Google that even has special energy pods (by Metronaps, €12000 a piece) to sleep in. A power nap before an important meeting or presentation can make the difference between a success or a disaster. Currently however, most of the companies are still installing fitness rooms for their employees to work out during their break.

A NASA study showed that a power nap of only 26 minutes gives productivity a boost of 34% and improves alertness with 54%.

Sleeping is still being associated with laziness, but next to food and movement it’s essential for health. A recent study showed that it’s better to go to the general practitioner in the morning; if you’re one of the first 5 patients of the day the risk of a medical error is lower than if you’re one of the last 5 patients of the day. Stuff to think about.

Is the Power Nap the New Super Food?

Of course a power nap doesn’t solve all problems, but it can be really beneficial for a number of people such as people with young children. Next to the immediate effect, by actively monitoring alertness/fatigue one is also screening preventively for chronic problems and one can intervene quickly. Employees with more serious problems and a chronically disturbed level of alertness, can be timely detected and given the necessary individual attention. This could be e.g. the offer of personalized care at the level of the employee instead of expensive workshops for everybody where you need to keep fingers crossed that one actually remembers something at the moment they need it. Based on anonymized heat maps one can also analyze the work situation on an organizational level and intervene where necessary. Currently screening is done at most once a year by a nurse through an inquiry, so corporate health really needs wearable technology to assess mental health.

ALMA.care is a Health IT company focusing on 24/7 health monitoring and predictive algorithms. Stress influences the brain and the brain influences the heart rhythm via the autonomous nervous system. Our first algorithm, ALMA Live, monitors 24/7 operator’s and driver’s alertness to prevent them from falling asleep while driving. ALMA Fit uses the same technology to monitor employees’ mental fatigue to prevent burnout.

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Kris Sienaert

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