Burnout Syndrome: A Latent Liability for South African Employers?

Burnout Syndrome: A Latent Liability for South African Employers?

Burnout Syndrome: A Latent Liability for South African Employers?

Burnout Syndrome poses a significant threat to the South African workforce, resulting in diminished productivity, elevated staff attrition, waning motivation, increased absenteeism, and adverse psychological impacts (Calitz, 2018). Despite these ramifications, South African legislation does not currently provide explicit protection for employees suffering from burnout. However, as burnout increasingly emerges as a potential disability, employers may face future liability.

 

Karin Calitz, an Emeritus Professor at Stellenbosch University, advocates for comprehensive reforms to address burnout, including a code that permits employees to disconnect from after-hours work communications (Calitz, 2018). Calitz also urges the recognition of burnout as a medical condition and its inclusion in the Compensation Fund list, allowing affected individuals access to financial assistance and psychotherapy. The increasing prevalence of ‘hustle culture’ and ‘quiet quitting’ further underscores the urgency of addressing this issue.

Agnieszka Weiss, a researcher at Nelson Mandela University, posits that legislation should mandate employers to conduct risk assessments for working conditions that may contribute to overwork, extended hours, and demanding deadlines and subsequently implement necessary measures (Weiss, 2018). Weiss also advocates for reducing the maximum workweek duration from 45 to 40 hours, as specified in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA, Section 9), to promote a healthier work-life balance. The OECD Better Life Index 2019 ranks South Africa’s work-life balance among the lowest globally.

 

Although no standards or documentation exist in South Africa to ensure mental health in the workplace or address burnout and work stress, international surveys report burnout rates as high as 76%, with women disproportionately affected. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) further cites the Covid-19 pandemic as exacerbating the issue in 2020.

 

Burnout, as described by a widely referenced index, encompasses feeling overwhelmed, cynical, detached, exhausted, apathetic, and unaccomplished. Calitz (2018) highlights burnout’s severe physical and psychological health consequences, negatively impacting workers, their families, the workplace, and the economy.

 

In 1999, Michael Leiter and Christina Maslach identified six critical sources of burnout, emphasising the need for a multi-faceted approach to prevention and intervention. While existing legislation, including the constitution, various acts of parliament, and common law, purports to assist those experiencing burnout, no explicit protection is provided due to the non-recognition of burnout as a disabling illness in South Africa (Calitz, 2018).

Rebecca Schoop, Associate Professor of Law at Sydney Law School, suggests that the classification of burnout as a health or workplace issue depends on judicial and legislative interpretation. She also notes that claiming damages for burnout may be costly and time-consuming if considered a health issue.

 

According to Calitz (2018), burnout sufferers could claim disability discrimination under the disability provisions of the Employment Equity Act (EEA, Section 6) and similar legislation. Possible accommodations could include.

  • reduced workload and hours,
  • transfers to other departments,
  • time allocated for psychotherapy or rehabilitation, and
  • unpaid sick leave.

 

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) may also be relevant, as it implies that employers must accommodate employees if “conditions in the workplace cause burnout” (Calitz, 2018). Furthermore, the BCEA, which establishes the 45-hour workweek, the EEA, which requires employers to ensure a safe and healthy working environment; and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which mandates hazard assessment and elimination, collectively outline employer responsibilities for employee well-being (BCEA, Section 9; EEA, Section 7; OHSA, Section 8).

 

If employees develop work-related illnesses, rendering them disabled, they may be eligible for compensation from the Compensation Fund. This highlights the potential liability employers may face if burnout is recognised as a disabling condition in the future.

In conclusion, while current South African legislation does not provide explicit protection for burnout sufferers, the increasing recognition of burnout as a potential disability may place employers at risk of future liability. Addressing this pressing issue requires comprehensive reforms, including changes to work-life balance policies, mental health support, and increased awareness of burnout’s far-reaching consequences.

 

In conclusion, while current South African legislation does not provide explicit protection for burnout sufferers, the increasing recognition of burnout as a potential disability may place employers at risk of future liability. Addressing this pressing issue requires comprehensive reforms, including changes to work-life balance policies, mental health support, and increased awareness of burnout’s far-reaching consequences.

 

Find more information on implementing employment equity in my other articles or visit our website to enrol for the next employment equity training course.

Are you having difficulty with employment equity?

Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

By Stephan du Toit

Senior Advisor Employment Equity.

Website: employmentequity.co.za

eMail: info@employmentequity.co.za

WhatsApp +27825613022

Landline: +27212505007

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References:

  • Calitz, K. (2018). Burnout Syndrome: A Latent Liability for South African Employers? Stellenbosch University.
  • Weiss, A. (2018). Work-life Balance and Burnout in South Africa. Nelson Mandela University.
  • Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), No. 75 of 1997, Section 9.
  • Employment Equity Act (EEA), No. 55 of 1998, Section 6 & 7.
  • Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), No. 85 of 1993, Section 8.

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Stephan du Toit

Stephan du Toit

Senior Advisor Employment Equity. Specialist in emergency Employment Equity and Labour compliance for organisations. Find more information on implementing employment equity in my other articles or visit our website to enroll for the next employment equity training course.

Are you having difficulty with employment equity? Please don't hesitate to contact me.

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