The number of individuals in Belgium experiencing prolonged absence from work due to burnout or depression has surged by 43% over the past five years. By the conclusion of 2022,

a staggering 125,700 workers had been sidelined for at least a year due to these health issues, as reported by Flemish newspaper De Tijd citing data from the National Institute for Sickness and Disability Insurance (Riziv).

Riziv highlighted the growing demand from policymakers and employers for deeper insights into these challenges, underscoring that the provided statistics are likely underestimates, as they do not encompass statutory civil servants, including tenured teachers.

The overall tally of long-term sick individuals in Belgium has been steadily climbing since the early 2000s, reaching over half a million (502,371) in 2022. While there was a notable 24% increase in this figure between 2017 and 2022, the surge of 43% in the subset suffering from burnout or depression is particularly noteworthy.

Women are disproportionately affected, constituting more than two-thirds (69%) of those grappling with burnout or depression. Alarmingly, there has been a substantial 62% rise in self-employed individuals experiencing these issues between 2017 and 2022.

The financial implications are significant, with Belgium spending over 1.8 billion euros in 2021 on benefits for individuals out of work for more than a year due to these health concerns—a nearly 60% increase compared to five years prior.

Stijn Baert, a labor economics professor at Ghent University, attributed the phenomenon partly to Belgians' reluctance to make career changes or seek alternative paths. Baert noted a pervasive lack of constructive feedback in the workplace, emphasizing the importance of clear and actionable feedback for employees.

Various action plans are underway to reintegrate long-term sick individuals into the workforce, including a federal awareness campaign targeting stress and burnout prevention, along with initiatives aimed at promoting mental well-being among self-employed individuals. Photo by Phil Whitehouse, Wikimedia commons.