Burn-out and happiness at work in the 1950s

“In our day, burn-out didn’t exist”. Do your (grand)parents say that too? And are they right? Today, everyone knows at least someone who suffers or has suffered burn-out. Or maybe you have experienced first-hand how unhealthy stress can affect a person.

There are numerous books, Facebook groups, websites, coaches … on the subject. Does this make it a trend or a hype? Or even worse, an excuse not to have to work? The latter is certainly true in the minds of older generations.


  • They often worked harder. There was much more manual labour. The technologies that facilitate our lives and work today, did not exist then.
  • They worked longer hours. Free Saturdays were only introduced in the second half of the 20th century. Today, we can work part-time, take parental and other leave. Some of us enjoy flexible working hours or work from home.
  • There used to be far fewer opportunities to relax. Grandfathers had a choice between joining a music band or playing soccer as a hobby and were usually only allowed to leave one night a week.

And yet, those generations managed to keep their heads above water. They could do all that work without succumbing to the stress that current generations are struggling with.

Stress 24/7

Times change. A number of stress factors simply did not exist at the time. Moreover, the mentality and sense of duty were very different.

You didn’t have to be ready 24/7 (or be on standby or continuously available) to do your job. Your work took place in a clearly defined physical location, and nowhere else. Your working hours were also clearly and explicitly agreed. Traffic jams were almost non-existent and there were no laptops, smartphones or the internet to continue working after hours (at home, in your free time).

Often, you stepped into your parents’ shoes. They made the choice for you. If you were allowed to continue studying, you chose a course that ensured you a good job accompanied by a ditto pay slip. And once you had found a suitable position, you stayed with one and the same employer until your retirement.

Job hopping

“Every gain is balanced by a loss,” said soccer player and Dutch legend Johan Cruijff, rightly so. So, most of us don’t want to travel back to that era. We are freer than ever to ‘job hop’. To choose a job that respects our talents, personality, life stage. To occasionally change course based on evolving interests. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is a logical evolution to strive to meet increasingly ‘higher’ needs as soon as the current needs are fulfilled.

Do you ever wonder what your (grand)parents’ careers would look like if they were active in today’s labour market? Would they make the same choices and accept the possible consequences thereof? Or would they approach their job differently because of the shift in needs and wishes, values and norms that transforms our labour market in a very distinctive way?

Next level

We owe our present prosperity to previous generations. Focussing on well-being at work was ‘the next level’ we could strive for. One that has continued to grow based on acquired prosperity: good physical and mental health. And in the meantime, this is no longer just a private matter.

The current, fairly new search for happiness at work is today’s ‘next level’. Gradually, we see more and more initiatives emerging in the pursuit of happiness at work, sprouting from the ground like mushrooms. They influence entrepreneurship in a positive way. And of course, this thrills us beyond reason!