The nonsense you quickly take for granted

Last month I wrote in my column that the upward trend in the number of burnouts has decreased for the first time since 2015. That raised questions among observant readers. They came up with various articles showing that there are indeed more burnouts due to working from home. If you read an article or research quickly or superficially, you can indeed quickly come to wrong conclusions. That has a number of reasons.

Psychologist and author of the bestseller ‘Never Too Busy’, Tony Crabbe, cites figures in his book that indicate that the amount of content we produce on average has increased by 200(!) times from 1986 to 2011.

In the Netherlands alone, there are many hundreds of news channels and many thousands of journalists to produce that content. They are all looking for that one scoop to reach as many readers as possible. You reach them first with a catchy title that indicates that what you are about to read is really newsworthy. If that doesn’t work, you lose the reader beforehand.

For example, it was possible that an article was published last July that stated: ‘Absenteeism for psychological reasons remains remarkably low’ and in August the same newspaper stated: ‘An increase in absenteeism due to psychological complaints’. That seems quite contradictory. Unless, for example, it concerns different sectors or regions, but for that you have to read the article in its entirety first.

The same also applies to the translation of those sources (eg scientific research) into editorial content. Because let’s face it: have you ever thought about the blue light of your mobile if research hadn’t shown that it would be bad for our night’s sleep? So that research just isn’t proven. But in the meantime it has become an international conviction.

A more recent example of this was the study published in February by the National Center for the Prevention of Stress and Burn-Out. It was announced that 80 percent of the young people would fall over. The press release was even thickened with terms such as ‘suicide among young people’ and ‘risk of addiction and school dropout’. Almost all Dutch media immediately took over the message without question. It even caused quite a stir.

Fortunately, the fact-checkers at the University of Leiden dug deeper into the research and quickly concluded that the company behind the research was anything but independent. The NCPSB is a commercial training agency in the field of stress and burnout. The study and its design proved to be unreliable to say the least.

Salient detail: the message is still on all possible news sites (just google it), but in most cases it has now been provided with a small correction – which confuses you as a reader, because why would you leave an incorrect article on your site? And so there is often ‘news’ in the media that is presented as something sensational, but which in retrospect is pure fiction.

The articles in question, which would show that there would be more burn outs, turned out to be more subject to creative writing than that the content actually corresponded to reality. In the articles mentioned, burnout was indeed often mentioned in the headline, but if you read further, that term is completely replaced by ‘psychological complaints’.

A burnout is a psychological complaint (a very serious one), but a psychological complaint is not necessarily a burnout. Burnout specialist Dr Wilmar Schaufeli quickly substantiated this on his LinkedIn. Burnout only sounds clearer, and more intense, than psychological complaints. And it also sells better.

Of course the journalist is responsible for checking the facts in his or her article, but don’t let the reader be fooled too quickly. So keep in mind that when you read something, you check for yourself what is actually written (and how this is substantiated). Don’t take everything for granted right away. Also saves a lot of stress.

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