Culture Speaker Contest 2023

Thijs Launspach – What We Get Wrong About Stress

Dutch psychologist and keynote speaker Thijs Launspach took part in the Speaker Contest Final on the 10th of May 2023. Here is the summary of his keynote discussing “What We Get Wrong About Stress”!

If you wish, you can watch the keynote here:

Thijs started his keynote with a personal story of his best friend who suffered severe burnout and had to take several months off to recover. Thijs himself has experienced some stressful times and confesses he has been on the brink of burnout. While he enjoyed the work he was doing, the projects were keeping him up at night. “My work ethic was eating away at my health, making me an unhappier person and a less pleasant person to be around.” But somehow, Thijs managed to get through the tough times without burning out fully, and he now talks to people about stress and mental health for a living. He calls it the best job on the planet.

During his career, Launspach has heard numerous stories from people experiencing burnout. Everyone has experienced stress, and to some it has been more damaging than to others. From students to CEOs, everyone has their own story. Through listening to these stories carefully, Thijs has learned a lot, and he wanted to share those learnings with us in his speech.

We are crazy busy
“Our days are filled up with meetings, deadlines, and targets.” We all try to be and do our best at work, and on top of that, we are constantly blasted with e-mails and notifications – it’s like we cannot catch a break. And sure, a little bit of stress can give you a productivity boost. But chronic stress is a different story. “Chronic stress leads to health problems and motivation issues, and eventually, maybe even burnout.”

Stress is universal, ​​and we are in a burnout epidemic
Virtually everyone has to deal with stress in one way or another, regardless of their job description or line of work. And some people burn out completely.

Epidemic is a big word, but Thijs says the statement holds true. “One in seven workers burn out. And in some groups, such as teachers and care workers, that’s one in five.” While the numbers may vary from country to country, the epidemic is global.

Stress is an individual problem…
In part, this is true. Some people are more vulnerable to stress than others, and not everyone ends up burning out. However, this is the part we get wrong. Stress is not only an individual problem.

But stress is also a work problem
As much as we’d like to individualize the issue, stress is also a work-related problem. Individual characteristics and circumstances do play a role, but as the previously discussed number tells us, burnout is a global issue.

When workers are encouraged to push themselves into unhealthy territory, the work environment is toxic. E-mails during the weekend, staying late, and skipping breaks should not be the norm. When the environment is toxic, it doesn’t matter how resilient you are.

“It’s incredibly difficult to remain healthy in an unhealthy environment.”

It’s clear we can do better, but how? From allowing mental health days to shorter workdays to switching off work phones after business hours, there are several things that can be done to improve employee well-being. Perhaps one of the most important things employers can do is to increase awareness and knowledge of stress and burnout within the organization. “And no, burnouts do not spread just by talking about them.”

People are not productivity machines, nor should they be treated as such. Employees should feel that they can take care of themselves first, not that they have to be reachable 24/7. And of course, healthy, happy, energetic employees are also more productive. Therefore, employee well-being and creating a healthy work environment should be a priority for any leader.

“As a leader, you are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution.”

On the 10th of May at 18:00 EEST in Helsinki, we got to experience an inspiring and exhilarating evening with five incredible Speaker Contest 2023 finalists. All of them gave impeccable speeches, however, our jury and audience could only choose one winner. Maryna Saprykina, a Ukrainian sustainability consultant, won the competition with her keynote “Sustainability in the Times of War.” We will be hearing from her again next September at Oslo, Amsterdam, and Nordic Business Forum.

But right now, we have other amazing speeches to learn from! You can find the summaries and videos from our other Speaker Contest finalists here:

Tobias Sturesson – How to Overcome Your Company’s Greatest Culture Challenges

Pep Rosenfeld – Leadership Lessons From 20 Years of Business Events

Ritu G. Mehrish – Leader’s Block – The Opposite of Potential


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