Working from home in a performance society


‘Every era has its own diseases. The bacterial era ended with the invention of antibiotics. And despite our obvious fear of flu pandemics, we no longer live in the viral era either: thanks to immune techniques, we have already passed that era. Our twenty-first century is, pathologically speaking, not bacterial, not viral, but neutral’. These are the first four sentences of The Burnout Society; written by Byung-Chul Han. In 2014. Since we are in the middle of a pandemic, this statment can now effectively be challenged.

“This statment can now effectively be challenged… “

Father working from home

Neutral century

Han further addresses about neurodiseases such as depression and the burnout syndrome. ‘They are not caused by the negativity of the immunological strangeness, but by an excess of positivity.’ But, is it always one or the other? Does the number of ‘neurodiseases’ decrease when there is a pandemic? Not if we have to believe the news. The consequences of not being together, working at home and the fear of the virus and economic developments are stressful, and there are sources that claim that the number of depressions and burn-outs actually increases in times like these.

“ The harder you work, the further you get..”

Performance society

In today’s society, ambition is useful and admirable; it has turned into a quality that makes you a better person. The more ambitious you are, the further you get. For that you have to work hard, and the harder you work, the further you get. This is known as the performance society. This phenomenon can be considered dangerous. In De prestatie generatie, Jeroen van Baar outlines that: ‘self-discipline is more fatal than being disciplined by someone else, because resistance against yourself is impossible. Everyone is given the freedom but also the duty to perform optimally’. ‘Anyone who fails is to blame, it’s his own fault and has to live with that guilt’. We put pressure on ourselves to prove that we can work hard. To show how much we can and to be faster and better than the rest. Now that we’re working from home and don’t have a clear view of what others are doing, we’re raising the bar even higher. The perfect recipe for a burn-out, or worse.

Working from home is working more

On average, people work one hour more per week from home, than they would have while still going to their work. Working from home causes us to work overtime unnoticed. The time you spend at work chatting, having lunch and drinking coffee is now all spent on work. Moreover, if someone has a bit of spare time, one is triggered to open his laptop and start working. This also occurs during the weekends.

Studies show that the numbers of absence due to illness have decreased significantly  since the beginning of the pandemic. It turns out that employees are working even harder than before and feel that they have to bite the bullet. Because of the uncertainty around the economy, employees do feel pressure to work even more, which may lead to more people becoming overworked. This uncertainty, combined with the high pressure that we impose on ourselves, creates stress. Under these circumstances, a task does costs an employee twice as much energy as it would cost under normal circumstances.

“Employees think they have to bite the bullet.”



The corona crisis is a mental war of exhaustion. Lots of inactivity, ongoing insecurity and changing daily routines require a lot of energy, which results in tiredness.

Limited physical exercise has a very large part to play in this, people who work from home miss their daily activity such as cycling to work or climbing the stairs in the office. Stress combined with lack of exercise causes people to sleep shorter and less deeply. This, in itself, has an immediate effect on the next day at the (home) office. It’s good for someone to be a bit busier now and then, however, after such a period, one needs a bit of rest, such as a day off or a good night’s sleep. And that is where it often goes wrong.

A burnout is a combination of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion, caused by chronic stress. Contrary to a depression, a burnout is always work-related and there is a drastic decrease in energy and motivation. The pandemic has demanded great adaptability from all of us. Not only related to work. If things don’t go well at work, this now has a (more) direct effect on the situation at home. This does not only increase the potential occurrence of a burnout, but also that one of a depression.

“Changing daily routines require a lot of energy.”

Influence on the role in a household 

Not everyone has the luxury of a home office. Some alternate the living room and bedroom with their partner. Others sit at the dining table with 3 other roommates. Working from home also means that people can’t separate the different roles they have in their life. A single person is a roommate and team leader at the same time. Or mother and CFO. It takes a lot of energy and it is almost impossible to separate these two roles and to not let them impact each other. On top of this, the pandemic decreases the amount of social connections and activities and which causes people to feel alone or not being understood.


One could argue that an employer is benefitting from employees that work harder and longer. However, this positive effect on the business, if present at all, will not last long because employees will get ill. It is often observed too late that someone is getting overworked because an employer will miss physical signals via Zoom. Employers must therefore try to be ahead of the curve in order to prevent the neurodiseases that come along in the case of a pandemic. Mental flexibility is currently more important than ever, and that is only possible when you are mentally healthy.

“An employer will miss physical signals via Zoom.”

The aforementioned outlines that the twenty-first century is pathologically anything but neutral, and that a pandemic means that neurodiseases will be given a chance at exactly that time.


More from Milembe Horb

Brands and Innovation         Amsterdam Fashion Institute