Background: Burnout is the leading cause of absenteeism in the Netherlands, with associated sick leave costs amounting to around €1.8 billion. Studies have indicated that burnout complaints increased from almost 14.4% in 2014 to 17.3% in 2018, especially among employees between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and further increases are expected. Although there are many published articles on burnout, not much is known about what constitutes effective rehabilitation (ie, the reduction of burnout complaints and the facilitation of returning to work). At the same time, multiple pilot studies have indicated that green programs are effective in both reducing burnout complaints and facilitating return to work. Green programs have been developed by professionals experienced in using the natural environment to facilitate rehabilitation (eg, through green exercise and healing gardens). The literature nevertheless lacks comprehensive and contextual insight into what works and why.
Objective: The overarching aim of this study is to explore the potential of green programs for young employees with burnout. We present the study protocol from an ongoing research project consisting of 2 phases, each composed of 2 research objectives that sequentially build upon each other.
Methods: The study is based on a sequential design with 4 research objectives, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods. In the first phase, a systematic literature review (research objective 1) and in-depth interviews (research objective 2) will be used to explore mechanisms underlying the rehabilitation of young employees with burnout. In the second phase, a multicase study will be conducted to examine the extent to which green programs are built on mechanisms identified in the first phase (research objective 3). By employing a pretest and posttest design, a specific green program that captures most of those mechanisms will then be evaluated on its effect and process with regard to the rehabilitation of young employees with burnout (research objective 4). The project started in June 2018 and will continue through June 2022.
Results: The first phase (research objectives 1 and 2) is intended to generate information on the mechanisms underlying the rehabilitation of young employees with burnout. The second phase (research objectives 3 and 4) is designed to demonstrate the extent to which and how the selected green program facilitates the rehabilitation of young employees with burnout.
Conclusions: Understanding how green programs can facilitate the rehabilitation of young employees with burnout complaints can help to address this societal issue.