PhD defence

Employee Burnout: Prevention, Recovery, and Outdoor Therapy

PhD candidate Roald RM (Roald) Pijpker MSc
Promotor HW (Lenneke) Vaandrager
prof.dr. MA (Maria) Koelen
External copromotor Prof. Dr. E.J. Veen (Aeres University of Applied Sciences)
Prof. Dr. G.F. Bauer (University of Zurich)
Organisation Wageningen University, Health and Society

Wed 19 October 2022 16:00 to 17:30

Venue Omnia
Room Groot Auditorium


The health-promoting effects of nature are increasingly used to prevent and treat mental health problems, such as providing therapies outdoors in nature for employees with burnout. Although evidence of the effectiveness of outdoor therapy is slowly accumulating, theories explaining whether and how outdoor therapy may facilitate the burnout recovery process are often lacking.

The central aim of this thesis is to examine the value of outdoor therapy for the recovery process of employees with burnout In this thesis, a mixed-methods design was adopted, with one longitudinal quantitative study, one systematic review, two qualitative studies, and one retrospective (both quantitative and qualitative) study, resulting in a rich understanding of burnout prevention, burnout recovery, and outdoor therapy for employee burnout.

This thesis complements the existing body of knowledge concerning 1) burnout prevention, 2) burnout recovery, and 3) the value of outdoor therapy for employee burnout. First, enabling employees to switch off from their work-related thoughts and tasks, in addition to being closely and emotionally connected to others in their non-working time, are promising buffering mechanisms to prevent severe burnout complaints. Second, when employees do develop burnout, the recovery process entails four phases, all addressing various GRRs/SRRs – strongly suggesting that pathways and meaning of recovery differ among employees. Most importantly, when employees experience a feeling of control over their recovery process and receive support from friends, family, professionals, employers, and occupational doctors, they are able to return to work in a stable and meaningful way. Third, outdoor therapy comprises six promising intervention elements that support – to a certain extent – the burnout recovery process. Likely dependent on the context of the clients, therapy, and therapist, some intervention elements (i.e., physical activity, creating relationships, observing nature interactions) yield a larger perceived impact on the burnout recovery process than others (i.e., reconnecting body and mind, nature metaphors, experiential learning). Besides outdoor therapy, interventions in the workplace to strengthen GRRs – autonomy, social support, participation – while reducing stressors are crucial too for the recovery process.