Less work: more burnout? A comparison of working conditions and the risk of burnout by German physicians before and after the implementation of the EU Working Time Directive

  • Astrid Richter
  • Petya Kostova
  • Xaver Baur
  • Ralf Wegner
Original Article



The present study is a 10-year comparison (1997 vs. 2007) of occupational and health aspects before and after the implementation of the European Working Time Directive on German hospital physicians. A major focus is whether the changes in working conditions are accompanied by a lower risk for burnout.


Three hundred and twenty-eight physicians from the Medical Register of the city of Hamburg completed the survey in 1997 and 994 physicians in 2007. The response rates were 55.4 and 46.5 %, respectively. All participants filled in a 22-item version of the German translation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory. Results of multivariate covariance analyses are reported.


The work of physicians has changed significantly within the 10-year period, for example, work time decreased by 4.5 h on average to 55.8 h per week in 2007. Junior physicians profited more from this development, but on-call duties increased for senior physicians in particular. The reduced hours were at the expense of fewer rests. Junior, as well as senior, physicians reported significantly higher rates on the burnout scale for emotional exhaustion (mean 21.8, SD 10.7) in the latter survey and senior physicians also on the depersonalization scale (mean 9.7, SD 6.3).


Changes in working conditions in accordance with the European Working Time Directive are not accompanied by reduced strain and risk of burnout for physicians. Rather, our data argue for greater intensification in work, especially for senior physicians. Further studies are suggested in order to explore interventions for a sustainable improvement in the working conditions of physicians.


Hospital physicians Stress Strain Burnout Shortage of physicians 



The current study contains parts of the doctoral thesis of Petya Kostova. We are grateful to the Hamburg Medical Register for their support.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Astrid Richter
    • 1
    • 2
  • Petya Kostova
    • 3
  • Xaver Baur
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ralf Wegner
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Occupational and Maritime Medicine, Ministry of Health and Consumer Protection in HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.University Medical Center Hamburg-EppendorfHamburgGermany
  3. 3.Gertrauden Krankenhaus Berlin-WilmersdorfBerlinGermany

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