Clues to preventing burnout lie in our personalities, says institute


The Institute of NeuroCognitivism in Brussels trains workers to help keep burnout and depression under control. One of the key elements in the approach is taking people back to basics – to their true, primary motivations

What’s my motivation?

One day you’re bursting with energy, the next it feels like all your lust for life has seeped away. Burnout and depression are fast becoming the most prevalent illnesses of our time.

Though the conditions are being taken more and more seriously by doctors, employers and insurers, measures to prevent burnout still don’t go beyond papering over the cracks, according to the Institute of NeuroCognitivism (INC) in Brussels. Too often, they see that people who have taken a couple of months off of work simply return to the old routine without having tackled the actual problem.

“In our society, in which everything keeps going faster and faster and our brains are constantly being bombarded with information and stimuli, we very rarely take the time to reflect and question our own lives,” says Isabelle Hoebrechts, managing director of the INC, an international organisation with an office in the Brussels district of Etterbeek.

“We like to think we’re living the life we want to live, and doing the job that perfectly matches our talent,” she says. “But we never seriously question our choices and motivations.”

Out of character

Hoebrechts is convinced that the best way to tackle potential burnout is to dig deeper into your personality and explore what’s really important for you. In the INC, this is done by reconciling scientific findings from psychology with neurology.

This is the basis of neurocognitive and behavioural approach theory, which was developed by the French neuroscientist Jacques Fradin in the 1970s. The theory and method received a serious boost when Fradin met the Belgian entrepreneur and visionary Pierre Moorkens.

Few students choose to study something that really fascinates them. This is where the seeds of a future burnout are sowed

- Isabelle Hoebrechts

In 2008, the pair launched the INC, with the goal of spreading Fradin’s theory and of training professionals from various sectors: psychotherapists, career coaches, HR, etc. Today, the institute has branches in Brussels, France, Switzerland and Morocco.

One of the key neurological elements in Fradin’s theory is the prefrontal cortex. In 1976, when he was still studying the biology of human behaviour, Fradin discovered that this particular area – which is often considered the most intelligent part of our brains – is constantly in a semi-unconscious state.

This means that what we consider most of the time to be our motivations, judgements and even our meaning of life don’t necessarily match with our primary, innate personality and character.

Hoebrechts thinks that because this primary motivation is often buried, we frequently make the wrong choices, both in our careers and in relationships, friendships and other elements that shape our identity.

“It starts when we send our children to school,” says Hoebrechts, who has 20 years of experience in people management. “Many students still choose their parents’ favourite discipline, or they opt for one that opens up opportunities for a prestigious career. Few choose to study something that really fascinates them. This is where the seeds of a future burnout are sowed.”

Serenity as a policy

So what do Hoebrechts and the INC propose? “The professionals we train will be able to identify your primary personality and your true energy sources, so you learn what you really want to be – not what other people or the authorities want you to be.

“With this in mind, the professionals will also encourage you to discover your secondary personalities and the danger of what we call ‘energy eaters’. Social media is an obvious example, but often the black holes that absorb your energy are more hidden. They can even have a seemingly positive facade, like family.”

Hoebrechts’ main task is to translate all the academic research work that has been done at INC to practical methods for companies, organisations and executives. She’s currently setting up an ambitious platform to support organisations in the development of an elaborate psychosocial policy.

“Our aim is to make the concept of well-being a cornerstone of company policy, so serenity will take the place of stress, depression and burnout.”

Our aim is to make the concept of well-being a cornerstone of company policy, so serenity will take the place of stress, depression and burnout

- Isabelle Hoebrechts

How will this platform work? “Interested organisations can ask us to perform an audit in which we study the degree of absenteeism, what is irritating their employees, the overall perception of the work-life balance, the dream goals…  Everything that keeps people’s minds busy.”

With those results, they approach the CEO, the HR department and any prevention advisors to work out a well-being strategy. “The key message we try to deliver is that matching a job profile with people’s behaviour and attitude is at least as important as matching it with their talents and competences,” says Hoebrechts.

One of the tools she and her colleagues have developed is a personality test based on a questionnaire that allows people to “connect with their inner force”. “This test helps us unlock people’s primary motivations,” she explains. “It puts aside expectations and brings them back to the basics, to who they really are.”

The test highlights the interaction between brain structures and a person’s personal and cultural experience. “Applied to the workplace – in particular to professional and personal guidance, decision-making, communication and management – the questionnaire helps build efficient solutions adapted to one’s human nature, based on each person’s current and future abilities.”

Photo: Belga