Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Research Notes and BioMed Central.

Open Access Short Report

Perceptions of mental workload in Dutch university employees of different ages: a focus group study

Judith T Bos*, Nathalie CGM Donders, Koos van der Velden and Joost WJ van der Gulden

Author Affiliations

Department of Primary and Community Care, Centre for Family Medicine, Geriatric care and Public Health, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, PO Box 9101, 6500, HB Nijmegen, the Netherlands

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Research Notes 2013, 6:102  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-6-102

Published: 18 March 2013



As academic workload seems to be increasing, many studies examined factors that contribute to the mental workload of academics. Age-related differences in work motives and intellectual ability may lead to differences in experienced workload and in the way employees experience work features. This study aims to obtain a better understanding of age differences in sources of mental workload. 33 academics from one faculty discussed causes of workload during focus group interviews, stratified by age.


Among our participants, the influence of ageing seems most evident in employees’ actions and reactions, while the causes of workload mentioned seemed largely similar. These individual reactions to workload may also be driven by differences in tenure. Most positively assessed work characteristics were: interaction with colleagues and students and autonomy. Aspects most often indicated as increasing the workload, were organisational aspects as obstacles for ‘getting the best out of people’ and the feeling that overtime seems unavoidable. Many employees indicated to feel stretched between the ‘greediness’ of the organisation and their own high working standards, and many fear to be assigned even less time for research if they do not meet the rigorous output criteria. Moreover, despite great efforts on their part, promotion opportunities seem limited. A more pronounced role for the supervisor seems appreciated by employees of all ages, although the specific interpretation varied between individuals and career stages.


To preserve good working conditions and quality of work, it seems important to scrutinize the output requirements and tenure-based needs for employee supervision.

Age differences; University employees; Academic employees; Mental workload; Stress; Greedy organisation; Focus group interview