I'm an expat in The Netherlands working in the Dutch office of a large international company. The office is too small to have a trade union so there is no union representation and we have no HR people either. (Our HR department is based in another country).

My working conditions have gradually become unbearable. My boss is practicing an extreme form of performance punishment where the better I do, the more work I'm given to the point that my workload is no longer manageable. I have to take work home every evening and weekend, and all my overtime is unpaid. I've raised this issue with him many times, and he more or less threatened my job and punished me for complaining by not giving me a promised promotion.

The threat is real because we've had several layoffs already, and there are more coming. So anyone who complains about anything will be on the next layoff list. Our company culture is hostile to staff complaints in general. My boss's boss is in another country and has no idea this is going on.

The logical solution to my problem is to leave for another job. Unfortunately I've yet to find another job in the same salary range and I have a mortgage to pay so I can't take a pay cut. I'm still looking.

In the meantime I'm stuck in this horrible situation. I would like to hear from others who have experienced this, how did you cope? Are there any strategies I can use until I find another job?

All the Dutch people I know told me to go to my doctor to get signed off sick for burnout. I suffer from insomnia, nightmares and I had the first panic attack of my life a few weeks ago, I also had 2 fainting spells, so the situation is really starting to affect my health indeed. I'm not the only person in the office with this problem, currently we have about 10% of the staff on long-term sick leave.

I'm worried about going on sick leave myself. Will that affect my future employment in The Netherlands? Would another employer discriminate against me because of it?

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    Another consideration: If your work environment is as toxic as you describe, going on sick leave will also be held against you by your boss. So you lose anyway, but at least you'll take care of your health that way. As for your final question, that is very much opinion-based and I guess your question will get closed as such. In the Netherlands burnout are known/recognized (nobody thinks they are fake or exaggerated), but whether a new employer will be afraid to take you on is hard to say. The best you can do is be very open about it when applying. – user8036 Feb 6 '16 at 16:25
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    @JoeStrazzere: it's 100% of pay, and if his work is causing insomnia, fainting, panic attacks etc then most Dutch people would indeed consider that being ill, and caused by his workplace (which means you call in sick earlier than usual). – RemcoGerlich Feb 6 '16 at 20:31
  • I wonder what country's law your contract is under, working unpaid overtime and during weekends, and even simply choosing who will be layed off next (instead of it being somewhat randomized) is frowned upon. – RemcoGerlich Feb 6 '16 at 20:34
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    He'll be sent to a doctor who is officially neutral but paid for by his employer, and that doctor decides whether he actually is unfit for work. From the sound of it I bet the doctor will agree that he is (fainting from this sort of thing is serious). If it takes long, there will be a plan for his reintegration and he'll have to follow it. But this sick pay could potentially last two years (if he's under Dutch employment law), paid by his employer. So in practice if after a while he says he's better, and oh I resign from date x because of a new job, his boss will probably not object. – RemcoGerlich Feb 6 '16 at 20:50
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    @JoeStrazzere Uh, her gender has to do with the fact that everybody in the comments refers to her as "he". – JohannesD Feb 8 '16 at 12:00

Another company is unlikely to object to your taking a reasonable amount of sick leave, though de-stressing is normally what vacation time is for.

However, I would suggest actually talking to a doctor; fainting episodes suggest that you may in fact have something going on which is treatable and which, if addressed, would improve your ability to deal with the high-pressure work environment.

You may also have to work on telling the boss "Sure, I can do that; which of these other things should be set aside so I can do so." If you're fully committed, you're fully committed. It can't all be both highest priority and highest urgency, and setting priorities is part of your manager's job.

If it can't all be done in a vaguely reasonable amount of time, it's also your boss's responsibility to either tell his boss and/or the customers that things will be delayed, or to find someone else to do part of the work. That won't hapoen until he knows you've reached your limit. It's also legitimate to tell the boss that if you contine at the current pace you're risking burnout.

But do check with a doctor. You shouldn't be fainting, and panic attacks can sometimes be related to depression and there may be ways to reduce them.