Burnout Is Officially Recognized By the World Health Organization—Here’s How to Know If You Have It
This “occupational phenomenon” isn’t from a lack of coffee.
You’ve had your morning coffee (or coffees) and you still don’t feel up to those emails. Maybe you even have a long vacation to look forward to, but these last few days in the office seem damn near impossible. Turns out, burnout is now officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an “occupational phenomenon.” In other words, there may be a legitimate reason—and not just lack of caffeine or motivation—for feeling like you just can’t work another minute.
In a press release this week, the WHO announced that burnout is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), a handbook that provides a guideline for medical providers when making a diagnosis. Burnout was also included in the handbook’s previous version, the ICD-10, but its definition is now more detailed.
According to the WHO, burnout is not a medical condition or illness, but it is a “factor influencing health status or contact with health services”—which means that people might reach out to doctors or other health professionals because of issues relating to it. Burnout is defined in the ICD-11 as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Burnout is also characterized by three main symptoms: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.
While these symptoms may also be visible in non-work related situations (like feeling overwhelmed with housework and family obligations, for example), the WHO states that this diagnosis should only be used in an occupational context. Health professionals should also first rule out mood and anxiety disorders before making this diagnosis.
According to a 2017 survey from the non-profit American Institute of Stress, work is the third most common cause of stress for Americans. The CDC reports that on average, Americans spend 8% more time working than they did 20 years ago, for an average of 47 hours per week. Additionally, 40% of workers say that their job is high stress, according to the CDC, and 26% feel “burned out” by their job.
So how can you manage your heavy workload without losing your mind? For starters, you can hit the gym. A 2017 study revealed that exercise might be able to prevent or reverse work-related burnout, so don’t skip out on that Zumba class tonight.
It may also help to look at other reasons you might be feeling the burn-out effect at work. Other research suggests job-related stress may hit people harder if they’re not getting support at home or from their social network outside of work, and if they’re not taking breaks (even short ones) throughout the day.
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