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Job burnout is now an official syndrome

May 31, 2019

At one point or another, we’ve all likely felt the effects of burnout in our workplace – feeling exhausted, unmotivated to do our work, and experiencing an overall lack of interest in our work. Until now, burnout has been classified as a problem related to life management. But last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) re-labled burnout, officially classifying it as an occupational syndrome. 

While the term burnout was already included in WHO's International Classification of Diseases (ICD) – the handbook that guides medical providers in diagnosing diseases - the definition has been revised to include more detail. It is now referred to as an "occupational phenomenon" to better reflect that it is a work-based syndrome caused by chronic stress. This new definition should be a wake-up call for employers to treat chronic stress that has not been successfully managed as a work health and safety issue. It should also help doctors diagnose burnout in their patients and help individuals suffering from it validate what they are feeling.

According to WHO, the newly listed dimensions of burnout are characterized by:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy (work performance)

WHO notes that in this context, “burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Like stress, burnout creeps up on you over an extended period of time. But unlike stress where you feel overwhelmed, burnout (although stress related) is exhibited by feeling underwhelmed. Specific symptoms can include:

  • chronic fatigue
  • weight gain or loss of appetite
  • emotional exhaustion including anxiety and depression
  • a drop in productivity

If you or someone you know is experiencing burnout, talk to you your family doctor or health care provider. 310Mental Health Support (310-6789) is also a free help line available 27/7/365 throughout BC that provides access to emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health.

Media stories on this topic:
Global News – WHO classifies burnout as ‘occupational phenomenon’ related solely to work

CTV News – 'Burn-out' is an 'occupational phenomenon' not disease: WHO

Daily Hive Vancouver –  World Health Organization labels ‘burn-out’ as workplace ailment