Feeling Burnt Out At Work? WHO Says It's A Syndrome Linked To Chronic Stress

Feeling Burnt Out At Work? WHO Says It's A Syndrome Linked To Chronic Stress

How often do you find yourself or your colleagues at work saying, 'I am feeling burnt out?' Does it happen a lot? We often mistake burnout as a state of mind, fatigue, a long day at work or a mood when, in fact, it is much more serious than that. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently updated its definition of burnout and declared it a 'syndrome' related to chronic stress at work. 

Current Definition

The state of having no energy or enthusiasm because of working too hard, or someone who shows the effects of this state.

WHO's Definition

Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.


Remember that it's a syndrome. WHO doesn't classify burnout as a medical condition. According to them, "Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life." It specifies the exclusion of burnout from any adjustment disorders; anxiety or fear-related disorders; and mood disorders in ICD-11. Which means these can't be considered by medical professionals to diagnose burnout.

The new version of WHO's handbook of diseases, the International Classification of Diseases - Volume 11, will carry this new definition and go into effect in January 2022.

Symptoms of Burnout

WHO characterises burnout by:

1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

2) increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and

3) reduced professional efficacy

What Professionals Think About This?


Torsten Voigt, a sociologist at RWTH Aachen University in Germany who is known for his papers on burnout, said, "People who feel burnout are finally fully recognised as having a severe issue," thanks to the more detailed and legitimate definition of the term. It can make it easier for people suffering from burnout to get help from a professional.

Elaine Cheung, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said, "There needs to be (a) greater critical discussion on how we can more precisely measure and define this condition." Elaine welcomes the new definition with the hope that "it might create greater awareness" about the problem of burnout not only among health care workers but also other individuals and employers.

How Can You Get Help?


Elaine said that certain aspects of the workplace can increase or lead to the risk of burnout. Quoting NPR about Elaine's solution, "Employers have a big role in addressing burnout by paying attention to whether employees have a sense of community at work, strong social relationships, a collegial environment, a workload that's not too burdensome, a sense of agency at work, and a healthy work-life balance."

So, from now on, the response to that statement we started this article with better not be, 'Go home, you're just tired' or 'Don't take so much pressure, yaar. It's just a job!'

Images: Shutterstock

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