The World Health Organization (WHO) updated its clinical definition of burnout. Before 2019, burnout was considered a stress syndrome, whereas the WHO’s update specifies it as mismanagement of chronic workplace stress.
Burnout diagnosis context
According to the American Institute of Stress, in 2021, almost 50 percent of workers could manage work-related stress. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health underlined this statistic by revealing that most people associate their health issues with job stress rather than financial or family challenges. The updated definition of burnout by the WHO in 2019, in its 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), is significant because it mentions the role of workplace stress as the primary cause.
The WHO defines three main diagnostic criteria in relation to burnout: severe exhaustion, lower workplace productivity, and a worker being dissatisfied with their career. Clear definitions can help psychiatrists diagnose clinical burnout and remove the stigma associated with the diagnosis. It can also help psychiatrists and psychologists address underlying causes such as a fear of failure or being perceived as weak. In addition, burnout can lead to mental disorders like depression and anxiety, impacting productivity and professional and personal relationships. Due to overlapping symptoms, a diagnosis of burnout includes ruling out common issues like anxiety, adjustment disorders, and other mood disorders.
The WHO, as of 2020, was in the process of collecting data to develop comprehensive guidelines for the management of clinical burnout. An updated burnout management policy will likely help healthcare professionals devise patient-specific treatment plans for symptomatic control.
In addition, businesses will probably implement regulations to monitor and treat levels of work-related stress to prevent employees from burning out. Furthermore, schools and colleges may also modify stress-causing elements to offer students and faculty members increased treatment options to lower the incidence of clinical burnout. These measures may help improve productivity and output for students and employees. Finally, as doctors diagnose more cases of burnout, the medical community will likely have a better understanding of the disorder’s prevalence and impact.
HR functions operating in various industries can leverage new burnout definitions to alter employee management policies so that employees receive adequate care, support, benefits, and time-off if diagnosed with burnout.
Implications of burnout being redefined
The wider implications of burnout becoming recognized as a serious threat to the health of persons may include:
- Increased awareness of burnout, leading to workplaces better accommodating employees suffering from the condition, and the term no longer having a stigma associated with it.
- Workplaces investing in increased mental wellness support for their employees and changing employee management policies—such as introducing core hour policies—to ensure workers have enough time to complete their work during office hours.
- Training courses for mental health personnel, psychologists, and counselors being updated so that these healthcare workers have the necessary skills to assist patients in need.
Questions to comment on
- Do you think cases of clinical burnout will increase between 2022 and 2032? Why or why not?
- Do you believe more people using remote work systems in their jobs contributes to increased workplace burnout?