Burnout is now classified by WHO as a work related phenomenon

On Tuesday, May 8, 2019, NBC News reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) has now classified ‘burnout’ as an occupational phenomenon.

The term ‘burnout’ was coined back in the mid-1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger who used it to describe the condition of people who experienced mental or physical collapse due to overworking or being stressed out. He particularly associated the condition to the ‘helping’ professions in health care such as nurses and doctors at the time.

But today burn out is being experienced by people in all professions and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, says that the US ranks at the lowest levels when it comes to work-life balance because generally Americans are workaholics.  

In 2018 the Gallop Poll found that 55 percent of Americans had experienced daily stress much higher than the global average which was at 35 percent. This spurred the WHO to address burn out as an occupational phenomenon at its recent World Health Assembly (WHA) which was held from May 20-28, 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. 

The WHA is the decision making body of WHO, which gives guidance to several healthcare providers and organizations. In its International Classification of Diseases Handbook it now includes ‘burnout.’  It lists burnout as an occupational phenomenonand not as a medical condition but says that physicians can now diagnose it if a patient shows signs of three symptoms:  exhaustion; cynicism towards their job; and experiencing problems in getting their job done successfully.  Diagnosis should be specific towards the occupational context and not to other life experiences.

So why are we as Americans so burned out?  One of the reasons which is not just specific to the US but has a global impact is the increasing use of technology worldwide. It compels people to be connected on a 24/7 basis, leaving so many feeling powerless and impossible to disengage from it and their work no matter where they are. But to maintain a good healthy lifestyle, one must disengage for short periods of time or sometimes disconnect altogether longer to keep one’s mental health from deteriorating.

Shainna Ali, who is the owner of Integrated Counseling Solutions in Orlando, Florida, says there are ways to prevent burnout.

She suggests some self-care solutions such as: establishing and fostering healthy connections in the workplace; using break time for effective and positive energy building, such as a short walk or short enjoyable activities; and definitely taking a vacation with no contact with the workplace at all.