Workplace Burnout Recognized As Medical Condition By WHO

June 03, 2019

Much has been made about the physical and mental impact work-related stress has on individuals. This impact has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to officially recognize work-related stress, or burnout, as a medical condition.

In the upcoming  International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which is WHO’s handbook that helps medical professionals diagnose diseases, burnout is described as an “occupational phenomenon.” Not to be confused with general stress, WHO says burnout is solely related to the work environment.

According to WHO, burnout is not a disease but a syndrome. The difference? A disease usually has a defining cause as well as specific symptoms and treatments (e.g., strep throat). In contrast, a syndrome is a set of signs and symptoms that correlate with each other and with a particular disease, but a syndrome is not a disease itself (e.g., Irritable Bowel Syndrome).

Burnout has existed for centuries but is coming to the forefront for several reasons. More technology and the “always on” culture have raised expectations that employees should always be working, even at home. As education and awareness about mental health grows, more employers and employees are willing to acknowledge and talk about mental health struggles that are a result of burnout. 

 

Burnout Symptoms

Employees may recognize the signs of burnout as being tired and drained. WHO describes burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and lists prevalent symptoms as:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

 

Implications Of Medical Diagnosis

Although WHO described burnout in the previous edition of ICD, giving it an official medical diagnosis is a significant milestone, acknowledging the increased impact that burnout has in the workplace. A 2018 Gallup study of nearly 7,500 employees found 23% of them feel burned out often or always and 44% feel burned out sometimes.

 

Costs Of Job Burnout

Any employer who has an issue with burnout knows firsthand and clearly how it impacts business success.  Below are some stats that help quantify the cost.

  • Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day
  • They are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
  • Employees with burnout are 6 times as likely to leave their current employer
  • Burnout costs for $125 billion to $190 billion in health care spending each year
  • Constant stress from burnout can lead to major health issues including coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes

 

Employer Takeaways

Semantics aside, burnout has an indisputably negative effect on employees. Employers must take a deeper look at wellness programs and other supportive actions businesses can provide to help employees stay healthy.  One area of well-being that employers can strengthen to help employees cope with burnout is resiliency, which is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Although this does not directly tackle the issues that cause burnout, which cannot be ignored, building resiliency will help employees better manage work-place stress.

Topics: Wellness


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