This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it recognises burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis. It is now listed in the International Classification of Diseases, the WHO's handbook that guides medical practitioners across the world.
This announcement has been a real breakthrough for the Calmer Team: burnout is one of the main focuses of our work, and it takes centre stage in our free e-course The Reignite Project. Our aim is to highlight the impact burnout has on entrepreneurs, business owners and their teams, and provide tools to create burnout prevention strategies.
What is occupational burnout?
In our guide to the five stages of burnout, we defined occupational burnout as “the loss of meaning in one's work, coupled with mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion as the result of long-term, unresolved stress”.
According to the WHO’s updated handbook, burnout can be diagnosed when a person shows the following symptoms:
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
How is burnout different from stress?
Stress is a leading cause of lost work days, and is also a cause of physical illnesses too. While stress is a general term for “our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event”, burnout is a very specific diagnosis of poor mental health.
In fact, the WHO has recognised that burnout can only be diagnosed after adjustment disorder and anxiety and mood disorders are ruled out first. It is also only applicable to issues stemming from a work environment.
Why hasn’t burnout been recognised until now?
Although researchers have been studying burnout for years, it has taken numerous studies to finally reach a specific definition that scientists agree on.
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger is credited with the first ever formal study into burnout, which was published in 1974. Despite that study, it’s taken 45 years for the mental health problem to be officially recognised. It highlights the need for more focus on mental health issues in the workplace, and especially in an age when more people than ever before are working for themselves.