Burnout is now officially an “occupational phenomenon” – what does this mean for you?

Susanna Kahr

In today’s hectic world it’s easy to be online 24/7, checking emails at all hours of the day, and night. But this has real consequences for all of us. Add to that, the challenges of ever-increasing workloads, staff shortages, minimal resources, and extremely long hours, it’s no wonder that so many of us are dealing with burnout.

The annual cost of burnout to the global economy is estimated to be $323.4 billion, leading the World Health Organization to predict a global pandemic within a decade. With burnout affecting a record number of people, burnout was recently re-labelled as an “occupational phenomenon” in the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) which is widely used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers.

What does the new WHO status mean for you?

According to the WHO, “burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” which means that the responsibility has now shifted onto companies to do more.

Until now, burnout was classified as a problem that was caused by life management which meant that we, as individual employees, were responsible for managing our own stress. This means that we’ve been expected to sign up for yoga, practice meditation or sign up to see a shrink ourselves, as opposed to our companies making systematic changes to reduce the stress caused by staff shortages, lack of budgets and bad management.

The new definition of burnout should be seen as a wake-up call for companies to take chronic stress seriously and manage it effectively. Our employers now have a responsibility to promote staff well-being and ensure that we aren’t overworked, overstressed, and suffering from burnout.

My team was incredibly overworked and understaffed – our manager knew this and didn’t do anything to alleviate or fix the issue. Burnout was very strong.” – employer review at Envine Life Inc.

What is burnout?

All of us have to deal with different types of stress in our daily lives. Whilst some of us have good coping mechanisms, stress can become all-consuming at times resulting in exhaustion, cynicism and an overwhelming feeling of hatred towards our jobs. This is known as burnout.

According to the World Health Organization, there are three main dimensions of burnout, which are:

– feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

– increased mental distance from one’s job, negative feelings or cynicism related to one’s job

– reduced work performance.

This means that people who burn out often feel a sense of emotional exhaustion or indifference, and may start to treat their colleagues, clients or patients in a detached or dehumanized way. They also very often become distant and lose all excitement or passion for their job, whilst becoming cynical, less effective, and less and less concerned about their own personal achievements. This isn’t helpful for anyone, so if you see signs of this in yourself or someone else, make sure to be proactive about it.

I would have built in policies for staggered lunch breaks with mandatory coverage so everyone can get a well deserved break. This would reduce Nurse burnout.” – suggestion for improvement at Wakemed

Who’s most a risk from burnout?

The short answer is that we’re all susceptible. We all have phases in our lives when it all becomes too much. So we all have to make sure to look after ourselves, our friends, our colleagues and our fellow colleagues by talking about the stress we’re under and whether its manageable.

However, there are also some personality types and professions, that, according to research, suffer from burnout more than others. Type A personalities, for example, people who are more impatient, competitive and driven and like to have a lot of control, are more likely to burn out as they tend to be more restless, hostile and time-conscious, which puts them at greater risk of workplace stress.

Those who deal with people as part of their job are also more likely to suffer from burnout. This includes teachers, care workers, prison officers and retail staff. Of course, those who work in the emergency services — such as police, paramedics, nurses and doctors — are at even higher risk because they work in high-stress conditions day in day out. In fact, a recent survey of 15,000 US doctors found 44% were experiencing symptoms of burnout.

Have assistant managers at all stores, as well as ample numbers of shift supervisors to spread the burden and avoid upper staff burnout. – suggestion for improvement at Noodles & Company

How do I know if I’m burnt out?

If you’re feeling exhausted, depleted, cynical and/or resentful of your job, then you might be suffering burnout. If you’re not sure, then ask yourself the following questions:

1. has anyone close to you asked you to cut down on your work?

2. in recent months have you become consistently angry or resentful about your work or about colleagues, clients or patients?

3. do you feel guilty that you are not spending enough time with your friends, family or even yourself?

4. do you find yourself becoming increasingly emotional, for example crying, getting angry, shouting, or feeling tense for no obvious reason?

5. If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it might be time to talk to your manager and make some changes.

The conpany fosters growth & puts visible effort into assisting staff in meeting goals. They also work to ensure staff are supported in avoiding burnout. – employer review at Seneca Family of Agencies

What can I do about it?

If you think you’re suffering burnout, the first step is to talk to your line manager or workplace counsellor. Many workplaces now also have confidential external psychologists as part of their employee assistance programme, and just remember, you’re entitled to the help they offer.

You can also build up your resilience to stress by learning to switch off, setting boundaries for your work, and thinking more about what you’ll do in your free time. Perception of stress is also a contributing factor. If you perceive you don’t have the right resources to cope with your workload, or perceive it to be more than you can cope with, you are much more likely to succumb to stress-related disorders. Instead, try to think of what you can do, and what you can delegate to someone else.



If you suffered from burnout in your last job due to a lack of support, crazy hours or bad management, make sure to tell us in your anonymous employer review. In the meantime, look after yourself and your colleagues and reach out if you feel that you’re headed towards burnout.


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