WHO Classifies Burn-Out as “Occupational Phenomenon” in Newest ICD-11

Anyone who feels overwhelmed at their job and at their breaking point shouldn’t feel alone.

Businesswoman tired at work
WHO classifies burn-out as “occupational phenomenon” in newest ICD-11 - Credit: Shutterstock

The World Health Organization made it clear in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases that burnout is no joke — it’s an occupational phenomenon. While the WHO wants individuals to know it’s not classified as a medical condition, it’s seriously affecting modern workers.

Burn-out, as defined by the WHO, is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The WHO states that it’s defined by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.

“Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life,” the WHO reported.

The world-renown Mayo Clinic suggests that many people who experience burnout don’t think their job is the culprit. “Whatever the cause, job burnout can affect your physical and mental health,” the Mayo Clinic wrote in an article.

Some factors that can cause job burn out include lack of control at the work place, such as scheduling, assignments or the person’s workload, according to Mayo Clinic. Unclear job expectations and dysfunctional workplace dynamics can also take a role in experiencing burnout.

Help Guide, a mental health and wellness site, suggests that there is a difference between burnout and stress. “Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress,” Help Guide wrote. “Stress, by and large, involves too much: too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. However, stressed people can still imagine that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better.”

Help Guide states that burnout is about not enough and having feelings of emptiness, mental exhaustion, no motivation and lack of care. “People experiencing burnout often don’t see any hope of positive change in their situations,” Help Guide wrote. “If excessive stress feels like you’re drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up. And while you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens.”

One study by Yelllow Brick suggests that more than 96 percent of respondents felt that burnout affected their everyday lives. The survey asked 2,059 millennials between the ages of 23-38 with 53 percent of respondents being female and 47 percent male.

“In terms of coping with burnout, millennials that were surveyed reported that watching streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu as well as sleep and exercise were among the top ways to cope,” the study suggested. “Drinking alcohol and substance abuse were also reported as coping mechanisms among respondents. Of those who take drugs to cope, 68 percent said they use marijuana.”


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