Burnout has been redefined by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be recognized as a form of work-induced stress.
While the WHO does not classify burnout as a medical condition, it is included in the organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) as a reason to contact health services outside of illnesses or health conditions.
In the most recent update to the ICD, which will come into force in 2022, burnout has been recategorized as a problem associated with employment or unemployment.
The WHO will define it as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
According to the new definition, burnout is characterized by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.
“Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life,” the new definition says.
Under the current version of the ICD, which came into force in 2016, burnout is excluded from employment-related issues and instead listed among “problems related to life-management difficulty.”
It is currently defined as a “state of vital exhaustion.”
Mental health in relation to the workplace has been a focus of the WHO for several years. In 2017, the organization published an information sheet which noted that “a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems.”
Poor communication and management practices, limited participation in decision-making and unclear tasks or organizational objectives were flagged by the WHO as work-related risk factors for mental health.
A 2018 study by Deloitte found that 64% of U.S. professionals frequently feel stressed or frustrated at their job, with 91% saying that having an unmanageable amount of stress negatively impacted the quality of their work.
Meanwhile, 2014 research from the Depression Alliance charity found that one-in-three British people struggled to cope at work because of depression, stress or burnout.