Burnout — More Than an Occupational Phenomenon.

I specialize in helping professionals who suffer from burnout. The problem is that the suffering of burnout does not stay at work. It can affect every aspect of life. Most of us assign a great deal of our self-concept to our work. Americans spend more time on the job than on any other task. It’s easy to see how work can overshadow us. How many of us are workaholics? My hand is up. Think about the first two questions asked at social gatherings. First, they ask your name, then what you do for a living. It takes about three minutes before someone asks about your work life.

Current Trends
The workplace literature is full of job stress and disengagement, far exceeding those who say they are satisfied in their job (a 75-25% split). Employers continue to search for ways to keep their people meeting standards of productivity and service. This consistent push and pull makes burnout more likely.

Burnout was well underway before we were isolated and forced to switch our routines. Thanks to COVID, we currently live in an escalating work crisis explained in Dave Levine’s (2020) article, How The Pandemic Exacerbated Burnout.

Although burnout is not considered an official medical condition yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined burnout as an “Occupation Phenomenon” in the International Classification of Disease (ICD) manual in 2019:

A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

Three dimensions characterize it:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  3. reduced professional efficacy  (WHO 2019).

Jennifer Moss, who writes prolifically about burnout, believes the WHO clarifies that burnout is in an occupational context related to workplace concerns given this definition.

The Current Problem 

Until recently, the workplace painted unhappy workers as those who did not have a proper work-life balance. The term work-life balance can be a code-switch that attempts to nullify the responsibility of structures that promote the significant components of burnout such as exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of efficacy.

The WHO stopped short of providing burnout a designation as a medical issue. An estimated 190 billion dollars of lost productivity with 120,000 stress-related work deaths are attributed to burnout each year (HBR Beating Burnout 2020-Moss). The total cost to the workplace due to burnout is estimated at 300 billion per year when you factor in the absenteeism related to work stress. These statistics are based on pre-COVID times, so we know it is worse.

Christina Maslach, a preeminent researcher on burnout, contends that although 10% of the workforce officially meets burnout criteria, there are more on the way. Maslach shows that burnout is not an all-or-nothing state. People are on a continuum of burnout and can experience different levels. When you ask employees in a survey format, 70% of the working population admit they suffer from the effects of burnout (Spring Health 2021). This drastic difference (10% diagnosed vs 70% give verbal affirmation) indicates that the number of people may be underreported due to the stigma of mental health diagnoses.

Burnout should have its own Diagnosis
The symptoms of workplace-related struggles can have the same severe effects on a person’s psychological standing as any other mental health concern. Burnout changes lives, families, and relationships. It causes fiscal, social, and workplace disruptions that cost society billions of dollars. Burnout can destabilize someone or, worse, lead to more tragic mental health crises like suicide. We must commit to treating this issue as a full-blown medical endemic that deserves immediate attention.

Good News! The workplace mindset is shifting. 

Employers and businesses have begun to understand the importance of employee mental health. Mindshare Partners released a report called Mental Health at Work in 2019. They report that Millennials and Generation Z employees expressed both the need and benefit of services that helped combat work stress.

There is a resurgence of the workplace and organizations to combat burnout. Many Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and Mental health workplace organizations help workers combat what burnout leaves in its wake. Please see the bottom of the page for an example of the organizations that are addressing this head-on.

Learn more about work stress therapy with Real Counseling Inc.

Harvard Business Review Press (December 15, 2020) ISBN 9781647820015 E-book · HBR Guide to Beating Burnout Jennifer Moss (introduction) Rethinking Burnout

World Health Organization 28 May 2019 Departmental news https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases

Mindshare Partners Update on 2019 report Mental Health at work https://www.mindsharepartners.org/post/the-state-of-mental-health-in-u-s-workplaces

HBR Ideacast — Why Burnout Happens -and How bosses can help Dec 15, 2020, https://lnns.co/o3L-aGXKHR0

Spring Health report Burnout Nation-https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/study-finds-76-of-us-employees-are-currently-experiencing-worker-burnout-301191279.html

Daniel Leviens How (2021) The Pandemic Exasubated Burnout https://hbr.org/2021/02/how-the-pandemic-exacerbated-burnout

Real Counseling Inc https://realcounselinginc.com