In May 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) included “Burn-out” as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress.
They call it an occupational phenomenon – not a diagnosis. That is a small mercy.
In the ICD-11, “burn-out” it is characterised by:
- 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
In our view, this is a step backwards. The workplace is confronting the complexity of mental illness at work. It incurs a trillion-dollar penalty. Introducing sloppy and confusing language can make the situation worse. Let’s consider this:
- Stress is mostly positive and stimulating. We thrive on it.
- When pressure is negative, is that the workplace or the person’s fault?
- While the pressure of work is a factor, in our experience poor self-management is source of suffering – poor sleep discipline, substance abuse, sloth, anxiety, anger and worry.
- There are times when managers abuse and bully staff.
- The symptoms listed are so vague and subjective as to be useless.
- Engines and electrical circuits may burn out. Human’s don’t do this.
- Burn-out is open for business now. Watch the numbers grow.
- Blame will land on employers, managers and the economy.
No one will win. Even on a good day, we can convince ourselves on all three WHO symptoms. What happens when we chose to drink too much, worried about our marriage, slept in over the weekend, or fume over a neighbour’s behaviour? And how do we distinguish burn-out from endogenous depression or PTSD?
Yes, we want workplaces to serve our society, compensate fairly, provide stimulation and meaning and even a community. For this to be sustainable, we need people to be physically, emotionally and mentally fit. At the end of the day, this is an individual responsibility. Workplaces can help significantly.
Here is a quick reminder of what we have found to be a far more constructive solution: