Burnout from work is real, says the World Health Organization

The new classification “is going to make companies be proactive in preventing burnout.” This could be a real game changer.

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Mad as hell and can’t take it anymore? Burnout can creep up on you. But the phenomenon hasn’t been officially recognized by any organization until this week, when the World Health Organization defined it as “syndrome… resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The organization stopped short of calling it a medical condition, but noted it had three “dimensions”:

  • exhaustion,
  • increased negativity towards one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy

Burnout was strictly work-related, the WHO added

“I think it’s really big news,” Beth Benatti Kennedy, a leadership and executive coach and resiliency-training expert. Kennedy has coached many clients through burnout, and up until now, she said, there was no classification for them when they needed to take a leave of absence.

“The doctor has to say, ‘Put them in for depression,’ just so they can get a medical leave,” she said.

While she thinks it will be tricky, the new classification “is going to make companies be proactive in preventing burnout,” she said. Kennedy cited the rigid working policies of many organizations that could lead to burnout: “We all know, there are companies that will be really against somebody working one day a week from home, or really against flex time – there’s still that going on in 2019.”

Taking time off – or a one week vacation – to cure burnout is not enough, says Kennedy. Ample time off is needed, but think of it as structured rest. She encourages her clients to take care of their health, meditate, learn what their stress triggers are, as well as get coaching and therapy.

The positive side of burnout is, if managed properly, it doesn’t last. “It’s not negative forever. You just have to get recharged.”

The WHO also recognized video game addiction as a mental health disorder this week.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.