What did the World Health Organization miss?

What the World Health Organization Missed: Burnout is Bigger Than a Worker

As a coach working with professionals struggling with overwhelm and burnout indicators, I see and hear the impact of emotional exhaustion and long days. I hear stories of sugar stockpiles in the car, the desk, the locker and questions around whether the job is sustainable… dashed hopes around unmet expectations such as physicians not being able to care for patients in a way that they feel good about.

The World Health Organization has included Burn-out in the ICD-11 defined as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.”

The definition does go on to say that “Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context…” So we have a nod to “phenomena” but this vague notion fails to specifically validate what every lawyer, physician, nurse, administrator, financial planner, manager and front-line employee I’ve coached around this issue verbalizes in our work. The broken systems at large must be considered for a comprehensive conceptualization and approach to recovery from burnout.

There are certainly approaches that we can take individually in addressing our part in our stress and overwhelm management. Through tailored assessments for personality and work style, deep dives regarding schedule and time management, feedback from trusted others, and consideration of personal values and motivation and how these are having positive or negative impact, my clients are equipped to develop personalized resilience plans. However, I would be remiss if I did not also bear witness to the extreme pressure of metrics and the short-term views of the bottom line and ROI that seem to inform the dehumanization of employees beyond the control of my clients or anyone in today’s workforce. In addition to coaching their personal action plans, I also give voice to the betrayal of the systems on multiple levels.

Burnout must be conceptualized beyond the individual if we are to adequately address the stress crisis across industries. My clients courageously implement their resilience plans- I would love to see resilient organizations doing the same.