Earlier this week the World Health Organization classified burnout as a clinical syndrome.

This is a major step forward in helping companies address mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

Burnout is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon.

According to the handbook, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:

  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

Before making the call, doctors should first rule out adjustment disorder as well as anxiety and mood disorders.

This diagnosis is only to be considered within work environments, and shouldn’t be applied to other situations outside the professional environment.

Although most of us have at one time in our careers felt “burnout” this is a major step towards legitimising what employees have known for decades; it is real.

Not only is it real but it is serious. It can severely damage a person’s wellbeing along with business performance and in turn, the bottom line.

Why only now?

Although the classification came in 2019, the first examination of it as a phenomenon started four decades ago.

According to CNN, the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term in 1974. Since then, hundreds of studies have attempted to explain the condition, linking it to associated symptoms and conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression.

A study by the Health and Safety Executive found 526,000 UK workers suffer from burnout and that 12.5 million workdays were lost from 2016 to 2017 as a result.

Burnout has become a real and bigger issue in recent years, and now that it’s classified as a mental health issue, people cannot afford to ignore the signs.

As a recruitment agency, we see this a lot where we have candidates come to us saying that they are burnt out in their current role.

We also find that with a lot of people and the “always-on” culture of the internet, that the expectation of employees to work longer and harder than ever before contributes to an effort-reward where they are praised for it reinforcing the habit.

Moving jobs isn’t always the answer. Addressing your burnout in an effective personal manner is.

What can be done?

First of all understanding, the problem can help you fix it.

The biggest question to ask initially is: Is it burnout, or is it stress? There is a difference, but with similar symptoms, it can be hard to know what you’re dealing with.

Refreshing your memory, the three symptoms of burnout are:

However, the mental signs of stress are (according to Mind):

  • Irritable, Aggressive, Impatient Or Wound Up
  • Over-burdened
  • Anxious, Nervous Or Afraid
  • Like Your Thoughts Are Racing And You Can’t Switch Off
  • Unable To Enjoy Yourself
  • Depressed                                                  
  • Uninterested In Life
  • Like You’ve Lost Your Sense Of Humour
  • A Sense Of Dread
  • Worried About Your Health
  • Neglected Or Lonely

The subtle differences between the two are what defines what you could be suffering from.

Please bear in mind, burnout is progressive and chronic. It slowly builds up until the point you cannot cope whilst stress can be much more of a short term issue or an associated symptom of burnout.

There are so many ways we can make things better for ourselves and for employees by drawing distinct lines between our professional and personal lives.

Have a frank, honest conversation with yourself (for personal) and with your employees (for business) and decide what the best options are for you to tackle burnout effectively.

Taking time for self-care is something we are passionate about here at Morgan Jones and providing a flexible and understanding work environment can drastically reduce the chances of your employees burning out.

Like with many mental health issues, there is no “one size fits all” approach to tackling burn out.

On a personal level, one of the most touted claims is for you to “switch off” from work however that comes in many different forms and guises.

Experiment and find the best way to eliminate burnout by being able to refresh yourself in your personal time.

Exercise, meditation and indulging in creative hobbies are all effective and commonly used to help people unwind from the pressure of the day.

An important note here: There needs to be a clear line between work and personal lives not only for our mental health but also for the betterment of one’s business.

Take France’s stance by implementing a law that states workers have the right to switch off so that they are not constantly checking emails etc outside of work hours.

This has enabled people to switch off from work completely and take some much needed time off or indulge in their habits.

We as a society have equated hard work with being busy and consistently working longer and longer hours.

The digital connectivity of the modern age hasn’t helped this.

We reinforce this idea with praise for those who are consistently working at what appears to be an unsustainable pace.

And that is exactly what it is, unsustainable.

By breaking this habit of reinforcement, we can focus people on not how long and hard they work, but purely the quality of the result.

Quality of hours worked does not equal quantity of hours worked.

Making sure as a business you enable an open culture of talking about mental health issues will undoubtedly improve your employee’s wellbeing.

The number of people who say they have no one with whom they can discuss important matters has nearly tripled in the past two and a half decades (McPherson et al., 2006).

Creating this workplace culture can negate that frightening statistic and allow you to create a business that people want to work for and one that they won’t get burnt out from.


McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Brashears, M.E. (2006). Social isolation in America: Changes in core discussion networks over two decades. 71, American Sociological Review, 353-375.


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