Today in Security - WHO Redefines Burnout Syndrome

Today in Security: The WHO Redefines Burnout

Security managers who are interested in fostering a healthy workplace, take note: the World Health Organization (WHO) has just redefined burnout as a "syndrome" and occupational phenomenon marked by depleted energy, exhaustion, negativity, cynicism and reduced productivity.

The WHO announced this week that it plans to update its definition of burnout in the new version of its handbook of diseases, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which will go into effect in January 2022, NPR reports.

The new definition ties burnout to chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. WHO does not classify the problem as a medical condition, but an occupational phenomenon. In the handbook, it is included it in a chapter on factors influencing health status, according to NPR.

Burnout was also included in the previous version of WHO's disease handbook, the ICD-10, in the same category as it now appears. But it was defined simply as a "state of vital exhaustion," a spokesperson for WHO told NPR.

The earlier definition was an in-between "you're not really sick, but you're not fully capable of doing your work," the spokesman said. The new definition is now more detailed, and it gives people who suffer burnout more legitimacy. "People who feel burnout are finally fully recognized as having a severe issue," he explained. The new definition may be a step toward making it easier for people to get help, at least in some European countries, where health professionals rely on the ICD, he added.

Studies show that certain aspects of workplace culture can increase risk of burnout. Experts say managers and employers have a big role in addressing burnout by paying attention to whether employees have a workload that's not too burdensome, a healthy work-life balance, and a sense of agency.  Workplace factors such as a sense of community, strong social relationships, and a collegial environment also help employee resilience.

The new WHO definition also requires that to diagnose burnout, mental health professionals must rule out anxiety, mood disorders and other stress-related disorders. Thus, burnout is different from depression in that it is tied specifically to work.

For some guidance on how security managers can help staff deal with burnout, see the Security Management article "Running on Empty."