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WHO Defines Burnout From Stressful Jobs As A Disease

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The term burnout is probably not new to your vocabulary, it’s a term that has been thrown around without real definition for a while now. Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) added burnout to the list of International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) and has labelled it an “occupational phenomenon”. We chatted to Life First psychologist, Linda Jays, to find out what burnout is, its signs and symptoms and how it can be managed.

WHO describes burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • 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.  

Once regularly spoken about in conversation, Linda explains that we need to be wary of the language we use as stress and burnout are two very different things: “If a person is stressed over prolonged periods of time then this may result in burnout or psychological exhaustion.” Linda describes burnout like “a piece of elastic that has been pulled too tight for too long and loses its strength and elasticity, its ability to return to normal is compromised.”

With over 25 years of experience as a Clinical and Counselling Psychologist, Linda sees the incidence of burnout in the workplace increasing. “A number of cultural phenomena within workplaces drive burnout . Employees are expected to do more with less, as businesses compete on both time frames and quantity of work.” A focus on increasing productivity drives an open ended sense of employees needing to work harder and faster often without identified achievable goals. For many humans this is like a rat in a treadmill . Our bodies feel out of control and anxiety and stress results. 

You might also like our article on how to best manage stress.

So what’s the “fix”? Unfortunately, a couple of days off work or a massage may not cure burnout, “identifying the stressors and working on achievable goals is a first step” Linda comments.Setting achievable daily and weekly targets and chunking up your work is important. Talking these through with your supervisor of boss is usually a great help. “Taking care of yourself, getting appropriate sleep, limiting caffeine intake and walking are always important... In the long-term you need to look at the big picture and what is causing ongoing stress.”

If any of this rings true for you or someone you know, talking to your GP is a great first step. You can also call the SANE Australia Helpline on 1800 187 263 to talk to a mental health professional from 10am-10pm AEST, or visit the SANE Online Forums at



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