The World Health Organization is bringing attention to the problem of work-related stress. The group announced this week that it is updating 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
The new definition calls it a "syndrome" and specifically ties burnout to "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."
Despite earlier reports to the contrary, WHO does not classify the problem as a medical condition. It calls burnout an "occupational phenomenon" and includes it in a chapter on "factors influencing health status or contact with health services."
According to WHO, burnout is characterized by "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."
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," Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for WHO, wrote in an email.