Burnout is a new term included by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its International Classification of Diseases Handbook. It is described as a “syndrome” associated with “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

The international agency has recognized working very hard as an occupational phenomenon. According to the WHO, the diagnosis of burnout can be done easily. The doctors will have to closely observe the patients and check if they are showing any of the below mentioned symptoms:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion of exhaustion
  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  3. Reduced professional efficacy

The organization also noted that burnout phenomena is related to “occupational context” and it “should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life”.

American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger was the first person to use burnout as a psychological term. He used the word to describe the outcome of severe stress among professionals, especially doctors and nurses.

The term was coined in the 1970s to help professionals who were being “burned out” – listless, exhausted and unable to cope – even sacrificing themselves for others, according to National Institutes of Health.

In current scenario, the term can be used to describe anyone “from stressed-out careerists and celebrities to overworked employees and homemakers”.

However, experts in the field of psychology believe that it is important to bring more clarity to the definition of burnout.

“There needs to be greater critical discussion on how we can more precisely measure and define this condition,” Elaine Cheung, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement.

Though Cheung welcomed the WHO’s new definition of burnout, she said the description needs to include some instructions for mental health professionals, such as ruling out mood disorders, anxiety and other stress-related disorders while diagnosing a patient.

“Burnout is different from depression in that it is tied specifically to our work and our relationship with our work.  I think a lot of people have a lay definition of what burnout may be. But I think by highlighting the specific facets of burnout ... my hope is that it might create greater awareness,” Cheung told NPR.

Employees and employers may not have to wait longer to know more about the occupational phenomenon called burnout. WHO has already announced its plan to develop an “evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the work place.