Burnout Now Recognized by WHO as Actual Phenomenon

Burnout Now Recognized by WHO as Actual Phenomenon

Everyone experiences stress. While it comes with adverse effects, the benefits build resiliency and determination. However, ongoing stress and an inability to cope with it may lead to a darker path—burnout. In the healthcare industry, burnout can cost lives. Across other sectors, burnout may increase safety risks and lead to aggressive behaviors.

The personal impact of burnout may result in significant problems, including an increased risk for substance abuse. Thus, the World Health Organization (WHO) took the leap to classify burnout as an actual workplace phenomenon in May, notes CNBC.

What Defines Burnout, and How Many People Does It Affect?

Burnout occurs when chronic workplace stress overwhelms a person. According to CNBC, a Gallup study of more than 7,000 full-time employees found burnout rates much higher than expected. Approximately 44% of employees experience burnout “sometimes,” and 23% experience a perpetual feeling of burnout.

Depending on the specific source in question, the reclassification by the WHO notes burnout does not rise to the level of a medical condition. However, the severity of burnout and its reclassification as an occupational phenomenon drive more people to seek healthcare.

In the healthcare industry, burnout rates among healthcare providers exceed the Gallup study results. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2015 burnout rates among nurses exist on a spectrum from 10-70%, depending on location. The same study found burnout rates rose 9% within the three years prior. The most startling statistic derives from this problem.

Physician burnout and suicide rates are more than double the rate of the general public, explains Medscape. One physician in the U.S. commits suicide per day.

These statistics reveal the importance of the WHO’s reclassification of burnout. Although burnout does not rise to the level of a medical condition, its potential effects do. Defining burnout as an occupational phenomenon reaffirms the feelings of those experiencing burnout and emphasizes the need to obtain professional help.

Causes of Burnout Arise From Mismanaged Stress

Burnout occurs when chronic workplace stress exceeds a person’s ability to manage it. According to the Mayo Clinic, the specific causes of burnout echo the deterioration of stress management and include:

  • A lack of control over a situation, such as a failure to save someone’s life or deliver positive news.
  • Unclear job expectations, which lead to an unrealistic way to judge personal performance.
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics, including micromanagement, poor collaboration and lack of communication.
  • Extreme activities, such as healthcare professionals’ heavy emotional and physical toll.
  • Lack of social support, resulting in feelings of isolation of unappreciation.
  • Work-life imbalance that contributes to a lack of rest and separating work from other experiences.

Burnout’s Impact on the Healthcare Industry

The effects of burnout impact the healthcare industry in profound ways. For healthcare professionals experiencing the phenomenon, attention to detail and workplace performance decrease. Patient quality of care drops, resulting in higher safety risks. Errors occur.

Unaddressed burnout may also lead to fatigue, insomnia, anger, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and immunosuppression. As the prevalence of burnout increases in non-healthcare sectors, those experiencing these effects will need medical treatment for such conditions.

For instance, hypertension requires medication treatment.

While medical treatment may reduce the effects of burnout, the best medicine remains lifestyle changes and prevention strategies.

Prevention Strategies Reduce Burnout Impacts

Burnout prevention strategies mirror the coping skills used for mental health illnesses. People experiencing burnout should follow these strategies to mitigate excessive workplace stress:

  • Speak with a supervisor about workplace concerns that contribute to stress.
  • Reach out to family, co-workers, and friends for help.
  • Consider taking up a relaxing activity, such as yoga or meditation.
  • Exercise after obtaining primary care physician (PCP) approval for starting an exercise regimen.
  • Get eight hours of sleep; avoid oversleeping on days off.
  • Engage in a new hobby, such as woodworking, arts and crafts, nature walking or other recreational activities.
  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.

Recognize When Burnout Affects Your Well-Being

Burnout’s long history involves a level of suspicion. People may not view burnout as a problem that requires intervention. “Get over it,” says managers and others. But, the recent move to reclassify burnout by the WHO provides the data-driven recognition those experiencing it need.

Burnout may lead to serious health problems. Burnout literally costs lives and millions of dollars. For now, those experiencing burnout should develop a set of prevention strategies that work to reduce stress levels. If someone feels burned out, they should speak a health care professional about how to better manage stress.

Although the WHO did not list burnout as a medical condition, its classification as a phenomenon forms a strong foundation to finally call it a disorder. In addition, the WHO plans to develop evidence-based practices for maintaining mental health in the workplace by 2022. By recognizing burnout, people can begin the process of overcoming it.

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