In updating its handbook of diseases, the World Health Organization has defined burnout as an official condition or “occupational phenomenon.” Doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they show three symptoms: depletion or exhaustion, mental distance or negativity toward their job, and reduced ability to complete tasks. The World Health Organization says, “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
“This should have happened a long time ago,” said Bob Preziosi, professor emeritus in Leadership and Human Resources Management at Nova Southeastern University’s Huizenga College of Business in Davie, Florida. “We have all seen people suffer physically and emotionally from burnout. This happens in businesses, public agencies and even not-for-profits.”
The World Health Organization reached the decision to update its definition of burnout during its recent World Health Assembly in Geneva. A diagnosis of burnout, however, would not apply to anxiety or mood disorders.
In the U.S., researchers have been studying burnout as workplaces have become more demanding and workers more attached to their smartphones in response to 24/7 demands. Studies show it leads to outcomes such as substance abuse, severe depression, suicide and physical health conditions.
Preziosi said he has seen burnout in the state’s white- and blue-collar workers. In Florida, pressure stems in part from tourism demands and rush periods, or businesses’ need to stay ahead of competitors. “It harms productivity eventually,” he said. “The precursor is when people start to get testy and take it out on their co-workers, family and even their pets.”
In Florida, both the Florida Bar Association and the Florida Medical Association have looked at how to prevent burnout in their professions. Christian George, president of the Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar, said the problem of burnout surfaces often with millennial lawyers who want to please clients and prove themselves. His division has spent the last year trying to address mental health concerns head on.
“We know for some it’s hard to walk away and take a break. While we know burnout will never be completely eliminated, we are trying to get the message out there that self-care makes you a better lawyer,” George said.
One solution to burnout, Preziosi says, is to encourage more reflection by managers and workers. “We all jump to next thing on our calendar and that’s going on all day and into the night and weekend. If we would stop and reflect and look at what we just finished and went wrong and what went right and why, we could prevent a lot of the burnout.”