Burnout Now Officially Recognized as a Health Concern

Burnout is a recognized syndrome according to the recently released ICD-11. Its cause is workplace stress that has not been managed effectively, according to the recently released ICD-11.

The 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) was adopted by the World Health Organization during the 72nd World Health Assembly held last month. ICD-11 will come into effect in January 2022.

What is burnout?

Burnout is not classified as a medical condition in the ICD-11, but under “factors influencing health status or contact with health services.” The explanation emphasizes that the syndrome is related only to the workplace and should not be applied to problems in other areas of life.

Burnout results from chronic workplace stress which is not managed successfully. The ICD-11 describes it as having three dimensions, namely:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased distancing from the job, and feeling negative and cynical about one’s work
  • reduced professional efficiency.

Signs of burnout

The difference between stress and burnout is a matter of degree. Burnout follows a long period on ongoing and unrelieved stress⁠—it doesn’t happen suddenly but rather creeps up over time.

Feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion can manifest as chronic fatigue, sleep disturbances, lowered immunity, irritability, poor concentration, and forgetfulness.

Distancing from the job include a loss of enjoyment in one’s work. The person feels disconnected and tends to avoid both work and interaction with colleagues. They have an overall critical and pessimistic attitude.

Inevitably the person who is burnt out is unproductive and delivers poor performance at work. They’re usually aware of their own ineffectiveness and develop feelings of apathy and hopelessness.

Burnout can eventually cause chronic disease, alcohol and substance abuse, depression, and even suicide.

Burnout in nurses

Over the years, studies have consistently shown a high incidence of burnout among nurses. In 2012, a landmark survey among over 90 000 nurses in four US states found that 34% percent of hospital nurses and 37% of nursing home nurses reported feeling burned out in their jobs.

The PRC National Nursing Engagement Report released earlier this year, reported on a survey of nearly 2000 registered nurses at 37 hospitals throughout the US. Signs of burnout were reported by 15.6% of the nurses.

The survey also addressed the nurses’ level of engagement with their job. Unengaged nurses were described as those who were emotionally distanced from their jobs and lacked confidence in their work. Among this group, 41% reported signs of burnout.

Burnout prevention and management

Clearly, anyone suffering from burnout is unable to function effectively⁠—professionally or personally, and this has concerning implications for the quality of patient care.

Both health care facility management, and individuals themselves, should be aware of burnout and take steps to prevent the problem and to assist those nurses suffering from the condition. Stress management techniques are important, and also taking time off to rest and recharge. Self-care⁠—physically, mentally and emotionally⁠—should be prioritized.

Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

1 thought on “Burnout Now Officially Recognized as a Health Concern”

  1. I can totally relate. My solution: switching from adult med-surg nursing to trying out other avenues until I found something that I could be happy with. Burn-out is a horrible feeling for anyone; switching is not always an option but I recommend it to new nurses and remind them that they do have alternatives. Because nurses are in such demand, we can pick and choose what makes us happy and not have to stay somewhere that makes us unhappy.


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