Burnout at Work: WHO Updates Guidelines

May 30, 2019

New definition of burnout to be included in forthcoming ICD-11.

Feeling stressed out at work? You’re probably not alone, and more and more attention is being given to the end result of that constant stress: burnout.

While burnout does appear in the WHO’s current International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), new language in the forthcoming ICD-11 highlights the syndrome.

The new edition calls burnout “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” and stresses that the term should be used exclusively to describe workplace stress. According to the WHO, burnout can be characterized by feelings of exhaustion, becoming mentally distant daily tasks, possible cynicism or negativity about one’s job, and a drop in workplace efficacy.

Related: Surprising Way Workplace Stress Affects Patients with Diabetes

Beyond its use in diagnosing patients, the new definition holds particular importance for healthcare: according to a recent Annals of Internal Medicine study, physician burnout costs the healthcare industry $4.6 billion. That number is due to the high rates of physician turnover and a reduction in clinical hours by physicians. 

"Burnout is indeed a syndrome, and is a critical issue for clinicians,” says Stephen K. Klasko, MD, MBA, president of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health in Philadelphia. “It's often attributed to the increasing role of computers, and also to the decline in self-employed doctors and the growth of big health systems. But the key to an answer is that we need clinicians to be the humans in the room when giving care to patients, even if that room is virtual. In selection, in training and in pursuing careers, we must make creativity, empathy, and communication the priority skillsets for the future of healthcare. Creativity inoculates against burnout."

Nicholas Hamm is an editor with Managed Healthcare Executive