The World Health Organization (WHO) recently classified burnout as a syndrome specifically linked to workplace stress. The rumor was that WHO defined burnout as a medical condition, but not true, ‘a syndrome’, which isn’t a change from the past classification. The major change is clarifying the definition of burnout to reflect the seriousness of the syndrome.

Many experts discuss burnout as a medical emergency, a result of chronic, unresolved stress. Symptoms outlined by WHO include,

  • Energy depletion; exhaustion
  • Increased occupational distance
  • Negativism
  • Cynicism
  • Reduced professional efficacy

…A serious medical emergency and it’s complicated.  Seppala and King analyzed the General Social Survey of 2016, finding that, people are twice as likely to report that they are always exhausted compared to 20 years ago. And almost half indicated they are often or always exhausted due to work.  Research demonstrates that work exhaustion is leading to social isolation which is leading to further exhaustion.

Social isolation is often prevalent in the workplace, which compounds perceptions of lack of support, increases levels of stress, and negatively impacts social well-being.  Poor social well-being leads to detrimental health consequences and additional exhaustion. It’s a vicious cycle since exhaustion leads to more isolation (Burnout at Work).

Plus those at the manager level are suffering higher incidents of burnout. Gallop found that managers report more stress and burnout, worse work-life balance, and worse physical well-being than the employees on their teams. Stressed, exhausted, and unengaged managers influence the entire team. The ripple effect is extremely powerful, and negatively impacts employees regardless of expressed low levels of stress.

Many companies offer stress management as part of the wellness program. Stress management sessions can be an essential component to enhance well-being; however, often these are one-time lunch-n-learn type sessions and not comprehensive initiatives to enhance resilience and well-being.

Plus, even comprehensive initiatives may not be effective if the organizational issues impacting employee stress and well-being aren’t considered and addressed first. Consider, the following when developing comprehensive wellness initiatives:

  • Plan and offer a customized and comprehensive reslience initiative.
  • Address manager stress issues and consider offering Leadership Resilience initiatives for energy management and performance.
  • Consider and address organizational factors impacting well-being, and contributing to employee stress and potential burnout, such as:
    1. Psychological safety: are employees comfortable bringing issues forward? Are their voices heard and their opinions matter even when different or against the current?
    2. The social environment: Is there a sense of community in the workplace? A sense of belonging? Isolation in the workplace plays a significant role in contributing to stress and burnout (
    3. Belonging & Community: Is there a sense of community in the workplace? A sense of belonging? Isolation in the workplace plays a significant role in contributing to stress and burnout (Exhaustion, Stress, & Loneliness)
    4. Engagement: What are the levels of engagement and trust at your organization?
    5. Camaraderie & Collaboration: Do employees have each other’s backs?
    6. Purpose & Significance: Do employees feel valued, appreciated, respected and that their contributions matter? Is there a sense of purpose and meaning in the work performed?
    7. Work Life Harmony: Are life and work in harmony? Are employees’ personal lives acknowledged, considered and supported?

Yes, the issue is complex and although there are many factors to consider, simple steps will make a significant impact on preventing burnout, lowering stress, and enhancing well-being.

What are your thoughts and experiences?  What would you add to this list?