The below is a contributed post from one of our providers that specializes in occupational burnout, Mark Tovar LPC-S, whose therapeutic experience spans more than 20 years. Tovar is the owner of Real Counseling Inc. and is based in San Antonio, Texas.
I specialize in helping professionals who are suffering from occupational burnout. The problem is that the suffering of burnout does not stay at work. It can affect every aspect of our life. Most of us assign a great deal of our self-concept to our work. Americans spend more time on the job than on any other task. It is easy to see how work can overshadow us. How many of us are workaholics? My hand is up. Think about the first two questions asked at social gatherings. First, they ask your name, then what you do for a living. It takes about three minutes before someone asks about your work life.
The workplace literature is full of job stress and disengagement, far exceeding those who say they are satisfied in their job (a 75-25% split). Employers continue to search for ways to keep their people meeting standards of productivity and service. This consistent push and pull makes occupational burnout more likely. Burnout was already well underway before we all were isolated and forced to switch our job routines. Thanks to COVID-19, we currently live in an escalating work crisis, as explained in Dave Levine’s article, How The Pandemic Exacerbated Burnout.
Although burnout is not considered an official medical condition yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined burnout as an “Occupation Phenomenon” in the International Classification of Disease (ICD) manual in the following way in 2019 – “A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Three dimensions characterize burnout:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
The current problem by the numbers
Until recently, the workplace painted unhappy workers as those who did not have a proper work-life balance. The term work/life balance can be a code-switch that attempts to nullify the responsibility of structures that promote the significant components of burnout such as exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of efficacy.
The WHO stopped short of providing burnout a designation as a medical issue. An estimated 190 billion dollars of lost productivity with 120,000 stress-related work deaths are contributed to burnout each year. The total cost to the workplace due to burnout is estimated at 300 billion per year when you factor in the absenteeism related to work stress. These statistics are based in Pre-COVID times, so we know it is now worse.
Christina Maslach, a preeminent researcher on burnout, contends that although 10% of the workforce officially meets burnout criteria, there are more on the way. Maslach shows that burnout is not an all-or-nothing state. People are on a continuum of burnout and can experience different levels. But when you ask employees in a survey, 70% of the working populations admit they suffer from the effects of burnout. This drastic difference indicates that the number of people may be underreported due to the stigma of mental health diagnoses.
There is good news
The workplace mindset is shifting. Employers and businesses have begun to understand the importance of employee mental health. Mindshare Partners released a report called Mental Health at Work in 2019 and found Millennials and Generation Z employees expressed both the need and benefit of services that helped combat work stress.
There is a resurgence of the workplace and organizations to combat burnout. Many Employee Assistance Programs and Mental health workplace organizations help workers combat what burnout leaves in its wake.
There are now more ways to solidify information about burnout’s hindrance to the workforce. With a definition in place, compiling the statistical and financial effects of burnout is more robust.
Creators of classification manuals agree to continue to determine if burnout will become a stand-alone diagnosis. The ICD & DSM are medical and mental health classification systems used for treating professionals.
Occupational burnout needs to be a medical diagnosis
The symptoms of workplace-related struggles can have the same severe effects on a person’s psychological standing as any other mental health concern. Occupational changes lives, families, and relationships. It causes fiscal, social, and workplace disruptions that cost society billions of dollars. Burnout can destabilize someone or, worse, lead to more tragic mental health crises like suicide. We must commit ourselves to treat this issue as a full-blown medical endemic that deserves immediate attention.