How To Tell If You Have Work Burnout, Now A WHO Syndrome
It´s not an official medical diagnosis yet. But burnout from work is now a “syndrome” in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases, otherwise known as the ICD-11 in case you are too exhausted to say the whole thing. This is a step up from the previous edition, ICD-10, which simply had an entry for burn out in general, not specifically for work.
Here is what the ICD-11 lists for “QD85 Burn-out”:
Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one´s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one´s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.
This is listed under “Problems associated with employment or unemployment”, which in turn is listed under “Factors influencing health status or contact with health services”. Note that the definition specifies that it “should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life”. Therefore, if you are trying to break up with your significant other, don´t open by saying, “It´s not you, it´s ICD-11 code QD85”.
Compare the new ICD-11 with the previous edition that listed under the ICD-10 code “Z73.0 Burnout” no more than the simple phrase “state of vital exhaustion”. The ICD-10 placed this code under “Problems related to life-management difficulty”, which then fell under the category “Persons encountering health services in other circumstances”. All of this seems significantly more vague than the new ICD-11 entry. What exactly is “vital exhaustion”? Is the opposite of “non-essential exhaustion”? Or “meaningless vitality”? Moreover, the ICD-10 classification didn´t really call out or blame work in any way. Yes, it didn´t even mention that thing that you spend at least a third of your life doing. In fact, “life-management difficulty” may even suggest, “it´s not you, it´s not the workplace, it´s me”.
Any change in the ICD classifications matters. After all, the ICD is not just a handbook of different medical and health diagnoses and issues that you can use for charades or Pictionary (e.g., “two words, first word sounds like a tall-rounded vase, second word sounds like the group that sang “Just a Girl”). Rather, this handbook, which is maintained by the World Health Organization (WHO), has numerous official and unofficial uses. Health care professionals, researchers, public health officials, health care administrators, and insurance companies around the world use this handbook and its listings to classify different diseases, conditions, and “syndromes”.
For example, in the U.S., doctors and other health professionals will assign you ICD-11 codes every time you visit the clinic or hospital. The health professionals and healthcare facility will then use these codes to bill your insurance company or whoever is supposed to pay for the visit and the associated treatments. Therefore, no official code for a condition means potentially no payment. Even if a condition has a code, the insurance company may argue back that the code doesn´t fit and then hilarity ensues, which makes the definition of the code so important. Thus, you can see how such classifications and coding can drive a lot of discussions and treatments.
Furthermore, researchers and policy makers often use ICD codes to count how many people are suffering from and treated for a problem as well. They will search electronic medical records for certain ICD codes to determine who has a condition. Therefore, if you have a condition that has no real or accurate ICD code, you can feel without a home. Like a complete unknown. Yes, like a rolling stone. Moreover, studies have suggested that employee burn out is becoming increasingly common. For example, a recent Gallup poll found that “23% of employees reported feeling burn out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes”. This PBS NEWS Hour segment discusses how in recent years many employees feel like they are being forced to do more work with less. Less resources, less free time, and less security.
The ICD-11 change could help bring more attention to the problem of work burnout and push employers and professions to do more about it.
So, how do you determine if you may be suffering burnout from work? According to the Mayo Clinic, if you say “yes” to any of the following questions, you should consider job burnout as a possibility:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
Of course, the keys here are how often and how long you are experiencing each of these issues, how strong your “yes” may be for each, and whether there are other possible explanations. For example, if you are finding it hard to concentrate at work, you may want to first try using another ringtone besides “The Thong Song”. Moreover, not all answers to these questions are equal. Becoming slightly annoyed by a co-worker because that person keeps quoting the lyrics of “Call Me Maybe” is one thing. Using cocaine to suppress your desire to throw cat faeces around is another much more serious and urgent issue.
Temporary burnout may only require a break, a vacation, and more time to sleep, meditate, get more exercise, hang out with family and friends, or participate in hobbies like competitive extreme ironing. So, you have to decide whether your feeling of burnout are temporary or more constant.
Additionally, make sure that you ask the following:
Is it you? Would you be suffering the same issues regardless of where you work or what job you do? Are you a workaholic? Is work taking too much of a priority in your life? Is it the only thing defining who you are? Are you using work to cover up deficiencies in other parts of your life such as lack of a vibrant personal, family, or social life? If this is the case, then changing jobs may not do too much. It would be like trying to run away from your butt. It will always be there, even if you don´t necessarily see it. If the burnout is coming from your own behaviour, you may want to talk to friends, family members, or counsellors about how to better set priorities in your life, how to overcome non-work challenges, and how you can change what you are doing at work. Putting in massive hours at work doesn´t necessarily mean that you are being efficient or productive.
Is it a specific situation at the workplace? There could be a temporary or readily fixable situation at work. Are you on a bad project? Do you have the wrong title or position? Are you not being promoted soon enough? Do you feel unsupported or unheard at work? Is there a misunderstanding between you and your supervisor? Try raising any concerns that you may have with your supervisor in a frank and problem-solving manner. This is a good test of whether your supervisor actually cares about you as a person. If he or she takes your concerns seriously, then great. If, instead, he or she show no real sincerity and takes no real action to solve the problem, then it´s not you and it´s not the specific situation that’s the problem.
Is it a specific person? A bad boss can be like spoiled mayonnaise hot sauce. It can make everything taste differently and give you diarrhea. You don´t necessarily want to forsake a good situation just because you have a poopy person as your supervisor. Certainly, a single bad boss can turn to entire workplace against you by painting you in a bad light. Therefore, you have to decide how much of a role your boss plays at your workplace and whether your workplace actually facilitates his or her behaviour. Consider asking if you can change supervisors, groups, divisions, or departments to separate yourself from a toxic supervisor.
Is it your workplace in general? If your workplace´s culture is not for you, then things are not really going to change. The proverb, “the fish rots from the head”, isn´t specific to sushi restaurants. It means that the leaders of your workplace set the tone for its culture. If you are finding that your concerns are not being taken seriously, there´s not just something rotten in Denmark, your workplace may be rotten. A change in jobs may be necessary.
Is it your profession in general? A change in jobs may not be enough if you are in the wrong profession. It can be like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, while the Titanic is flying in space in an asteroid belt. Perhaps your profession is not what you thought it would be? Or maybe your profession has changed over time? You and your situation could have changed since first opting for this profession. Regardless, when you stay in a profession that is a bad fit for you, it can be like wearing a metal suit that is several sizes too small and has no opening to use the toilet. Things can get quite messy until you break out of our current situation and find something else.
Don´t ignore burnout. It will keep you from being you and prevent you from performing at your normal levels. Plus, you could do real harm to yourself and those around you. As they say, denial is not a river in Egypt, it is just a way of shifting a problem to manifest in other ways.
Again burnout from work is still not an official medical diagnosis. Therefore, your doctor may not be writing “quit your job” or “go tell your boss that he or she is a piece of bleep”, as prescriptions. Your doctor may still search for another official medical diagnosis to code and bill for your visit. However, the ICD-11 change is a step in the right direction: Don´t hesitate to tell your doctor or other trusted health professionals about your symptoms and feelings and how your work situation may be contributing to them. Employers, employees, and professions need to pay more attention to burn out and finding ways to prevent and deal with burn out. In the end, job burnout benefits no one except maybe those selling cocaine and other things to cover up people´s feelings of burnout. In the end, job burn out is going to bite both employees and employers in the end.
Bruce Y. Lee Senior Contributor Healthcare
I am a writer, journalist, professor, systems modeler, computational and digital health expert, avocado-eater, and entrepreneur, not always in that order.
May 29, 2019