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Burnt out workers need more support from their employers, writes Herpreet Kaur Grewal.
burnt out workers

02 September 2019 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal

Democratising Local Public Services – a Plan for Twenty-First Century Outsourcing was launched last month by Andrew Gwynne, the shadow secretary for communities and local governmIn May this year, burnout was included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as “an occupational phenomenon” by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

While ways to look after workers has become more important to businesses in recent years, the WHO  classification suggests greater significance should be put on addressing the issue through culture change initiatives. 

But the WHO did not classify burnout as a medical condition. The organisation describes the condition  in the chapter ‘Factors influencing health status or contact with health services’, which includes reasons that people contact health services, but which are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.

ICD-11 defines burnout as: “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Burnout was included in the previous ICD (ICD--10), and is included in the same category in ICD-11. However, the definition in the newer version is more detailed. The WHO is now developing evidence-based guidelines on mental wellbeing in the workplace.

Following the new classification, a few studies have emerged related to the burnout phenomenon. The Wellbeing Index report from Westfield Health stated that 57 per cent of HR professionals have noticed staff suffering from burnout over the summer.

It also looked at seasonal variations, suggesting that the summer can be a pressure-filled season, particularly for working parents and the under-34s. Between picking up tasks from absent colleagues at work to busier social lives at home, summer can lead to increased pressure and stress.

‘Leavism’, which is when employees continue to work outside of contracted hours or while on annual leave, has become an issue, with more than a third of people feeling that their employer expects them to be on standby or thinking about work during annual leave. 11 per cent said they responded to work emails or calls while on holiday. 

Another new report found that more than half of workers in the UK have experienced guilty vacation syndrome -  66 per cent of works across the country, according to the survey of 1,342 people by employee experience platform Perkbox. The company defines guilty vacation syndrome as the “nagging urge to cancel or delay a vacation due to guilt”.

Ironically, those who are most in need of a break tend to suffer most from the syndrome and feel like they should not take a holiday. The report emphasises just how important taking breaks from work is to recharge and catch up on important personal time, and to the prevention and build up of the kind of workplace stress that can cause more serious effects in the long-term. 

Emma Potter