Burnout has always been poorly understood in the world of work,  Many people believe it’s nothing more than an excuse for laziness.  Those that perhaps believe in it at least a little bit think of it as simply extreme fatigue.  But there’s much more to it than just fatigue. In May 2019 the WHO confirmed that Burnout is an “occupational phenomenon” yet still many employers don’t believe it.  Diagnoses of Burnout during COVID-19 and beyond are going to be huge particularly among our medical and emergency services personnel.  This includes doctors, nurses, paramedics, police officers and members of the SANDF.  But that’s not to say it’s not going to increase in other industries as well…personally I think it will.

So what exactly is Burnout?

As already mentioned, this is a real “occupational phenomenon”, not a medical or mental illness.  It will be listed in the next edition of the ICD, which is due for publication in 2022.  The WHO has made it clear that a diagnosis only applies where symptoms relate to a person’s job.  They have further made it clear that a combination of three dimensions need to be present as depicted below.

Exhaustion usually takes physical, psychological and cognitive forms.

Cynicism refers to a generally negative attitude towards one’s job, colleagues, patients / clients.

Inefficacy is essentially a loss of belief in one’s abilities and purpose.

Exhaustion alone does not qualify for a diagnosis…it is simply exhaustion and is managed differently to burnout.  Our President Cyril Ramaphosa appears exhausted but not cynical or lacking in self-belief.  I don’t think he is burned out…I certainly hope he isn’t because we really need him right now!

What causes Burnout?

Contrary to popular belief, burnout is not caused only by excessive work demands.  Work demands is just one of the 6 workplace domains that lead to and aggravate burnout.  The other 5 are control, interpersonal relationships, communication, fairness and values.

The most popular measuring tool used worldwide is the Maslach Burnout Inventory.  This does not “prove” that the condition exists but is shows levels of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.  When the presence of these dimensions is known, intervention can be planned and implemented.

So yes, Burnout is real and we are going to see a lot more of in the months and years to come.  It can lead to several medical and mental illnesses including heart attack, stroke, depression, anxiety and even suicide.  Failure on the part of employers to acknowledge it can no longer be accepted and could even be considered negligent.

Take care everyone.



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