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The World Health Organization has a new definition of occupational burnout. It describes it as a syndrome tied to chronic stress at work. NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee has the story.
RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: The WHO's previous definition of burnout was simply a state of vital exhaustion. This definition is part of the current version of the International Classification of Diseases - or the ICD - a manual that is used by health professionals around the world to diagnose physical and mental illnesses.
Torsten Voigt is a sociologist at RWTH Aachen University in Germany. He says the old definition was vague.
TORSTEN VOIGT: It was kind of this weird in-between you're not really sick and - but you're also not fully capable of doing your work.
CHATTERJEE: The new definition, he says, is much more specific and useful. It links burnout specifically to workplace stress and describes three symptoms. The first is feeling depleted or exhausted.
VOIGT: And then there has to be this mental distance, if you will, from the job or negative feelings towards your workplace.
CHATTERJEE: And the third is reduced professional efficacy. The updated definition of burnout will be part of the new version of the ICD, which goes into effect January 2022. Some researchers are hopeful that the WHO's announcement will influence conversations about burnout in this country, too.
Elaine Cheung is an assistant professor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
ELAINE CHEUNG: I think a lot of people have a lay definition of what burnout may be. But I think by highlighting the specific facets of burnout, the symptoms associated with burnout - my hope is that it might create greater awareness.
CHATTERJEE: Awareness not just among health workers but also among employers. That's because, Cheung says, many studies show that aspects of workplace culture can increase risk of burnout, factors like...
CHEUNG: How you feel about your sense of community at work and your social relationships, whether it's a collegial environment; facets such as your workload and whether it feels too burdensome, whether or not you feel like you can have a healthy sense of work-life balance.
CHATTERJEE: That's why, Cheung says, employers have a big role in addressing burnout in employees.
Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News.
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