Away with the stigma. Burnout is no longer in the closet with the other skeletons we daren’t talk about.  Hooray, burnout has come out, it’s all thrills, shiny buttons and fanfare as it finally makes its way to the world stage – burnout is now official and the World Health Organisation ( WHO ) have recognised it as:

…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.”

Today let’s celebrate burnout’s coming of age party and for being recognised as a ‘legitimate diagnosis’ – that’s blinking fantastic… until I read, and re-read the last sentence which inspired me to write:

“Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”


Burnout. An occupational Phenomenon or Part of The Pie?

Only an Occupational Phenomenon?

Think many others who’ve gone through burnout will be asking the same question.  Is it really just an occupational phenomenon – from my own personal experience and from many other people I’ve talked to, I don’t think burnout should be limited to a work setting and yes, I do think it should be used to describe experiences in other areas of life.

 Undeniably, of course work plays a huge role in our life because let’s face it, we spend most of our lives doing ‘work’, so therefore it would make sense to identify burnout as an occupational entity.  Not disputing that at all – BUT why dissect the work part of our lives when work, like many other areas of our life, forms part of our life – it’s part of the whole, it’s part of the pie.

 Life is not only made up of our profession, our work, the day-to-day grind, the life pie is also made up of life outside of work which can influence what very much happens at or in work– surely one affects the other, both external (what we see happening) and internal (what is happening inside of us) factors which influence ‘the experiences in other areas of life’.  

 For me, burnout wasn’t just an occupational phenomenon.  Work was an escape from the crappy stuff that was going on in the rest of my pie. My high achiever tendencies ensured that even though I felt my life pie was crumbling. Mentally and spiritually I was in a real mess, I was failing miserably in my relationships – apart from the one with work, that is.  Work became the best relationship I had until I became co-dependent on it.

 My work was the one place I could prove my worth, where I could validate who I was, where I could be appreciated and admired, where I could excel, where I could make people happy because pleasing others was what I did well, where I could test my boundaries (or lack of them).

Dig Deeper

Yes, there are undeniably many factors that lead to burnout and, yes, many of these points are related to work – but what if we dig deeper, what comes out then? The words in bold relate to what is going on externally (read more about my experience here), which are driven by the internal causes and fears which include but not exclusive to:

  1. Perfectionism – lack of self-worth, validation and acceptance, self-worth, esteem, beliefs and self-judgement
  2. Inability to say ‘No’ – evokes feelings of failure, judgement from others, confidence issues, where else are you saying ‘no’? Signs of weakness.
  3. Competition – not feeling good enough, jealousy, despair, feeling unworthy
  4. Pessimism –mindset, beliefs about oneself and the world, taking responsibility
  5. Lack of self-care – living to excess, drugs, escapism, self-respect, disconnection, scared of connecting to Self or the situation, escapism
  6. Negative thinking styles – outcomes, criticism and beliefs
  7. Ineffective coping strategies – fear of rejection, extremes, victim and anger
  8. Heavy workload – being out of your depth, staying within your comfort zone, fear of the unknown
  9. Job control and satisfaction – confidence issues, incompetence, inferior complex, interpersonal relationships, imposter syndrome
  10. Conflict at work – ineffective communication skills, inability in speaking up, expressing your views, lack of self-confidence

Burnout more than an occupational phenomenon?

In keeping burnout within the confides of the occupational phenomenon, it’s like disregarding the other elements that make up our lives – especially those internal ones.  It’s like choosing to ignore the signs that perhaps we need to change something, or to acknowledge we’ve reached the end of a particular road.

When we do burnout, we are forced to listen to our true Self. Burnout forces us to acknowledge we need make a different choice. Burnout is about learning new habits, addressing the internal factors, so we can find true inner and, as a result, outer balance.

So yes, I’m delighted that burnout has been recognised by the WHO– but surely, by only applying it to the occupational context and no other area means we may miss the signs of those vulnerable people, the great leaders who on the surface appear competent, dynamic, creative, inspiring and successful because that is what they want the world to see – occupationally they’re doing just fine thank-you-very-much – that is until they burnout and, for some, the flame goes out forever.

Image courtesy of  Annie Spratt/Unsplash



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