Burnout Definition

There was a lot of talk about the term burnout in recent years. So what does it exactly mean, what is the burnout definition ?

There’s no generally accepted definition of burnout, thus in this post i will rely only on the content from health organisations.

A lot of people use the term as a synonym to being fed up / bored / exhausted with their job or project, this is not accurate.

We need to really go through the popular definitions and history of use of the term burnout to understand what it really means.

The term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s by the American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He used it to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in “helping” professions. Doctors and nurses, for example, who sacrifice themselves for others, would often end up being “burned out” – exhausted, listless, and unable to cope.

Definition of Burnout (Burn out , Burn-out)

Simple Definition: Burnout is the state of mental, emotional, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged and or repeated stress.

Definition according to the world health organisation:

Burn-out is defined in ICD-11 as follows:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized 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.
    Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

What’s the difference between burnout, “normal” exhaustion and depression? Source to read

Certain symptoms that are considered to be typical for burnout also occur in depression. These include

  • extreme exhaustion,
  • feeling down, and
  • reduced performance.

Because the symptoms are similar, some people may be diagnosed with burnout although they really have depression. So it’s important to not (self-) diagnose burnout too quickly. Doing so could lead to the wrong treatment: For instance, advising someone with depression to take a long vacation or time off work. People who are “only” exhausted because of work can recover if they follow that advice. But if people with depression do so it might actually make things worse because the kind of help they need is very different, such as psychological treatment or medication.

Some characteristics of burnout are very specific, though. For instance, in burnout most of the problems are work-related. In depression, negative thoughts and feelings aren’t only about work, but about all areas of life. Other typical symptoms of depression include

  • low self-esteem,
  • hopelessness and
  • suicidal tendencies (thinking about killing yourself).

These aren’t regarded as typical symptoms of burnout. So people with burnout don’t always have depression. But burnout may increase the risk of someone getting depression.

Consequences of job burnout according to mayoclinic

Ignored or unaddressed job burnout can have significant consequences, including:

  • Excessive stress
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness, anger or irritability
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Vulnerability to illnesses

How to detect Burnout?

The most common questionnaire to detect burnout is the “Maslach Burnout Inventory” (MBI), which is available for different professional groups. But this questionnaire was originally developed for research purposes, not for use by doctors.

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Abdallah Alaili

I'm a serial entrepreneur (mostly tech) and micro-investor (tiny), this is a blog to learn from other entrepreneurs and spread the wisdom to many more. You can find me on: Instagram - Twitter - Linkedin - more about me