A new definition

Sep 16, 2019

The World Health Organization just redefined burnout and classified it as an “Occupational Phenomenon.” So, what’s next?

Effective and sustainable employee engagement and growth is critical to success in the workplace, marketplace, and recruiting space. This is especially true for competitive and talent-starved industries, including the AEC industry.

The presence of professional burnout, and the disengagement that results, diminishes an organization’s attractiveness and brand to both talent and clients – a one-two punch to our long-term success.

The World Health Organization’s actions legitimize workplace burnout and give more definition for those who may be experiencing exhaustion, distance, and loss from work they once loved.

The question for leaders is what, if anything, to do now?

Depending on our response, this redefinition and classification by the World Health Organization can either provide organizations and leadership teams with opportunities to further differentiate, incentives to recalibrate, or expose them to the negative consequences of burnout.

What the World Health Organization did. Burnout is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon. It is not classified as a medical condition.

It is described in the chapter: “Factors influencing health status or contact with health services” – which includes reasons for which people contact health services but that are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.

Burnout is defined in ICD-11 as follows:

Burnout is 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
  3. 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 also included in ICD-10, in the same category as in ICD-11, but the definition is now more detailed.

The World Health Organization is about to embark on the development of evidence-based guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace.

Opportunities. Growth-oriented organizations have already bought into the benefits of effective employee engagement. They design systems focused on performance and maximizing innovation and sustainability. They also build in flexibility and encourage new growth, especially as employees evolve and transition from and into new work and life seasons.

The redefining and classification of burnout is just one more opportunity for the leaders of these organizations to engage their employees and internal peer groups with experts to discuss, help identify, and begin to implement the best prevention strategies.

Incentives. For organizations that seek to develop a more engaged, high-performing, and sustainable culture, the redefining and classification of burnout can be a catalyst to:

  • Begin conversations about employee engagement, excellence, and burnout prevention
  • Establish common language, define goals, and identify opportunities and any obstacles
  • Develop strategies to close gaps and realize better outcomes with more relevant and effective training and well-designed employee resource and stakeholder groups

Exposure. For leaders and organizations that don’t seek to understand and take new action to address chronic and unmanaged workplace stress, there could be exposure. This could take the form of reduced commitment, loyalty, and performance both inside and outside of the organization (i.e., the manifestation of the definition of burnout described above) – and even the form of new claims.

In discussing this World Health Organization action with insurance industry and human resource experts, more exposure through Worker’s Compensation or Employment Practices claims could be possible.

It is not the goal here to lay out a specific case for either; just to point out stated possibilities, even if any claims would be initially challenged. It could also take time for carriers to decide if claims would be uninsurable or if exclusions, limitations, or added premiums for occurrences would result moving forward.

The best approach is to be proactive. Top talent today wants to win at both work and life, and our most dedicated employees, managers, and leaders already want to prevent and reverse burnout – a concept that is now no longer abstract.

Spending time as a leadership team to figure out where you are, where you want to be, and design a plan to get there with the necessary authenticity, capacity, and courage to trigger new action has the power to create immediate engagement, enhanced wellness, sustainable growth, and greater commitment, loyalty, and profits.

Each team and organization has a different starting point and solution path. Your solution has to be right for your context, situation, and goals.

I have a passion for helping leaders and organizations engage top talent and prevent burnout while continuing to grow and excel.

On my website, you can take a free quiz that will help you resolve overwhelm or reverse burnout. My website also features free sections of my book. Both will better position you and your team to win in this new era of work and workplace transformation.

Peter Atherton, P.E., is an AEC industry insider who has spent more than 20 years as a successful professional civil engineer, principal, major owner, and member of the board of directors for a high-achieving firm. Atherton is now president and founder of ActionsProve, LLC, author of Reversing Burnout. How to Immediately Engage Top Talent and Grow! A Blueprint for Professionals and Business Owners, and creator of the I.M.P.A.C.T. process. Atherton works with AEC firms to grow and advance their success through strategic planning implementation, executive coaching, performance-based employee engagement, and corporate impact design. Connect with him at pete@actionsprove.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.