Burnout is officially a “syndrome.” What comes next?

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The results of chronic stress in the workplace have been getting a lot of attention this week. First, we learned that the World Health Organization (WHO) officially redefined the term “burnout” as a “syndrome” resulting from chronic workplace stress in their handbook of diseases. Despite some reporting, the WHO previously included burnout in their handbook but it fell under “occupational phenomenon” as opposed to a “syndrome.”

The WHO characterizes burnout with 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.

Then, like a fated, star-crossed event that’s too good of a coincidence to be a planned public relations move, it was also reported this week that HBO’s Game of Thrones (GoT) actor, Kit Harington (Jon Snow), checked into a wellness retreat about a month ago to deal with stress and exhaustion related to his work on one of the most popular shows in TV history, and the emotional fall-out of the show ending.

Harington admitted he struggled in early seasons of GoT and that his problems only worsened as he became the central focus of a major “is he dead or not” plot that rivaled the TV Juggernaut Dallas and Bobby Ewing cliffhanger.

Harington is now reportedly taking advantage of the break in his schedule to attend a $120,000-per-month wellness retreat to focus on repairing what I can only imagine is some level of burnout related to shooting the show and living in the suffocating bubble of fame for the last seven years.

I’m thrilled that wellness centers like the one Harington is visiting even exist. I’m glad that a man of his visibility and stature is admitting he has personal problems that are out of his control. It’s an achievement that we’ve come far enough in our culture to acknowledge that career and work can slowly eat away at us on the inside, regardless of whether we are the star of a famous TV show, an ER doctor or a server in a restaurant.

But what about the rest of us shlubs who don’t have the funds to enter a wellness center for a month? What about those of us who can’t even leave our jobs for more than a few days? How are the rest of us supposed to deal with burnout?

Let me step back for a moment. Full confession: I’m a comment section stalker. It started with online articles and now it includes the comment sections in social media posts attached to articles. I rarely comment myself, but reading the comments on various social media platforms and news outlets can give you a great cross-section of public opinion on a variety of topics. I find people tend to be far more raw and honest in comment sections than they are in person.

So, when I read about the WHO burnout news, I of course stalked the comment sections. I saw empathetic and supportive comments nearly across the board. Here’s a sampling:

“So, pretty much everyone in the service industry #waitress.” – Facebook comment

“Being in a job that you can’t afford to lose where no matter how many hours you work it’s not possible to complete your work. Which means you can’t do quality work, thus losing the reward of a job well done. I used to describe it as being two feet under water with a straw up to the surface to breathe with huge waves coming in, periodically cutting off my air supply.” – Facebook comment

“Well, that describes about 80% of everyone I’ve worked with!” – Facebook comment

Then, I read a sampling of comments surrounding the news about Harington attending a wellness retreat to deal with his personal challenges.

“Hope he gets the rest and relaxation he needs!” – Facebook comment

“Love you Kit! Take care of yourself! Thanks for all the great memories! 💖” – Facebook comment

“Good for him for getting the help he needs. We should all be supporting him. He’s not Jon Snow. He’s a person like all of us and deserves some privacy and respect.” – Facebook comment

So, if we can collectively rally around the reality that burnout exists, and that most of us have experienced it or know someone who has, and then can also rally around a young male actor who’s addressing his burnout issues, can we rally around each other and create a system in our country that addresses the incidence of burnout and the social consequences it brings?

A Gallup study from 2018 acknowledged that the burnout crisis is already here. In fact, job burnout accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending each year and has been attributed to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death for those under the age of 45.

So what are we going to do to address this widespread issue? I’d love to hear more about how organizations you work with or for are combating it.

 

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