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Frog carrying and dropping too many papers

Leave your burnout at the office? I don’t think so.

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** Rant alert **

If I hear one more person pass it off as nothing more than an occupational hazard, I’m going to blow my top.

But who can blame those people for making this assumption? ‘Who,’ being the operative word, seeing as the World Health Organisation (WHO) is strongly responsible for making people feel that the concept of burnout is nothing more than an expected part of employment or entrepreneurship.

In 2019, the WHO added ‘burnout’ to the International Classification of Diseases. They described it as an ‘occupational syndrome’ but emphasised that it wasn’t a medical condition.

I’m paraphrasing, but the WHO went on to say that burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.



Their definition talked about feelings of energy depletion and exhaustion, increased mental distancing from the job, and reduced professional efficacy. They summed up the definition by saying that the concept did not apply outside of working life…

So, just for clarification, if you’ve been trapped in your house all day every day during lockdown, worrying about money or income, trying to keep on top of the care and wellbeing of you and those around you, the running of your home, and you find yourself at the feeling of breaking point, overwhelming frustration and exhaustion, you’re not burnt out. Allegedly.


Burnout is not just about the workplace

Whilst I’m of course glad that the WHO now recognise burnout as a real concern and give it the spotlight it needs and deserves, I take issue with the classification being something purely related to the workplace.

For me, someone who has experienced the full-force of burnout, the definition falls way short. I don’t accept that an ill-health condition with those characteristics listed under the entry can be so one-dimensional.

We are whole beings, and we are affected by all aspects of life. Burnout therefore can’t just be a workplace phenomenon. Undoubtedly, work played a huge part for me when it came to my own burnout, but it wasn’t the only thing, and that rings true for so many of the people I coach.

In working with people from all different backgrounds and experiences who suffer burnout, the language used is fairly common:

  • I’m exhausted all of the time.
  • I’m running on empty.
  • I feel completely overwhelmed.
  • It’s like I’m unable to function properly.
  • I can’t think straight.
  • I can’t carry on like this.

Burnout is happening everywhere, and if you didn’t recognise it prior to the pandemic, I’m betting that you certainly recognise it now!


We need to talk about stress and burnout

People are struggling, and it’s becoming a very real problem. The worrying part for me as a coach is that people are not speaking about it enough, and keep it very much a hidden or unspoken part of their lives – one that they hope they’ll simply sleep off, or recover from in a weekend.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has put untold pressure, expectation and burden on everybody, in their own unique circumstances. And for some, this is undoubtedly leading to burnout.

Are the World Health Organisation wrong?

I think they are. There, I’ve said it!

This whole ‘workplace syndrome’ thing has irked me for a while, but I think it’s my duty as a coach to challenge these broad definitions and to take into account everyone’s different circumstances.

At this hugely stressful and ‘unprecedented’ time, it’s good not only to talk about burnout, but to be honest about who it affects and why. Don’t for a second think you can’t experience burnout because someone thinks it’s only work-related.


Please don’t suffer burnout alone

I’m just grateful that, as a coach, I can play some small part in helping people realise it, manage it, and take steps and strategies to overcome it.

If you’re struggling and you know in your heart as well as your head that you’re going through burnout, let’s talk.

Or if you’d prefer to do some work yourself before reaching out, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of my book ‘Have It All Without Burning Out’, designed to help you make a positive difference when you’re worried about burnout.