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Glossary of Terms


General public definition

  • Burnout is currently not listed as a medical or psychiatric diagnosis in the DSM-5-TR or ICD-11, although it is listed as a condition in the ICD-11.
  • Burnout is an occupational occurrence that an employee experiences because of stress in the workplace, particularly organizational stress (e.g. ongoing conflict with supervisors or colleagues; working large amounts of overtime; having insufficient break time at work; feeling that the employer does not recognize the employee’s effort and contributions).
  • Burnout may be the condition underlying overwhelming exhaustion, cynicism or feeling detached from the job, or feeling ineffective or resentful for not getting rewarded.

Academic definition

  • Burnout is currently described as an “occupational phenomenon” in the ICD-11, but it is not listed as a medical or psychiatric diagnosis.
  • The World Health Organization describes burnout as largely precipitated by the workplace or organization having deleterious effects on the individuals working at that workplace or organization.
  • The ICD-11 describes burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed…. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”10
  • Burnout is a “psychological syndrome in response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key features of this response are: an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.”12
  • Burnout can involve a negative change in reaction to others, including inappropriate attitudes toward coworkers, irritability, loss of idealism, and withdrawal.13
  • Perceived “high caseloads, lack of control or influence over agency policies and procedures, unfairness in organizational structure and discipline, low peer and supervisory support, and poor agency and on-the-job training”16,p.59 have been identified as organizational factors underlying burnout.14-16
  • Burnout is distinct from compassion fatigue, vicarious traumatic stress, secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma, as it is not necessarily related to exposures to potentially psychologically traumatic events, complex trauma, or adverse childhood experiences.

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