SALT LAKE CITY — The World Health Organization's new diagnostic classification manual says employees who feel burned out on the job are not imagining the ramped-up stress and anxiety that make them feel lousy.

Workplace burnout is included as an official diagnosis in the International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-11, due out in 2022. That's the World Health Organization's handbook to guide the medical community as it diagnoses diseases. The World Health Organization stops short of calling it a medical condition by itself, but says burnout increases levels of stress and anxiety, which are medical conditions. And it makes clear that burnout impacts mental health.

Formerly categorized as a "life management" issue, burnout is now called a "syndrome" and associated solely with employment and unemployment in the upcoming manual.

In the manual's words, "burnout 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."

The organization, which adopted the classification May 25 at its world meeting in Geneva, plans to "embark on the development of evidence-based guidelines on mental wellbeing in the workplace."

Writes Cassie Werber of Quartz, "Burnout isn’t simply a synonym for stress, the definition suggests; it’s the result of deep, long-term stress that hasn’t been dealt with, either by the sufferer or their employer."

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A 2018 Gallup survey found nearly one-fourth of employees feel "burned out at work very often or always," with another 44 percent saying "sometimes."

The main reasons for burnout cited in the survey were unfair treatment at work, a workload that isn't manageable, lack of role clarity, too little communication and support from managers and unreasonable time pressures.

The World Health Organization has long said work stress is a problem for well-being and productivity. In 2017, one of its fact sheets noted that "work is good for mental health but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems." The group put a global price tag of $1 trillion a year in lost productivity because of work-related anxiety and depression.

Writing of the classification, USA Today noted that "Americans are working longer and harder than ever before, according to the American Institute of Stress. Several studies show that work stress is the major source of anxiety for American adults and that the mental ailment has escalated progressively over the past few decades."

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