Being burnt out at work is something we’ve all experienced at some stage; that feeling of extreme stress and emotional exhaustion has long been embedded in the work cultural lexicon. But in our career-as-calling culture, has being rundown ever really been an excuse to have a sick day? Not really. Today, the World Health Organisation has flipped this notion on its head and has included “burnout” in its ICD-11 – the medical organisation’s diagnostic manual.

Yes, those feelings of reduced interest and productivity at work as a result of being overworked now can be diagnosed at a doctor. The criteria listed for such a diagnosis include:

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

But how exactly does a doctor diagnose such a condition? After all, being burnt out really does share a lot of comparable symptoms with anxiety and depression. According to the WHO, becoming rundown or emotionally exhausted can be triggered by a number of things; having an overwhelming workload, limited control, unrewarding work, unfair work, work that conflicts with values and a lack of community in the workplace.

A longtime blurry cultural concept, burnout has been researched for years. In Japan and other parts of Asia, there is a term called Karōshi which loosely translates to “overwork death” – that is occupational sudden mortality as a result from work stress. 

According to today’s ruling, doctors will first have to rule out adjustment disorder, anxiety and mood disorders. Treatment or management strategies remain unclear at this stage.