The definition of burnout needs to change


01 March 2023

Scientia Professor Gordon Parker, the head of UNSW's school of psychiatry and founder of the Black Dog Institute, has told the ABC RN's Sunday Extra that he disagrees with the World Health Organisation definition of ‘burnout’ as ‘a syndrome … resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.’

‘Burnout is not just a synonym for “exhaustion”,’ he said, ‘nor is it only relevant in the workplace.’

Professor Parker insists that the widespread misunderstanding of burnout has led to the belief that stressed individuals are somehow responsible for their burnout, because they’re not being proactive or diligent enough to handle a stressful situation.

However, his research on burnout with a UNSW team has shown that burnout is over-represented in ‘dutiful, reliable, caring people [such as] health care professionals and teachers.’

'Our research shows that … burnout is over-represented in dutiful, reliable, caring people …," he said. 'That's part of its tragedy that burnout is over-represented in good people.' Furthermore, Professor Parker said that, beyond work efficacy, the impacts of burnout are too often overlooked. Cognitive impairment is the most important impact. People with burnout "can't take things in as readily as possible" or "can't remember things, even when they do take them in".' 

Professor Parker led another study of over 1,000 people who had experienced burnout asking which strategies had helped them.

The results: ‘Number one was talking to other people,’ he says. ‘So I think being able to get it out, and presumably getting some support back was highly important.’

LINK to ABC news story.