Burnout definition

Burnout is a clinical term describing chronic exhaustion, stress and lack of interest in professional activities. It isn’t officially recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders but is recognised in the 10th edition of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.

Originally conceptualised by American social psychologist Christina Maslach in the 1970s, burnout can be seen as the antithesis of engagement, according to Maslach. The original tool used to measure burnout, which is still common today, is the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which judges burnout on three dimensions – cynicism, inefficacy and exhaustion.

Burnout can encourage negative health outcomes or exacerbate existing conditions such as heart issues, mental health problems, and reductions in memory efficiency.

Common strategies for preventing burnout include management intervention to reduce stress on the individual, training to help the individual better manage their workload and mental health and prioritising organisational justice to ensure all employees are treated equitably.

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