“Take This Job and Shove It”

Workers everywhere might be singing the refrain from Johnny Paycheck’s 1977 country-western ballad since the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) decided to include workplace “burnout” in the World Health Organization’s standard clinical diagnostic tool, effective January 2022.

The new definition of work-related “burnout” is classified as a “syndrome” and stems from “workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Such burnout is often based on the following three dimensions:

  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

Anyone who has worked in a toxic work environment, faced the threat of looming job insecurity or loss, and/or had a boss who was a cross between Michael Scott or Bill Lumbergh knows that workplace burnout is a thing. To have such chronic stress acknowledged by a global health organization is helpful, but what do you in the meantime if you are in a job or position that is more than a “bad fit”?

Thankfully, last summer Gallup, the organization most of us know from their ubiquitous polls, offered up a three-part series which explored employee burnout. Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy, workplace management, and Sangeeta Agrawal, research manager, explained the five main causes for employee burnout, what managers can do, and how organizations can prevent burnout.

Strangely, the preventative components of how to alleviate or even reduce workplace stress, like the ones above from Gallup, are often missing in many of this week’s reports about the inclusion of burnout in the ICD-11. Such exclusion in reporting makes me wonder why not explore the causes of workplace burnout and how employers and organizations can do more to protect those who do their bidding and boost their bottom lines?

Yet, as we advance into an increasingly “mobile,” dare I say disposable, economy, where places like Google have more contract workers than full-time employees and women, especially mothers, make up more than half of the contractors working for major food delivery apps such as Postmates, Instacart, Doordash, and Shipt, to name a few, is it any wonder that workplace burnout is a syndrome now recognized by the World Health Organization?

This is not to say that some contractors do not prefer to be independent or that only independent contractors feel workplace pressure. Quite the contrary. In fact, a 2018 Gallup poll found independent contractors are the most pleased with their flexible work environments (60 percent strongly agreed they had flexibility), whereas contingent workers—adjuncts and temporary employees working for a business and organization often without the benefits and security of full-fledged employees—were only 38 percent as likely to respond that they strongly agreed. Regular workers were the least likely to think they had flexibility at 27 percent. Almost half of independent contractors liked their work hours (47 percent), while only 34 percent of contingent and regular workers said their work hours were really good for them.

The estimated four million gig employees working in the United States, which is projected to reach 7.7 million workers by next year—approximately 43 percent of the total workforce—make up an increasing amount of our country’s workforce. Those numbers do not include workers who have a side hustle, or part-time job, in the gig economy either, which puts the number of American gig workers closer to 57 million.

Which makes me wonder: How will workplace burnout continue to evolve and change as a syndrome as more and more workers find themselves in positions that no longer have health, retirement, or other benefits? As more workers prioritize “lifestyle benefits” of flexibility and time, and, let us be real, more companies do not offer benefits or full-time positions so they can reap more money by depending upon “cheaper” contract or temporary workers, I imagine workplace burnout will only continue to grow.