What is the Definition of Burnout?


The burnout is an anglicized which can be translated as “syndrome of the burned worker”. It is used in the area of ​​health to refer to a disorder of emotional origin, with psychological and physical implications, caused by high levels of stress suffered for a long time in the work environment.

It is also known as professional attrition syndrome, worn worker syndrome, burn syndrome, etc.

Burnout syndrome was first described in 1969 by psychologist HB Bradley while conducting a study on best practices in correctional centers for juvenile offenders, and described it as a psychosocial phenomenon suffered by police officers.

In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger expanded the notion of burnout and transferred it to the workplace, ensuring that work overload causes, among other symptoms, a feeling of exhaustion and dissatisfaction.

Six years later, he would publish a book entitled The High Cost of High Achievement, which would become a reference on the syndrome.

Causes of burnout

In general terms, the causes of burnout are related to a state of chronic stress, often caused by excessive work responsibilities, or by conditions of uncertainty in the work environment. Other triggers can be:

  • Low labor expectations generated by the absence of growth possibilities within the company.
  • Hostile work dynamics caused by lack of companionship, communication failures, etc.
  • Repetitive work routines.
  • Professional and / or personal isolation, which results in a lack of social support.
  • Incompatibility between the values ​​of the company and that of the worker, this causes an adaptation to certain norms or principles that are not shared and that in the long term can generate discomfort.

All of the above can generate a series of psychosomatic symptoms that wear out the worker and have a direct impact on their performance.

Characteristics of burnout syndrome

From the 1980s, the first deep studies on burnout were carried out, after which three dimensions were established for the approach of the syndrome: emotional exhaustion, mental disengagement from the work performed (or from the workplace) and a decrease in personal fulfillment.

These three edges of the syndrome can manifest in various symptoms, among which physical discomfort, such as headaches or stomach upset, decreased personal and professional performance and, in the most severe cases, anhedonia (partial or total absence of enjoyment) and depression.

Although burnout is not confined to a particular workplace, if it has detected a greater propensity for disease in workers who have a high level of human interaction, such as:

  • Health professionals (doctors, nurses, therapists, counselors).
  • Public officials (social workers, police, firemen).
  • Direct sales staff (call center employees, customer service, sellers of mass consumption products).
  • Administrative workers (receptionists, assistants, office workers).
  • Burnout syndrome has also been observed in people whose professional activity has a high level of scrutiny, such as professional athletes or senior business executives.

Burnout as a health problem

Although at first the worn-out worker syndrome was approached as a social phenomenon with psychological and physical implications, today the complexity and extent of burnout in the quality of life of workers is understood .

In that sense, the World Health Organization included burnout in its catalog of diseases and injuries known as ICD-11, where it is described as a syndrome caused by chronic occupational stress, and therefore, only the term should be referred to within a work context.

In this regard, only health personnel are trained to diagnose burnout and make relevant recommendations.